Edited by Claude Lalumière and Marty Halpern
Running Press / 352 pages / First Printing Edition, 31 March 2003
No doubt about it. No matter where you live in this world, now is not a time supplying you with big laughs. Dread, resignation, and anger, maybe, but not the chuckles you really need to take your mind off (insert relevant impending doom here). Claude Lalumière and Marty Halpern couldn’t help but notice and they’ve come to your rescue with a literary tweak they’ve taken to calling Witpunk. Whatever your complaint, there is something in this anthology that will make it all better — for a time, at least.
Witpunk reminds us that the entertainment never left the genre; we just forgot where to look. Mixing classic and original pieces, they have delivered to us a volume of wry smiles, eye rolls, knowing nods, and bursts of laughter. Reaching back to 1983 for a bit of oh so dark humour from Robert Silverberg and spanning the decades to fresh-from-the-keyboard gems such as “Kapuzine and the Wolf: A Hortatory Tale,” they’ve packed in a little slice of everything. Okay, almost everything.
Any editor putting together a collection should be soundly thrashed if they excluded James Morrow. Put away your brass knucks, though, because “Auspicious Eggs” is everything you’ve come to expect from the master of modern satire: jabs at foolishly blind faith, dystopias, conformity, and human weakness. Of course, being Morrow, he does not leave the reader without some hope in the form of the human need to rebel. The piece will have you thinking back to your Swift and other modest proposals.
Leslie What takes a different poke at that old chestnut of family values. The loving mother’s tactics in “Is That Hard Science, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?” makes your own parents’ endless digging into your life seem like boundless encouragement. And while you’re in a familial mood, check out the happy households in Hiromi Goto’s “Tales from the Breast,” which is as dead on target as any piece you’ve read on a particularly hallowed topic. Or feel your stomach churn with sickly humour upon learning “Timmy and Tommy’s Thanksgiving Secret” by Bradley Denton.
Scattered throughout Witpunk are challenging snippets that remind just how good Jeffrey Ford is with words. The test here is to resist the urge to zoom through his pieces and take time to appreciate the tightly wound language puzzles they are. And, if you’re still in the mood for something quick and sharp, Michael Arsenault’s “A Halloween Like Any Other” is right there to take its stab at your imagination.
All is not humour though, and some of the best stories in the collection are something quite different. Meet “The Wild Girls” in Pat Murphy’s heartbreaking tale of loss, survival, and fierce individuality. Brand new for this collection, it may be the finest thing Murphy has ever published. Of course, we’ve come to expect excellence and insight from Ray Vukcevich; “Jumping” exceeds even those standards. The grouping of the two stories at the end is a brilliant choice to leave readers thinking and taking a fresh look at their own lives.
Oh yes, I did say “almost everything”… No volume of genre humour is complete for me without the brilliance of John Sladek and Bob Shaw, or the sharp bite of Steven Sawicki, but Witpunk isn’t my book. Perhaps, every reader would put forward a different name to include, but that is why we trust editors like Lalumière and Halpern make the hard choices. And wise decisions they are. A round of applause, please.