Other Worlds, Better Lives: Selected Long Fiction, 1989-2003

Seven novellas that cover ground the way that only Waldrop can featuring Wagner, Fats Waller, Picasso, Thomas Wolfe, and more.

In 2007, Old Earth Books, an independent press located in Baltimore, Maryland, brought out Things Will Never Be the Same: A Howard Waldrop Reader, a comprehensive volume that features selected short fiction from 1980-2005 by the Nebula Award-winning and often anthologized writer. This is a book that belongs on the shelves of anyone interested in science-fictional and fantastic short fiction at its best. Old Earth has now followed that earlier and welcome volume with an equally fine companion, Other Worlds, Better Lives, which features longer stories written between 1989 and 2003 and displays Waldrop s mastery of the novella form.

Among the stories here is “You Could Go Home Again,” in which Thomas Wolfe, having survived the brain disease that killed him in our world, returns from the 1940 Tokyo Olympics, aboard an airship where fellow voyager Fats Waller provides musical interludes, to a U.S. governed by technocrats. “Fin de Cyclé” is the story of how a movie made by Georges Méliès, assisted by Alfred Jarry, Marcel Proust, and Pablo Picasso, rouses the French public to demand justice in the case of Captain Alfred Dreyfus and helps to free him from Devil’s Island. Various young characters from late 1950s and early 1960s TV programs and science fiction movies confront the Cuban missile crisis in “The Other Real World,” while Richard Wagner abandons his operatic ambitions to become one of the forefathers of the Peoples Federated States of Europe in “A Better World s in Birth!” “Flatfeet!” combines reflections on Osvald Spengler’s classic The Decline of the West and American artist Thomas Cole’s series of paintings titled The Course of Empire with a number of historical parallels and Keystone Kops-style antics in what the author calls in his afterword “one of the most jam-packed stories I ever wrote.” In “Major Spacer in the 21st Century” Waldrop manages to cover the history of much of twentieth century communications technology in realistic detail.

The longest story in the collection is “A Dozen Tough Jobs,” a Nebula and World Fantasy Award finalist; here, Waldrop takes the mythological figure of Hercules and sets him down in early twentieth-century Mississippi along with an African-American sidekick appropriately named I.O. Lace. Readers unfamiliar with Greek mythology (although even the completely uninformed might still have been viewers of the 1990s TV series featuring Kevin Sorbo as Hercules) can read this novella straight as a tale of race relations, rural poverty, and class distinctions centered on the convict Houlka Lee; those who know the old myths will delight in the meticulously worked-out parallels between Waldrop s story and the fabled Twelve Labours of Hercules.

Available in trade cloth and trade paper from Old Earth Books.

“If Philip K. Dick is our homegrown Borges (as Ursula K. Le Guin once said), then Waldrop is our very American magic-realist, as imaginative and playful as early Garcia Marquez or, better yet, Italo Calvino.”
— Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World

“One trap in writing alternative histories is the gratuitous story, the what if Attila the Hun had howitzers kind of tale. A somewhat better alternative, in an age when ignorance of history abounds, is concentrating on major historical figures and events, ones familiar to most people, or at least likely to be known about by many readers. Howard Waldrop usually ignores these alternatives in favor of focusing on more obscure, although still important and influential, cultural figures and social movements. In the process, he offers insight into some of history s more overlooked streams and also manages to draw parallels between his imagined worlds and reality, while capturing both the undertone of regret and the sense of precariousness that seem essential elements of alternate history.”
— Pamela Sargent, SciFi Weekly

Howard Waldrop, born in Mississippi and now living in Austin, Texas, is an American iconoclast. His books include Howard Who? and Horse of a Different Color. He won the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards for his novelette “The Ugly Chickens.”

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