You may not be able to tell a book by its cover, but the sexually charged art by Nick Endres that opens Paul McComas’ collection “Unforgettable” homes in on prospective readers like a heat-seeking missile. Evocative of “Conan”’s Frank Frazetta or of Boris Vallejo, but with a cyber twist, the cover depicts a bold, nearly nude beauty kneeling before a godlike robot and offering him (it?) an electronically generated serpent.
Who is tempter and who is master or mistress? Such questions and wit animate this multimedia collection’s sly update to now-classic gothic stuff and science fiction ranging back to the 1930s and 1940s. Much of this volume’s pleasure derives from satirical takes on the popular culture that is our common currency, but the author also makes no bones about manifesting a “dystopian” vision of prospects for the future that challenges the optimistic naïveté of the “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” generations.
And while McComas acknowledges his is a “genre” offering, his authorial ego flies into the teeth of a recession with a tome massive and pricey enough to challenge reader loyalty from the get-go with the implicit question, “Are you really ready for this?”
Besides offering up all sorts of literary forms, with digressions into multitudinous film/video projects, he includes numerous asides and editorial notes about how all this fits into a career that has included music and other performance. (One of this book’s many unexpected pleasures is a blast of “sinister” song lyrics.)
Though the quality of these writings is sometimes uneven, in toto “Unforgettable”’s greatest value may be as creative autobiography, a record of one man’s joyous life journey through art. Nothing has been lost in this odyssey—things he did as a ten-year-old and as a teenager are resurrected here. In such first-person aspects, it is Paul McComas all the time, and if you don’t like Paul McComas, chances are you won’t like “Unforgettable.” You just won’t know until you get there.
A significant saving grace has been his ability to enlist talented fellow travelers along the way. His early mentor, “Logan’s Run” author William F. Nolan, is collaborating with McComas on a sequel, and the work is previewed here. There are a host of other allies here as well, with a whole section devoted to co-written stories: obviously one’s art need not be done in a vacuum.
Admirably, one of those stories, near the heart of the book, is unpretentious enough to quote and feature Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi (I do not recall ever before seeing Ray Nitschke’s name in a short story), a genuflection to McComas’ Wisconsin upbringing—although the denouement is a bit disappointing.
Contrary to many of the forthrightly macho forebears in his genre, McComas tries to court favor with women readers; but “Call Waiting” (first performed at Chicago’s Green Mill), is downright male-bashing. (And I say this NOT because I see myself in the “Man.”)
But the perhaps enviable challenge facing the continuing development of such a facile talent—especially one that has been conditioned by the applause of stage work—is to resist playing to the cheap seats. In previous non-genre work he has shown he can do so.
Some material here is in effect softcore porn, where some might argue for more restraint or downright excision. In any case, this is not your father’s (or for that matter your mother’s) genre fiction.
Still, come to think of it, maybe McComas has penned, as he claims here, “The Most Terrifying Three-Word Dystopian/Dark Fantasy/Horror Story Ever Written.”
“Unforgettable: Harrowing Futures, Horrors & (Dark) Humor”
By Paul McComas
Walkabout Publishing, 476 pages, $30
Paul McComas appears at Perla Cafe, 1813 Dempster, Evanston, (847)424-1382, October 31, 7pm. Free.