by Howard Waldrop

Golden Gryphon


50pp/$15.95/July 2003

A Better World's In Birth!
Cover by Nicholas Jainschigg

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Howard Waldrop generally offers a rather skewed view of the world in which we live, generally entertaining and always thought-provoking.  Is latest novelette, A Better World’s In Birth! Is no exception, detailing, as it does, a world in which a Marxist revolution occurred in Germany in the mid-nineteenth century, martyring Karl Marx, Joseph Engel, and Richard Wagner.

As the actual events of the revolution begin to be forgotten by those who are living under the propaganda of the new régime, the ghosts of the revolutionary leaders begin to haunt those few who are left who knew them.  Rienzi, a bureaucrat, has been given the task of discovering why these apparitions are appearing.

A ghost story, this is not a typical ghost story, for the ghosts are haunting not just people, but the very dialectical arguments which provide the basis for Communism.  Rienzi’s role, rather than being that of exorcist of specific ghosts, is as a detective and, eventually, the exorcist of the culture.

Waldrop completely fails to talk down to his readers, expecting a level of historical literacy which few will actually have.  However, he provides the cues necessary to enjoy and understand his version of history, and provides additional information in a brief (too brief?) afterword.  This is not a bad thing, as it forces the reader to pay more careful attention to what Waldrop is doing in the story and come to their own conclusions about the tale and about history.

A Better World’s In Birth! is not a story which can (or should) be read in only a few minutes.  As with much of Waldrop’s oeuvre, it should be read slowly and savored, as much for the writing style as for the content.  Perhaps the chapbook’s biggest failing is the Nicholas Jainschigg cover which appears to be a portrait of Don Adams dressed as Abraham Lincoln.

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