I'll spare you the suspense: I really liked this collection. Swanwick has been a favorite author of mine since I discovered his story "Urdumheim" years ago in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 2. This collection covers a large part of the authors writing career and easily hits on all of his various manners of speculative fiction that range from the hardest of science fiction to the some of the most unique fantasy imaginable.
In a collection this size, around five-hundred pages, it's easy to see an author develop their style; how they play with themes over and over, see what works, what doesn't and the end results of those efforts. While the consistency of writing is stellar Swanwick certainly has gotten a bit more concise as his writing career has gone one. The longest efforts in the collection, Griffon's Egg, and Trojan Horse seem to coincide with his hardcore sci fi stuff; which really isn't my thing to begin with. Having nothing to do with page-count I think his strongest writing are the odd realities that seem like everyday life with something peculiar out of place; like the existence of zombies as a trade commodity in The Dead, or the necessity of guarding a door as an eight-hour job--as in, just staring at a door-- in Legions in Time.
While the collection is heavy with Hugo and nebula winning prose it's the non specific genre material like Triceratops Summer, a piece that could seemingly appear anywhere that communicates a story that stayed with me longer than any of the intricate plotting and time travel than something like Scherzo with Tyrannosaur. (And no, this is not a dinosaur specific collection.) In Triceratops Summer we see a handful of people who are told they are going to relive the next few months a second time without knowledge of having done so the first time. One quits his job and tells his wife they are going on vacation. Others sadly--even angrily--fall in love, knowing they won't meet or remember their feelings for each other when time is up.
The Dog said Bow Wow would be hard for any not to enjoy as we see two con artist ply their trade in post technological apocalyptic England. This story is hilarious and absurd and has spawned others like it as well as last year's excellent novel, Dancing with Bears. More than any other in this collection this story feels unique to the author: as if no one else could have written it.
From the one way train to Hell in North of Diddy-Wah-Diddy to worshipping the deity that is Janis Joplin in The Feast of Saint Janis, Swanwick will not only make you laugh and become engaged in his stories but the best of them will make you question parameters of genre fiction. The best of example of the inclusive nature of his fiction would be the previously mentioned The Dead; where investors are applying Wall Street acumen to the acquisitions of zombies as a labor force. Today's interpretation of zombie could be read a lot differently than when the story was written. Today's college grads with questionable areas of speciality or how some Americans view the burgeoning Indian or Chinese population were just a few of the ideas that came to mind when I read the story and came to define 'zombie.'
Another, and much smaller, short story collection of Swanwick's, The Dog Said Bow Wow would perhaps be a better introduction to the author. It was a stronger in that it wasn't making an effort to be as comprehensive, but if you've already been there and done that, or come across the author's numerous offerings in other publications or online magazines you can do no wrong in seeking out more with this collection. It has to be a collection of really special quality when I can't even find the space to talk about my favorite stories: Slow Life, Radiant Doors, and A Midwinter's Tale. It's rare to find a collection of this size by one author with this kind of quality. I was surprised when I came to end; not sad, but considering how prolific Swanwick is in what would seem in chosen medium I am more than ready for volume two.