The Dog Said Bow-Wow by Michael Swanwick (2007) 256 p.

A fairly eclectic anthology from Michael Swanwick. The last thing I remember reading by him was the ultimately forgettable Vacuum Flowers, which must have been before I started reviewing in 2007, since it’s not in my index, and wow, 2007 was eight years ago now.

This collection gathers some of his more notable stories from the 2000s, the most prominent of which are the first three entries in what you might call his “Darger and Surplus series,” featuring the titular partners in crime – an Englishman and an anthropomorphic American dog – as they travel around Europe in a biopunk future. I didn’t particularly like them at first; they take place in an ill-defined world which largely seems to serve as an outlet for Swanwick’s overactive imagination, resulting in a kind of anything-goes setting which inevitably emphasises style over substance. But by the third story I was starting to warm to the characters, and I wouldn’t be averse to reading the novel-length story Swanwick has apparently written (or is writing?) about them.

Other stories of note include “’Hello,’ Said The Stick,” about a wandering soldier who finds a piece of advanced technology which may or may not have his best interests at heart; “The Bordello in Faerie,” about a mill worker who ventures across the river every night to a brothel in the faerie realm and finds himself increasingly enchanted by it, even as he realises he is the prostitute and not the customer; and “Legions in Time,” a creepy sci-fi mystery story which reminded me at first of the early works of Stephen King. But the anthology’s standout is the novelette-length “Urdumheim,” a really fantastic reworking of the Tower of Babel legend, in which a group of people who have escaped an evil, inhuman kingdom find themselves assailed by their old enemies once again, who appear as beasts and steal the words they have invented to communicate. Keep an eye out for the insane king who sometimes quotes Bushisms, a reminder that 2007 was really not so long ago after all…

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