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Isaac Asimov's Werewolves
edited by Gardner Dozois and Sheila Williams
Ace Books, 256 pages

Isaac Asimov's Werewolves
Gardner Dozois & Sheila Williams
Together, Dozois and Williams have edited a number of anthologies derived from the pages of Asimov's Science Fiction including: Isaac Asimov's - Robots; - Earth; - Cyberdreams; - Skin Deep; - Ghosts; -Vampires; - Christmas; - Detectives; - Valentines. Gardner Dozois is the editor of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine, and of the annual anthology series The Year's Best Science Fiction, now up to its Fifteenth Annual Collection. He has won ten Hugo Awards for Best Editor, and two Nebula Awards for his own short fiction, which was most recently collected in Geodesic Dreams: the Best Short Fiction of Gardner Dozois. He is the author or editor of over 70 books, primarily of short fiction. He has lived in Philadelphia since 1971.

Sheila Williams is the Executive Editor of of Asimov's SF and the Managing Editor of Analog.

Asimov's SF Magazine Website
Gardner Dozois: ISFDB Bibliography
Sheila Williams: ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds


"Garualf, c est beste salvage:
Tant cum il est en cele rage,
Hummes devure, grand mal fait
Es granz forez converse e vait."
from "Bisclavret by Marie de France, c. 1180

"Bisclavret" (Breton for werewolf) was the first werewolf story written by an Englishwoman (or man), but even given its 600 year start on John William Polidori's The Vampyre (1819), the werewolf genre has always seemed a poor cousin to the vampire genre. Be it Sabine Baring-Gould's rational/psychological approach to the werewolf in The Book of Were-Wolves: Being an Account of a Terrible Superstition (1865), or Montague Summers' more occult/spawn of Satan approach in The Werewolf (1933), scholarly (and fictional) literature on werewolves is vastly outweighed by that on vampires.

In today's media-savvy world the werewolf also suffers from the lack of name recognition: names like "Nosferatu" or "Dracula" immediately conjure up Max Schreck, Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee, whereas Michael Landon in I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) doesn't have quite the same sex appeal or media exposure. Sure, there was a werewolf named Wagner, in G.W.M. Reynolds' 1840s penny-dreadful Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf, but who's ever actually seen a copy, compared to the droves of readers exposed to Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Similarly, while anthologies of short vampire fiction are a dime-a-dozen, Isaac Asimov's Werewolves is one of a handful of anthologies devoted exclusively to werewolves. Whereas Brian J. Frost collected rare pieces of early werewolf fiction and discussed the genre in his introductory essay "The Werewolf Theme in Weird Fiction" in Book of the Werewolf (1973), Isaac Asimov's Werewolves simply collects a number of recent (1984-1993) pieces from the pages of Asimov's Science Fiction.

Notwithstanding the difficulties, Dozois and Williams have managed to select six very good novellas, including one Hugo winner. The first, "What Seen But the Wolf" by Gregg Keizer, is an excellent story set around a shipful of Norsemen escaping the consequences of one of their members' particularly bloodthirsty werewolf-like berserker rage. Driven off-course to the coast of America, they must survive the apparent predations of a friend who manifests himself as different things to different people. Some of the Norsemen are converts to Christianity, others maintain the old pagan beliefs (e.g. the evil wolf-god Fenris), thus shaping their response to each other and to the crisis. While not as atmospheric as Clemence Housman's prose-poem The Were-Wolf (1896), also set in Norse society, "What Seen But the Wolf" does an excellent job of capturing the atmosphere of the Norsemen gone-a-viking, while depicting the werewolf as a product of the mind as much as it is a physical entity.

This is followed by Suzy McKee Charnas' Hugo-winning "Boobs," a story of a girl whose early breast development earns her the title nickname, and lots of abuse from her male peers. But along with her first menses she finds that she also turns into a wolf on the full moon... totally kewl! Billy Linden, her main tormentor, has a nasty surprise waiting for him in the park one night. Very much like the main character in I Was a Teenage Werewolf whose James Dean-like character is in revolt against the conventions of his time and thus is branded an outsider, "Boobs" Bornstein is an outsider who reflects much of current society's reaction to the empowerment of women. Narrated from a first-person point of view, the story gets its power from the character's development into an increasingly amoral (not immoral) super-woman (an uberwensch?).

"Two Bad Dogs" by Ronald Anthony Cross is a rather more light and humorous story of a tabloid reporter's run-in with a Sunset Boulevard-like recluse who also happens to be a werewolf-nymphomaniac. His girlfriend's annoying but horny dog comes in handy, eventually sustaining a transformation of his own. A good solid story that doesn't take itself seriously at all.

S.P. Somtow's "Madonna of the Wolves" is the story of a young governess with some dark secrets who, in late Victorian times, is given the mission of taking a young boy who thinks himself a werewolf to a psychiatrist in Vienna. Unfortunately for her, he is being prepared as the heir to the werewolf leadership of Europe. This story, with its fairly graphic sexual themes is certainly not for the kiddies, and while it captures the decadence of late 19th century Europe, the fact that several questions remained unanswered left me feeling that it was more like a set of chapters from a larger novel than a self-contained story.

"Red" by Sarah Clemens is more of a story of revenge in an old Southern family (with all the trappings that that entails) in the 50s United States, than specifically a werewolf story. A young girl discovers the secret of her great-aunt, periodically shut up in the basement of her antebellum mansion, and is involved in her release from aging without death. The story is well done and does capture the mood of the old Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte-like decaying estates and families of the South.

The last story, Pat Murphy's "An American Childhood" (since expanded into the novel Nadya: The Wolf Chronicles), set on the American frontier of the early 1800s, reminded me a great deal in setting and mood of the excellent 1978 TV mini-series The Awakening Land (with Elizabeth Montgomery and a very young William H. Macy), set in then-frontier Ohio. In "An American Childhood" a family of werewolves having emigrated from Europe to avoid persecution have settled on the western frontier of Missouri, but the frontier is gradually getting more populated. The young Nadya comes of age when she meets the young rake Rufus Jones, but this begins a cascade of events that dooms her family to be hunted to the death. This was my personal favourite of the stories as it combined so well the mood and concerns of frontier America of the early 19th century and the issues of a girl's development into a young woman.

The selection of stories in Isaac Asimov's Werewolves presents a wide gamut of stories and approaches to the werewolf. Certainly for the monster fiction fan this is a keeper, with stories that are both good werewolf stories and well written literary (as opposed to pulpish) pieces. So pick up a copy and have a howling good read!

Copyright © 1999 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.

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