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Custer's Last Jump and Other Collaborations
Howard Waldrop
Golden Gryphon Press, 254 pages

Custer's Last Jump and Other Collaborations
Howard Waldrop
Howard Waldrop received a Nebula Award for his novelette "The Ugly Chickens." Best known for his doomed heroic figure, Jetboy, in the anthology series Wild Cards, he has also written the stories collected in Howard Who?, All About Strange Monsters of the Recent Past and Night of the Cooters. He has two novels, The Texas-Israeli War (with Jake Saunders) and Them Bones.

Howard Waldrop Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Dream Factories and Radio Pictures
SF Site Review: Going Home Again
Howard Waldrop Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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The title gives it away, Custer's Last Jump and Other Collaborations is a collection of eight stories, all written by Howard Waldrop and someone else. The someone elses are Leigh Kennedy, Steven Utley, Buddy Saunders, George R.R. Martin, Bruce Sterling, and A.A. Jackson IV. As you would expect, Waldrop brings his unique artistry and clever use of historical minutia, while the others contribute their own not-so-inconsiderable talents. The results run from flawed yet interesting experiments like "The Latter Days of the Law" (with Bruce Sterling) to minor classics such as the title story (with Steven Utley) and "One Horse Town" (with Leigh Kennedy).

"Custer's Last Jump" was the first Howard Waldrop story I ever read, and is still one of my all-time favorites. The story of how Crazy Horse and his fellow pilot braves ambush Custer's parachutists at Little Big Horn, told alternately in the style of the official Army report, Collier's Magazine, and an unpublished excerpt from Mark Twain's Huckleberry Among the Hostiles: A Journal remains one of the high points of alternate history.

Other high points of Custer's Last Jump and Other Collaborations include "Sun's Up!" (with A.A. Jackson IV), a poignant tale of an AI who is willing to die for its work, but would like to find a better way. The best story in the collection, in terms of both style and creativity may be "One Horse Town". Waldrop and Kennedy deftly mix three different views of Homer's Troy, making you somehow feel Homer describing the wooden horse being drawn in even as no one listens to Cassandra and Schliemann's workers are digging through the rubble. It's an elegant piece, the kind of writing that appears effortless but generally takes years to achieve.

Not everything works on that high a level, however. "Men of Greywater Station" (with George R.R. Martin), the story of a group of scientists under siege by an alien intelligence, reads like a not-so-great relic from the pulp era in its style and execution. The problem with "The Latter Days of the Law" is more subtle. The story is well-written, the main character well-defined, but the co-author's shared enthusiasm for a relatively unknown period in Japanese history results in a story that is harder to appreciate for someone who lacks that enthusiasm, and the knowledge of Japanese history that comes with it. Every once in a while, Waldrop's ability to find stories among the cracks of history leads him astray, "The Latter Days of the Law" is one of those times.

Overall, though, the good moments in Custer's Last Jump and Other Collaborations far outweighs the missteps. As a bonus, each story is preceded and followed by comments by the collaborators, plus Waldrop contributes three essays on the art and value of collaboration, a topic for which Collaborations furnishes plenty of evidence regarding Howard Waldrop's qualifications.

Copyright © 2003 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson once collaborated with Eric M. Heideman on an essay for the 2000 edition of What Do I Read Next? His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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