Review: ‘Dreams and Visions’

Recently Hippocampus Press issued two collections by Richard Lupoff, Dreams ISBN 978-1-61498-039-1 and Visions ISBN 978-1-61498-038-4. Lupoff is a model of Science Fiction writing. His work can be ultra-funny,...
A 1957 photo of Dick Lupoff.

A 1957 photo of Dick Lupoff. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently Hippocampus Press issued two collections by Richard Lupoff, Dreams ISBN 978-1-61498-039-1 and Visions ISBN 978-1-61498-038-4. Lupoff is a model of Science Fiction writing. His work can be ultra-funny, his work can be craftsman-like additions to subgenres of the field, his work can occasionally be among the best examples of the short story form (I didn’t say Science fiction short story – I said short story with Hemingway and Borges in competition), his work can be fan-fic.

Richard Lupoff followed what used to be “the” path of becoming a Science fiction writer. First he had his magic moment; he read the story that altered his psyche. In his case it was Ray Bradbury’s “Mars is Heaven.” Then he wrote for fanzines, while working at places where science fiction becomes fact (IBM). Then he published a Hugo winning fanzine (Xero). He wrote a great biography of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Then he wrote some wonderful novels beginning with One Million Centuries (1967), followed by Sacred Locomotive Flies (1971) and Into the Aether (1974). One of the best fantasies ever written, his novel Sword of the Demon was nominated for the 1977 Nebula Award. Finally in 2012 he fulfilled his life dream of collaborating with me on a short story, “Splash.” Lupoff never actually said that was his life dream, but some things are better unsaid

Lupoff is a master of Voice. The work in these two collections demonstrates his work from 1969 (height of the New Wave) “A Freeway for Draculas” to a Holmesian pastiche in the 2003 “The Adventure of the Voorish Sign.” We get to see approaches as variable as the lesbian porn (er um racy, that’s the ticket) of “Dingbats” 2005 to autobiography as SF in “Cairo Good-Bye” (2010) to Western Cthulhu Mythos in “Petroglyphs” (2007).

His range is huge.

At times I was looking for authors to compare Lupoff to when I was thinking of doing this review. Dick, Kuttner, Matheson, and Thurber came to mind. Lupoff matches Dick’s playfulness with reality, Kuttner’s social commentary, Matheson’s ability to place everyman in a horrific situation, and Thurber’s comic genius.

Unlike some reviews which are easy to write because the writer is a one trick pony, this review was hard to write. It took extra time as well. When I finished the stories about a Hebrew occult detective, “the Ben Zaccheus Case Files,” in Visions, I wrote an email to a friend of mine who lives on Russian Hill in San Francisco and told him that he had to buy the book. Likewise when I finished “The Adventure of the Voorish Sign” in Dreams an e-mail went off to a Lovecraft fan inMerthyr Tydfil pointing out that he had to obtain the volume. The level of craft here is better than 95% of the field and every good Science fiction library should have both volumes.

I will comment on the books individually. In Dreams we have sixteen stories. Among the gems are “At the Esquire,” which was Lupoff’s first short sale (1968), an is-it-real story worthy of P.K. Dick. “Tee Shirts” a piece of memoir made surreal. “Dingbats” (aforementioned) and the Webster Sloate Stories. These three postmodern vaguely Lovecraftian stories, “,” “,” and ”Heaven.god,” are wonderful examples of the sort of reality context stories Phil Dick did. I heard Lupoff read “Heaven.god” at Andrew Migliore and Greg Lowny’s H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival and Cthulhu Con in 2010. I cried tears of happiness and called my wife minutes after hearing it. I hugged my wife and told her the world was good after reading it here – its first time in print.

In Visions we have thirteen tales. The highlights include the first five tales, collectively called “The Ben Zaccheus Case Files.” These are a mixture of comedy and Lovecraftian horror that no one but Lupoff could pull off featuring a Kabbalist, Abraham Ben Zaccheus, and his Irish immigrant assistant and narrator, John O’Leary. John is unschooled, funny and brave and is as full of wonder at baseball and cars as he is at Chthulhu and the Ayin Soph.

Many writers have tried their hands at sequel matter to “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” Most have failed rather badly, but Lupoff succeeds in “Brackish Waters,” which deals with the Deep Ones and the Port Chicago nuclear explosion. Google it. Just like Lovecraft, Lupoff lets the real world in – the real world most people don’t know about. I’ve dealt with a “Freeway for Draculas” above. Lupoff writes a good natured fan story in “Simeon Dimbsy’s Workshop” – a tale that would have brought a smile to the thin lips of Forrest J Ackerman. In “Villaggio Sogno” Lupoff takes a page from the surrealists and produces a story from a series of dreams. “Snow Ghosts” is a fine example of the Christmas ghost tale – and is a story that should find its way into good collections of the short story, not merely SF collections.

These are good books with a solid retrospective of one of the best writers in the field. They are a good introduction to Lupoff’s work, and are satisfyingly well made.


–Don Webb

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