Gregory Frost,
Attack of the Jazz Giants
& Other Stories

(Golden Gryphon, 2005)

Gregory Frost is a graduate of the Clarion Writers Workshop, a six-week, intensive science fiction and fantasy-writing course established in 1968 by Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm at Michigan State University. Among the authors who have taught at Clarion are Harlan Ellison, Connie Willis, Joanna Russ, Joe Haldeman, Thomas Disch, Howard Waldrop and Frost. Full circle from student to teacher, and lots of fiction published in between.

Attack of the Jazz Giants & Other Stories is a diverse collection of fiction spanning more than 20 years. The earliest story, "A Day in the Life of Justin Argento Morrel," written immediately following Frost's Clarion summer, is described in the author's afterword as "the closest I've come to performing experiments on lab rats." This is a reference to the fact that the story takes a number of science fiction character cliches, including the macho starship commander, the brilliantly inventive scientist and the bimbo-in-peril, and deliberately turns them on their heads.

Over the years Frost has shown a distinct tendency to blend varying degrees of horror into his fiction. "In the Sunken Museum" is a surreal fictional account of the final days in the life of Edgar Allan Poe. "From Hell Again" is a Jack the Ripper story with an element of the fantastic mixed in. "Some Things are Better Left" was published in an anthology of vampire fiction, although the author is of the opinion that there is no vampire in this tale of dark secrets uncovered at a high school reunion.

Easily my favorite piece in Attack of the Jazz Giants & Other Stories is "Madonna of the Maquiladora," a story of religion manipulated by the wealthy for economic gain. It's a powerful tale of corporate greed feeding off underprivileged Mexican factory workers and a journalist's conflicted emotions when he finds himself unable to right/write the wrongs he uncovers. It's also the story John Kessel cites in his essay on Frost's fiction, "Afterword: The Damned Human Race," to support his statement, "if I were allowed no more than one word to describe the large body of Frost's fiction, the word would be 'angry.'"

These are angry stories. They're angry at the way we humans too often treat those less fortunate than ourselves. In "The Bus" the downtrodden are used to fuel the engine of our modern lifestyle, literally. And in "The Girlfriends of Dorian Gray" one man's insatiable appetites are sated at the expense of his lovers' emotional well being. But there's also plenty of humor in Frost's writing. Whether he's creating a pastiche of Hope/Crosby films in "The Road to Recovery" or laying on the absurdities in "Attack of the Jazz Giants" Gregory Frost knows the power of laughter in the face of injustice, greed and malice. So we laugh when his racists are pelted by gargantuan piano keys, and it helps us look on the evils that men visit upon their fellow men.

Frost is an ambitious writer. His stories, for the most part, set out to do more than simply entertain. I wasn't blown away by every story included in this collection but there were no stories here that I truly disliked. And given the broad range of styles and subjects, from space opera to quiet horror to fables in the tradition of "Coyote the trickster" stories, my guess is that anyone who picks up this collection will discover something marvelous between its covers.

by Gregg Thurlbeck
19 November 2005

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