Puck Aleshire's Abecedary

Puck Aleshire’s Abecedary
by Michael Swanwick
New York: Dragon Press, 2000
A review by Colleen R. Cahill

There is something charming about a short-short story. The brevity of the work makes it essential to be to the point and when Michael Swanwick turns his hand to such, he also adds humor, satire and style. In Puck Aleshire’s Abecedary, Swanwick takes us to interesting places with only a few words.

These twenty seven stories (one for each letter of the alphabet, plus one) are a mix of themes.  From the luxurious conditions in “A is for Albany” to the wonder of Clark Ashton Smith’s writing in “Z is for Zothique,” each story is a burst of energy and a nugget of fun. But these are not just lighthearted vignettes. You don’t have to read too deeply to see the edge, such as in “Y is for Youth”. Swanwick denies the Hollywood view of vampires, who are actually “bald and wrinkled and have waxy skin”, along with smelling very bad.  Your nose is tweaked when he reveals they control the movie industry, which they use to project a sexy image for their kind and thus find willing victims for their appetites of human youth. What made me pause is the end line where the satisfied vampires proclaim “We owe it all to our fans”; I thought of several other kinds of vampires that might make the same statement.

Strangely, the one of the main things these stories have in common (other than their short length) is that each topic is so different from the other.  Oh, each is in a similar style, but the subject matter is unique.  From the sad life of King Kong after his star has waned to the wonders of Virtual Food, these are ideas that bounce around, but each stands alone and does not need anything from the others. This is quite an accomplishment and adds to the enjoyment of the stories, as each will take you to a new thought.

Since the total work is only 28 pages, it is easy to finish in one sitting, but there is no need to rush.  Taking time to savor each one adds more to the experience.  And even though these are only a paragraph or three, they are also worth revisiting.  Partly you will want to ponder the bursts of insight Swanwick presents, but also to have a chuckle again at a quip.  Nothing is safe from this author’s wit, be it language to time to Joe Haldeman.

Each story is illustrated with a letter that Kathryn Cramer has embellished to hint at the theme of the piece. What is at first a strange bit of art becomes more relevant, often reflecting the feel of the work.

Although you may have to spend time tracking this chapbook down, it is well worth the hunt. I recommend these micro-slices of life, as their twists entertain, but also give a new view to a subject: one that you might not have seen.