Title: Worlds Enough & Time
Author: Dan Simmons
Cosmos Books / 308 pages / 27 August 2003
When John Sladek passed away on 10 March 2000, hardly a ripple passed through the speculative fiction audience as a whole. Possibly the greatest satirist of our time had died far too soon and most readers had never even heard his name. With many of his novels back in print and more coming out soon, everyone who missed out on his biting wit and stunning characters has a chance to explore the wealth of material Sladek left us. And, for admirers old and new, there could be no better introduction to the wildly askew world of Sladek than David Langford’s Maps: The Uncollected John Sladek.
Starting off with some of Sladek’s more bizarre and sometimes brilliant short pieces, Langford prepares readers for the unique experiences ahead. From the delightful maze of “The Lost Nose: A Programmed Book” which leads off into directions never normally contemplated to the darkly hilarious, razor-wire satire of “Goodbye, Germany?” the mind of Sladek is gradually opened up for inspection. As you dig deeper in, the most astonishing aspect of his work may well be that there were editors courageous enough to print such eye-popping pieces as “Bill Gets Hep To God” and “Robot ‘Kiss of Life’ Drama.”
Among his many endearing qualities, Sladek had the enthusiasm of a born-again subversive, creating a world anew with every word.
In “Poems And Playlets” are bits and snippets of what may be Sladek’s least accessible work. With poetry, he mocks the form and the forum. Who can read without flinching the deadly accuracy of his thrust in “Untitled 2?” And is there anyone who, after being subjected to the endless dissection of experimental theatre, will not second his jabs in “No Exit” and “Seventh Inning Stretch?” Were either of these pieces ever actually staged, one wonders, but, obviously not, because the stage is still standing.
“Sladek Incognito” is well-named. Nowhere else in the collection are there selections with read lesslike Sladek. Domestic strife and O. Henry endings seem almost to have come from another incarnation of the author except, that is, the lethal and scarily close to life “Publish And Perish.” The academic life, such as it is, neatly wrapped up in fourteen little pages — may it be enough to discourage even one reader from taking that road…
Of course, there must be a section devoted to dual madness that was Sladek collaborating with Thomas Disch. What a shame there isn’t room in this collection for their brilliant and disturbing Black Alice, but the stories included perfectly convey the outlandish and lethal world their joint minds created and wreaked havoc in. If you read only one Sladek/Disch collaboration this year, make it “United We Stand Still.” And then go beat yourself silly for your sadly neglected literary life.
But, what was Sladek really like? You may come closer to finding that out in “Sladek On Sladek”, though the sad truth is most of us missed the chance to meet the cynical genius; Maps: The Uncollected John Sladek and his other works are as close as we can come now. Don’t miss this chance.
And continue raising hell, wherever you are, Marty brudda.