Thursday, June 08, 2023

Scrublands by Joe Daly

I'm still waiting for a fourth Dungeon Quest book. [1] I'm under no illusions that I'll ever get one - I'm also still waiting for more Stig's Inferno and The Replacement God and It's Science! with Dr. Radium stories, which are even less likely - but I am waiting for it, and would be happy if it ever appeared.

Failing that, I'm interested in other stuff by the same guy, Joe Daly. He had a big fat GN called Highbone Theater in 2016 that I keep looking at, seeing how long it is, and not quite reading it. As far as I can tell, he hasn't had a book out since then.

But I'd never read his first book, the 2006 short-story collection Scrublands, either. And that was available in the Hoopla digital app from my library, so I could read it basically immediately - and did.

It's a cliché to say that a creator's debut short-story collection will show you the germs of their later career - but it's a cliché because it's true a lot of the time. And the sixteen stories here have a lot of the same elements of Daly's later work: aimless stoners in small groups, wandering around and hanging out; surreal transformations; creepy sexualization of things that shouldn't be sexy; vaguely autobio musings on the intersection of art and life.

These stories are miscellaneous - most of them are short and relatively realistic, precursors to the stories in The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book, with South African stoners doing quirky things, including a few recurring characters (Steve, Kobosh - the guy in the middle on the cover, Dorfman, etc.). The surrealism comes out in the other stories - two about "Aqua Boy" and the long wordless "Prebaby," which takes up almost half of the book with its sequence of organic imagery of violence, flight, and transformation.

They're not obviously early stories - they're all professional and complete - and they mostly all do what they set out to do. But they are short pieces, with less ambition than Daly's later, longer works (except, maybe, for "Prebaby," which has enough ambition for the whole book all by itself). These days, this is a book for people like me - fans of Daly's work, who noticed he hasn't had a book in a while and are happy to dig backwards to find more of his stuff.

[1] It's been more than a decade since the third one. See my posts for books one and three; I covered the middle book for an actual print magazine, which may be a sign of how long ago it was.

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