The Dog Said Bow-Wow: Short stories by Michael Swanwick

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Dog Said Bow-Wow by Michael SwanwickThe Dog Said Bow-Wow by Michael Swanwick

I must first off state that I am generally not an avid lover of the short story. There are a few writers that I think really excel in the genre and whose stuff I will read without hesitation (Edgar Allen Poe, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Arthur Conan Doyle, Fritz Leiber), but in general I am often underwhelmed by the format. Keep that in mind when I say that Michael Swanwick’s collection The Dog Said Bow-Wow was quite good, but didn’t blow me away or make me into a believer.

The various Darger & Surplus tales (“The Dog Said Bow-Wow”, “The Little Cat Laughed to See Such Fun”, and “Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play”), relating the adventures of a pair of con-men in a world suffering the effects of a computer apocalypse and subsequent love-affair with bio-engineering, were all very enjoyable and entertaining, though perhaps sometimes a bit light on substance.

“The Skysailor’s Tale” was an enjoyable reminiscence from the titular sailor that had equal parts melancholy, adventure, romance and fun and seemed to occur in a pan-dimensional steampunk setting.

“The Bordello in Faerie” read something like a Neil Gaiman tale, if that author had any real edge to him, and was able to fulfill the majority of the possible male sexual fantasies involved with the fae while managing to invert them at the same time; it also had an ending that I totally did not see coming.

“Urdumheim” rounds out my set of favourites with a very well done mythic tale of the rise of humanity and its first confrontation with the chthonic demons and monsters from whom they thought they had escaped. Tied in with this is a consideration of language and its power and an ultimate turning on its head of the story of the Tower of Babel.

The remaining stories in The Dog Said Bow-Wow were fairly ho-hum and didn’t strike my fancy, either as exciting stories in and of themselves, or exemplars of outstanding technique. They filled out the collection, but a few of them could easily have been dropped without the whole suffering much of a loss. Happily, there weren’t any glaring examples of my most hated kind of ‘modern’ short stories, namely literary wanking, where the sole point seems to be for the author to dazzle with his literary technique or twist endings with nothing else to show for it (though the first story “’Hello,’ Said the Stick” came close.)

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TERRY LAGO, one of our regular guest reviewers, is a Torontonian who, like all arts students, now works in the IT field. He has been a fan of fantasy ever since being introduced to Tolkien by his older brother when he was only a wee lad, though he has since branched out to enjoy all spectrums of the Fantasy genre and quite a few of the science fiction one as well. Literary prose linked with well-drawn characters are the things he most looks for in a book. You can see what he's currently reading at his Goodreads page.

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  1. Good review. I’ve yet to read anything by Swanwick, but some of these sound interesting. I truly like your phrase that some short stories are the equivalent of “literary wanking” on the part of the author. I’m not a fan of such either. An apt term indeed…

  2. Terry Lago (guest) /

    Thanks Steve. Yeah…short stories are not generally my favourite, but there are quite a few good ones here.

  3. “Bow bow…”
    very cute story…..:) :)…

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