The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

"The Wolf-man of Alcatraz" by Howard Waldrop: An Appreciation by Chris Barnes

If you've not read this story--or any other Howard Waldrop story--you could be forgiven for thinking, "Come on, a wolf-man story? That's so old." And ordinarily you might be right, but this is a Waldrop story, so in this case you'd be wrong. He takes the old werewolf trope and puts the monster squarely into the real world with such assurance that you really wonder where history ends and fiction begins. And (as any writer will realise on reading the story, usually on the second careful reading because the first reading flowed by so smoothly) he makes it look easy. The story is as rock-solid as the famous island it's set on.

That solidity doesn't lie just in the voice of the story, but in the details. The cell door isn't just a door, it's a Diebold vault door with a chrome-steel lock. The wolf-man, Bob Howlin (great name!), doesn’t just chew gum, he chews Beeman's Black Jack. Howlin's fascination with lunar astronomy is a masterful touch, and the reference to 17th Century fantasies about lunar voyagers is pure Waldrop. As is the unexpected and poignant ending.

Of course, that richness of detail doesn't come easily at all. It takes a formidable amount of research to get those details right; and Waldrop gets it right. Go check his facts and you'll see.

His stories continually impress not just with detail but with their variety of voices and settings. From the literate lycanthrope in Alcatraz to 50's doo-wop rock n' roll kids, from Isaac Walton angling for Leviathan to the WW2 teenage flying ace, each story covers new ground, and each one is a gem.

SCI FICTION published eight of Howard Waldrop's stories, six of them originals, and I believe there's still one more to come. I can't think of a better indication of SCI FICTION's quality than that. Thanks, Ellen. And thanks, Howard. Please keep the stories coming.

Link to story.


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