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.)