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Heart of Whitenesse
Howard Waldrop
Subterranean Press, 280 pages

Heart of Whitenesse
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: A Better World's In Birth!
SF Site Review: Custer's Last Jump and Other Collaborations
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

There is a school of thought that holds a short story should stand on its own, without benefit of a foreword or an afterword explanation. It's a debatable proposition that probably holds up well as an ideal critical standard, but like all rules it eventually must meet its exception. That exception is Howard Waldrop, whose stories stand up fine on their own, and then become even better after the author explains them.

The very first story in Heart of Whitenesse makes the point. The first time through, "The Dynasters" is an entertaining cave-man story, with surprisingly sophisticated ideas conveyed in grunted syllables, and the constant feeling, not unusual in a Waldrop story, that Larry, Curly, and Mo could walk around the corner at any time. Then you read the afterword and discover that the story is about Piltdown Man; you have just read an alternate history story based on the supposed actual existence of a hoax fossil.

The same experience occurs again and again in this collection. Most readers will catch some of the influences in a story like "Our Mortal Span," with its insiders' look at a rebellion in Story Land, but few won't find even more to enjoy after reading Waldrop's afterword. The stories Waldrop writes are generally so compressed in their use of information, and the author is so adverse to explication that doesn't directly involve the story, that many of the clues to what is going on are oblique, mere suggestions invoking entire histories and philosophies. This tendency reaches its ultimate conclusion in "The Other Real World," in which the eighty-one end notes are actually a part of the story. Followed, of course, by an afterword.

In the hands of a less talented and capable writer, this kind of thing could be maddening. No doubt there are readers who would turn away from some of these stories in frustration. But for those already familiar with Waldrop, and newcomers willing to go along for the ride, these stories can be enjoyed on many levels; as delightful entertainments on their own, and as carefully constructed works of art, whose makings are almost invisible until pointed out by the artist.

Like many good collections, Heart of Whitenesse saves its best for last. "D = R x T" is a grand story of neighborhood kids and a fast race down a big hill. Waldrop captures the world of children involved in an enterprise that is kid important, not adult important, as well as anyone ever has. The Little Rascals and Little Lulu are cited as inspirations, but "D = R x T" also brings to mind the classic comedy recordings of Bill Cosby, with their tales of kids and neighbors, monsters and go-carts. It's a world as difficult to portray honestly as any in fiction, and Waldrop pulls it off with seeming ease. That he is able to do so convincingly is proof of his craft, and shows that Howard Waldrop remains one of the top short story writers of our time.

Copyright © 2005 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson had a small, private moment of triumph upon learning that Aunt Jessica and Uncle Hume was indeed, as he had surmised, a reference to Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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