The Unorthodox Dr. Draper and Other Stories
by William Browning Spencer
Cover Artist: David Ho
Review by Mario Guslandi
Subterranean Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596068315
Date: 31 July 2017 List Price $40.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Every ten years or so William Browning Spencer (WBS) publishes a collection of short stories. After the critically acclaimed The Return of Count Electric and the delightful The Ocean and All Its Devices it's now the time for a third volume, The Unorthodox Dr.Draper and Other Stories.
As a writer WBS is a rare specimen, because his fiction is always totally unpredictable, jumping from horror to humor, from the dark to the funny much to the delight of his affectionate readers. Having enormously enjoyed the previous collection, that I reviewed about ten years ago for the now defunct SF Site, I confess I am a bit disappointed with the current book. Don't get me wrong, it's a good collection featuring nice enough stories, but knowing what the author could achieve (and he can achieve a lot, believe me) my expectations were probably too high.
The more accomplished tales in the volume provide fine examples of WBS's eclectic fiction, and of the author's rather pessimistic view of the universe in which we live.
"How the Gods Bargain" is a gloomy tale of cosmic horror addressing both personal issues and universal dangers, while "Penguins of the Apocalypse" is a bitter story probing the dark secrets behind alcoholism, which take the shape of a pooka on the border between reality and nightmare. In the perceptive "The Tenth Muse", childhood memories from a small town become alive once again to disturb and haunt.
My favorite stories are the puzzling "Usurped", a powerful tale of modern Lovecraftian horror told in a movie-like fashion and the title story "The Unorthodox Dr. Draper", an unusual, enjoyable piece blending psychoanalysis, crime, dark fantasy, and surrealism to create a spicy, offbeat dish.
If you're not acquainted with this particular author, forget my own reservations, secure a copy of the book and you won't be sorry.