Claude Lalumière and Marty Halpern, editors, Witpunk (Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003)

In their introduction, Claude Lalumière and Marty Halpern explain the seed that sprouted the idea for Witpunk.

This all started in June 2001, when, on an e-forum called fictionmags, someone asked, "When did reading SF/fantasy stop being fun?" This is an oft-heard complaint: that (fill in the blank) isn't as much fun as it used to be. To which we say: bullshit.

A strong response, to be sure, and one that decidedly should be backed with strong evidence. So, they assembled twenty-six stories from various authors to prove their point. These stories, half of which are seeing light for the first time and two of which are from debut authors, combine to create a solid selection of stories with attitude covering multiple genres — although it is science fiction that makes up the majority.

The mood is well set by the opener, Allen Steele's "The Teb Hunter," which chronicles a different kind of wild game hunting, but "Coyote Goes Hollywood" really gets things going. This Ernest Hogan work involves the mythical Native American trickster and a story told on a bus. Hogan's trademark sly humor permeates this one and makes it a truly fun read.

Jeffrey Ford presents five pieces of flash fiction: five vignettes of one page in length, consisting entirely of a single run-on sentence. I wasn't impressed. I used to do similar things to show off to my friends, and now I know why they had the same response. I must admit that the titles are clever ("Spicy Detective #3," "Arabesques of Eldritch Weirdness #8," "Doc Aggressive, Man of Tin #2," "Six Gun Loner of the High Butte #6" among them), and Ford is obviously good at this sort of thing, but I've enjoyed his work more elsewhere and am disappointed that he is not better represented here. The same could be said of Paul Di Filippo. His entry, "Science Fiction," is primarily (and annoyingly) composed of sentence fragments. This stylistic choice kept drawing me out of what didn't seem to be a fully realized story. And kept raising the question: "How do you copy edit something like that?"

But there are several highlights in this sea of witpunkishness. "A Halloween Like Any Other," by Michael Arsenault, shows the benefits of trickery as our hero hunts vampires on Halloween night. "Is That Hard Science, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?" by Leslie What would get a mention just for its title alone, never mind the fact that it's a bold, funny statement about the future. And I can't go on without mentioning the strange coincidence of two stories about breasts. "Savage Breasts," by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, shows the drawbacks of too much exercise — our heroine's passions are thwarted by overdeveloped, overprotective mammaries — and Hiromi Goto's "Tales from the Breast" starts out as a portrait of an emotionally abusive relationship and ends with an implausible, yet poetically justified, switcheroo that is undoubtedly satisfying while staying within the darkly humorous, offbeat theme of the collection.

But the top prize in this collection must go to the legendary Robert Silverberg's "Amanda and the Alien." A bored teenager with an unintentionally free weekend takes a poorly-disguised alien under her wing to teach it how to better fit in — at least until she can think of something better to do. Silverberg's narrator captures the pursuit of entertainment of any kind that many feel during those years (although never with such interesting consequences) and it is amazingly current for a story written twenty years ago. But then I suppose the attitude of a teenager is something that hasn't changed over the years.

Also of note is the sweet flash piece, "Jumping," which I needed to read more than once to understand. In just a page and a half, Ray Vukcevich manages to portray the blind intensity of adolescent love completely through implication. It doesn't exactly fit the Witpunk mold, but I'm glad it was included anyway.

As with any collection, there are some gems and some duds, but Witpunk manages to lean moderately toward the positive. Perhaps not enough for a full recommendation, but there is certainly something here for anyone looking for a little attitude with their fiction.

[Craig Clarke]