R.I.P. Howard Waldrop

I’m sad that Howard Waldrop has died, age 77.

I’m trying to remember when I first encountered his work. Probably sometime in the ’80s? Even though he was never all that widely popular with readers, several prominent editors loved his work; for example, I might have seen a story or two of his in Omni, under Ellen Datlow’s editorship, or in Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best Science Fiction volumes. I think it was not long after my first encounters with his work that I bought his first few collections: Howard Who?, All About Strange Monsters of the Recent Past, and Night of the Cooters. And by then I was a big fan.

A few months after Strange Horizons launched, we decided to start doing “author focus” issues, where we would pick a specific author and have material by or about them in all of the magazine’s departments. Our first such issue (in early 2001) focused on Howard. Here’s the introduction that I wrote for that issue.

In that piece, I listed some examples of his (as I put it) “odd and wonderful” stories:

  • “A Dozen Tough Jobs”: A modern version of the twelve labors of Hercules set in the American South. [I didn’t mention in that writeup that it’s been pointed out that there are some sort-of similarities between this story and the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou (which includes a character named Vernon T. Waldrip).]
  • “The Sawing Boys”: An utterly brilliant roll-on-the-floor-laughing retelling of “The Bremen Town Musicians” mixed thoroughly with Damon Runyon. [Which is also, as I put it later in my article, ‘about the changes in society brought about by the rise of mass communication.’]
  • “Der Untergang des Abendlandesmenschen” (“The Down-Going of the Men of the Sun-Setting Lands,” or, loosely, “The Decline of the Cowboys”): A German-Expressionist Sherlock Holmes vampire Western.
  • “Fin de Cyclé”: Proust, Jarry, Rousseau, and Méliès create a groundbreaking film to exonerate Dreyfus. Plus, a duel on the Eiffel Tower, featuring a velocipede!

I haven’t re-read “The Sawing Boys” in a long time; not sure what I would think of it now. But at the time, it was one of my favorite stories by anybody.

I think my favorite of Howard’s stories that I read later is probably “Heart of Whitenesse”; for more on my experience reading that, see my 2022 Facebook post about it.

I met Howard once in person; I think it was a couple years after the SH special issue, and I was pretty sure he wouldn’t remember me from our correspondence, so I reminded him that SH had done a special issue about him and his work. He said something that made me suspect he was mixing us up with another magazine, but I figured that wasn’t important.

I was in rooms with him a couple of later times, but never really talked with him.

But I’m sad that he’s gone.

I’ll close with one of my favorite bits from a story of his, from “French Scenes” (which I wrote about in 2003):

The main thing guys like Godard and Truffaut had going for them was that they didn't understand English very well.

Like in Riot in Cell Block 11, when Neville Brand gets shot at by the prison guard with a Thompson, he yells:

“Look out, Monty! They got a chopper! Back inside!”

What the Cahiers people heard was:

“Steady, mon frère! Let us leave this place of wasted dreams.”

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