Howard Waldrop isn't just a master short story writer whose style is one of the most intriguing, satiric, and irascible of his generation. He's also got a strange knack for predicting weird crap, like the way contemporary filmmakers use CGI to make dead actors live again. Or the way Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California. His visions of the future are so twisted that they often border on nihilism, and maybe that's why today's shiny-pop-apocalypse culture has mostly forgotten Waldrop. Luckily, Old Earth Books has released a two-volume set of some of his best short fiction.
In Things Will Never Be the Same and Other Worlds, Better Lives, you'll find a treasure trove of Waldropiana. Those of us who grew up reading Omni magazine in the 1970s and 80s will instantly recognize Waldrop's name and style. His work appeared countless times in that magazine of stylish futurism and mad science.
Some of Waldrop's best-known pieces appear in the Old Earth collections, like "The Ugly Chickens," a tale of a guy who studies the extinct dodo and discovers that the famous flightless birds might still be somewhere in America. There's also his disturbing (but mean and funny) story "Heirs of the Perisphere," about robotic Disney characters who are accidentally switched on long after an apocalypse has destroyed the Earth.
One of my favorites is "French Scenes," about people making CGI movies with old movie characters. What makes this story great, like many Waldrop pieces, are the incisive details. In "French Scenes," he talks offhandedly about the creation of the "National Fair Likeness Act," in which you own a kind of copyright on any image taken of you. He manages to bring this detail in, characterize it, and make it crucial to the story without ever hitting you over the head or engaging in long exposition. Waldrop injects you with a complete feeling of the future - no mincing around, no long-winded stuff.
Each story in the Old Earth anthologies also ends with an irascible comment or two from Waldrop, who's still as sarcastic as ever. He's living in the future he predicted thirty years ago, and it's as ugly and weird as he thought it would be.
If you want a dose of unconventional science fiction that isn't afraid to slap your face in order to restore your sense of awe, you'll want to check out Waldrop's work.
Things Will Never Be the Same [via Amazon]
Other Worlds, Better Lives [via Amazon]