Sunday, November 18, 2007

Attack of the Jazz Giants

I initially bought Attack of the Jazz Giants to assuage my sense of guilt over kidnapping Greg Frost at the end of a Philadelphia literary event, keeping him tied up in traffic for a good hour and a half while I picked his brain regarding the publishing industry, and then dumping him off at a gas station well after sunset. As it turns out, however, the book -- a collection of short horror and fantasy fiction published by Golden Gryphon Press -- suggests that such turns are par for the course as far as Frost is concerned, or at least that the imaginative worlds he has created over the years are not too distanced from the frequently mad world that he inhabits along with the rest of us. To put it another way, Frost's fiction is lively, relevant and engaging because for as far out as it gets, its conceits and premises are always firmly rooted in the day-to-day stuff of reality.

Take, for example, my favorite story in the collection, "Touring Jesusworld," which first appeared in Pulphouse Magazine in 1995. As the title suggests, the story takes the reader on a tour of a Christian-themed amusement park, complete with animatronic saints and apostles. At the same time, however, the proprietor of the theme park continually points out that what he's giving the public is a highly watered-down version of Christianity and that the real history of Christianity is much too complex for the masses to understand. Yet this sly commentary on the state of religion in postmodern America is never didactic or preachy; rather, Frost attacks the issue with wit and humor, as when the proprietor of Jesusworld places a call to one of his technicians to repair a malfunctioning John the Baptist: "Ernie, get someone to reset John the Baptist's timer, would you? Yes, he's just drowned Jesus."

For my money, this may be one of the funniest phone calls ever made in a short story.

Frost's humor aside, what really makes this book work for me is the fact that the author offers commentary at the end of each story, so what we get is not simply a fine collection of fiction, but an informative meditation on writing as well. In each of his "Afterwords," Frost explains (among other things) what inspired each story, how he went about writing it and/or how it initially found its way to publication. By providing this sense of context, Frost allows his readers to see that stories don't just happen, that there is, in fact, a process and quite a bit of work behind writing, and that the life of a writer is a journey best shared with other writers.

Attack of the Jazz Giants is a wonderful book -- not just for the fan of fantasy and horror fiction, but for anyone interested in the craft of writing. The stories are tight, the commentary is engaging, and Frost's dark wit is apparent on every page.

As for Frost himself, let's just say I hope he made it home from the gas station in one piece.

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