The Dog Said Bow Wow features 16 stories from Michael Swanwick, and as you might expect from a Swanwick collection, they consist of a dazzling array of stylistic pyrotechnics that are high on color and occasionally symbolism, and heavy on the fantasy fiction and light on the science. Only five of the stories in The Dog Said Bow Wow, Tin Marsh, The Skysailor’s Tale, Legions in Time, Triceratops Summer and Slow Life, could really be said to be actual Science Fiction and they are some of the best stories in the collection, but also the least representative of the collection in some ways.
Tin Marsh and Slow Life are classic planetary exploration stories spiced up with a lot of the stylistic energy Swanwick brings to the table. Neither of them are close to being original of course, Slow Life particularly is a story that has been done over and over again. Triceratops Summer is a charming enough story, of the sort of small town meets techno event story that Nancy Kress is better known for. The Skysailor’s Tale is a potentially dazzling story of early 19th century alternate universes that should have been a novel and instead burns as a messy and out of control unpublished novella. Legions in Time has a promising beginning that dips into the legacy of Victorian and early 20th century SciFi, but once again Swanwick loses control of his writing and stumbles into rewriting Heinlein’s All You Zombies for an anticlimatic ending.
And that is the reality of much of Swanwick’s work in The Dog Said Bow Wow, full of stories that only appear original because their style dazzles brightly enough that readers tend to overlook poorly drawn characters and that the stories rewrite older stories. There is little self-discipline to be found in the stories which is why the sort of fourth wall elements that should have been edited out, remain in, whether it is the King of the Ikiki delivering a speech of Bushisms in Urduheim or the Satyrs proclaiming themselves to be Jewish, Michael Swanwick has gone so far down the rabbit hole of style that he’s unable to rein himself in, even when the result is not only a lack of substance, but an inversion of whatever credibility the stylized fictional universe he creates has.