Don Webb - Magical fringe where the cutting edge hasn't even cut yet but where head-churning games and word games happen

Don Webb, A Spell for the Fulfillment of Desire (Northwestern University Press, 1996)

«A Spell for the Fulfillment of Desire is a postmodern magical papyrus collecting the short fiction of Don Webb from around the globe, and presenting his unique views on sex, language, and fictioneering. Drawing from science fiction, linguistics, and the artistic concerns of post-Fluxus avant-garde, A Spell for the Fulfillment of Desire provides us tales which are sexy, funny, and thought-provoking. A cultural artifact from a different star, his work straddles many boundaries.» - Publishers Weekly

«The jacket copy describes this book as "a Postmodern magical papyrus." Maybe. It's not really a collection of short fiction, not poetry, not even a series of writing experiments; so, if papyrus is a continuous scroll composed of slim strips, the description could be apt. The works in this anthology are genuinely surprising, but that doesn't mean they're always successful. Webb occasionally gets caught up with his own cleverness, as in "After Abish," an unreadable four-page short story in which every word begins with the letter A. On the other hand, certain pieces highlight Webb's abilities. "Late Night at Webster's" is a whimsical speculation about how new words spring into being. The dialogue is funny and fresh. "Nor Sleet Nor Hail" is the story of Tom Ezzell, a postal clerk who can't bear unhappiness. He is so opposed to the whole concept of sadness, in fact, that he reads every letter that comes through his office and changes those that sound like they contain bad news. And Webb proves he's not limited to humor in "A Stele [sic] for the Fulfillment of Desire," which is quite effective as erotic fiction. While not for everyone, it is a good choice for those who like fantasy, humor and experimental writing. - for the Fulfillment of Desire," which is quite effective as erotic fiction. While not for everyone, it is a good choice for those who like fantasy, humor and experimental writing.»

«Don Webb can write straight tales or he can go out to the fringe where the cutting edge hasn't even cut yet and plays head-churning games and word games: a full spectrum writer.» - Roger Zelazny

Don Webb, Uncle Ovid's Exercise Book (Fiction Collective 2, 1988)

«This book explores the theme of change in hitherto unimagined manifestations drawn from mythology, molecular biology, and pop- and high culture.»

«Even though I know I am missing a few books (Really, can anyone make a complete list in but ten books?), I decided this would be enough to keep y'all busy. At least for a little while. To include all the unheralded odd books, I would either need a much longer list or help from my friends. I went with the latter. In the months ahead, others will make their suggestions for Ten Overlooked Speculative Fiction Classics. The truly amazing thing about the other lists is that so far no one has duplicated any books. This should be a lot of interesting fun.
Perhaps the most unsettling thing about my list is that only two of the books are currently in print in the US and both from small presses. Sadly, as you will discover, most of the contributor's lists have that problem. Happy hunting!» - Rick Klaw

«This is an appreciation of the mysterious being visiting Earth in the fleshly disguise of a writer yclept Don Webb .
Of this enigmatic visitor, much can be said, but little known with any certainty.
He always refers to his mortal consort as "my sexy wife, Rosemary." In this, he reveals that the tastes of the gods have changed little since the days of Zeus. And in the best tradition of Bug-Eyed-Monsters ever since Hugo Gernsback first opened up the cosmic flaw that allowed them access to our planet, Webb can be heard to growl during his moments of otherworldly tumescence, "Mars needs women!"
He lives in Austin, Texas. Actually, he maintains several residences in that anomalous enclave of such un-Texan types as cyberpunks and rockers. One is an abandoned zeppelin hanger, full of bats and armadillos. Another is what appears to be a construction shack of approximately one hundred cubic feet capacity, but which, Tardis-like, opens onto much larger spaces. Yet a third home is an earthen burrow shared with various unclean species never formally classified by science.
Webb spends relatively little time away from his comforting city. Rumor has it that he must be within Austin city limits at nightfall every twenty-four hours, or suffer the unspeakable consequences. Alternatively, while elsewhere in the cosmos, he can derive the same protection by watching the television show Austin City Limits, which is why he vehemently supports PBS. Also, he is lucky in having access to a network of ghoul tunnels (see above, under "burrow") that allow him frequent visits to New England (the legendary "Boston-to-Austin axis").
To extend the range of his mojo, Webb cruises the Internet, frequently compiling the results of his digitally ectoplasmic wanderings into reports that read like the newspapers in Prester John's kingdom.
Finally we reach the heart of the labyrinth around Webb, where a runic message is spelled out with Minotaur piss in the dust, the gist of which is that Webb writes like a goddamn magus who has swallowed whole the entire corpus of esoteric knowledge which extends counterintuitively backward from the era of the encarnadined Dying Earth to the misty prehistoric rule of the Elder Ones. (The secret being - as Webb might tell you if he is feeling generous, or drunk on absinthe--that these two eons-separated venues are really contiguous.)
When you first encounter Webb's bewilderingly enlightening, comically horrific stories, you will be reminded of other writers in the great transgressive-outsider-surrealist-naive-experimentalist lineage. The Four Killer B's, natch: Borges, Burroughs (Bill and Edgar), Brautigan and Barthelme. Also Robert Graves, Howard Waldrop, Avram Davidson, H. P. Lovecraft, Ishmael Reed, Jonathan Richman, and They Might Be Giants. And when you are more closely acquainted with Webb, having willingly submitted yourself to his brand of Mexican-Filipino psychic surgery, you will forget all these comparisons (along with much else you thought you knew), and just see the One Grand Truth: Webb Is All!
How can you, a humble seeker, set foot on this path? Easily! By tracking down Webb's three books, and by attending to the monthly SF magazines, wherein Webb surfaces from time to time, whenever certain astrological conjunctions are propitious.
First in the doxology comes Uncle Ovid's Exercise Book. In this remarkable volume, Webb first revealed the depths of his insane creativity. Composed of nearly one hundred disturbing "metamorphoses," this book truly manifests the plastic, elastic nature of creation, as filtered through Webb's warped erudition. The organic merges with the inorganic, and time and space are abolished. Characters from myth and pop culture serve as psychopomps for the mortal protagonists, all of whom undergo various regressions and/or epiphanies as they learn Webb's one big lesson, borrowed from Willie Dixon:
Don't mess with the messer!
The reader waits in vain for Webb to repeat himself in this volume. But such is not to be. In stories ranging from impressionistic vignettes to metafictional recursions, Webb delivers laughs and chills in his allusive, lucid, deadpan style.
The one thing a reader might wonder, upon gingerly unfastening the sucker-laden tentacles of Uncle Ovid's Exercise Book from around his limbs, is: Can the Webbster pull this trick off at longer lengths? Doubting Thomas, read on!
The Bestseller and Other Tales contains seven stories fully as weird and satisfying as the tiny metamorphoses. Streetsweepers achieve mystic immolation. Teachers converse with the Cosmos Itself, embodied in attractive Lolitas. Winnebagos cross interstellar distances. In short, the Webb weltanschauung, like the Sans-a-Belt pants of the Gods, easily expands to accommodate any dimensions!
An even richer feast is spread in The Seventh Day and After. This volume contains two of my favorite Webb pieces: "An American Hero," in which Webb lays the Campbellian template (Joseph's, not John's) over an Average Guy. And "The Protocols of Captain Whizzo," which reveals the subtext of the Campbellian template (John's, not Joseph's).
I feel you succumbing now to my Jehovah's-Witnesses-like proselytizing and sales persistence, aided and abetted as it is by the sleight-of-hand flourishing of the Holy Texts. Yet I detect a remaining doubt or hesitation. "Sure," you say, "Webb has been subverting consensus reality for well over a decade now. Yet what's he done for me lately? Heck, the guy's getting positively ancient! I mean, he must be almost thirty-five years old now! Can he still pull off the Roumanian Sex Change Trick using only his elbows, a paperclip and two quarts of tequila?"
Well, you big wussy, just follow me over here to the January 1996 issue of Science Fiction Agemagazine. In its pages you'll encounter "Out of Bondage," where Webb limns in rich detail a stripmined future earth ruled by Chthulu-oid aliens, where humanity's salvation lives in a talking stone.
Just your standard Star Wars scenario, right? Come off it, friend, and get with the Webb!
If literature of the fantastic has any Secret Masters, then Don Webb is laughing at them!» - by Paul DiFilippo

«Metamorphosis No. 1: "Eyewake. Caught like Gulliver. Strands of light, blue and red, cover my body..."
Metamorphosis No. 2: "Hector Steelpoint, who thought of himself as one vast pulsating interpenetrating particular but whose neighbors thought of him as the ol' strumpot, has begun a certain disintegration of character since his hypnotherapy..."
Metamorphosis No. 3: "The February sunlight changed the spring water to urine in Dr. Plotner's decoctions..."
Metamorphosis No. 4: "The flesh becoming stale and crystallizing. The eyes fixing..." etc...

Read it at:
Don Webb, When They Came (Temporary Culture, 2005)

«When They Came is a collection of 23 dark fantasy stories by Don Webb. The contents include magical realist tales of life in Texas, altered states of consciousness, the effects of imaginary drugs, forbidden knowledge, and the perilous attraction of books. Several stories pay homage to H. P. Lovecraft.
The opening "Souvenirs from a Damnation," a list of 21 objects and their mysterious history, is exemplary of the magical realist stories and Lovecraft homages in this collection: a narrator sees friends and/or colleagues consumed by dreadful magics, and narrowly escapes or maybe doesn't. This theme is best explored in "The Jest of Yig," the self-mocking tale of an occult writer who gets in over his head; "The Agony Man," about a model enthralled by a charismatic sculptor who specializes in portraits of pain; and "It Sounded Angular," wherein six college students go a little too far with the wrong sort of tripping. The narrative distance is most interesting when bridged by circumstances that force the narrator to take action. A former High Priest of the Temple of Set, Webb is perhaps too familiar with the intersection of the real and the mystical, and after going through these somewhat repetitive warnings against occult dabblings, the reader shares his ennui.»

«When They Came is a collection that includes a generous number of Cthulhu mythos stories by Don Webb. I don't know much about Don Webb; I was not sure if I read anything by him before I acquired this book, although mythos maven James Ambeuhl says he is a highly respected author... Just about all of these stories were new to me. I had read "The Sound of a Door Opening" and "Serenade at the End of Time" before, but had no recollection of them. I don't know if Mr. Webb has any additional Lovecraftian tales to his credit. Like Terrors by Lupoff, Lovecraft Slept Here by Dumars or Twice Dead Tings by Attanasio, not all or maybe even most of these are mythos tales, but this is still a pretty good buy for a mythos fan. Mr. Webb is a gifted writer and there are many little original flourishes and turns of phrase that make all of his work engaging. If you can get over the sucky font. Although the stereotypic expectation from a mythos story is a pastiche, today there are many talented writers who keep stretching the boundaries of the genre, like Kiernan and Pugmire. Don Webb has his own unique voice, offering Lovecraftian themes from new perspectives. One recurring invention of his is the text, the Typhonian Tablets, which plays a role in a number of the stories, and is a worthy addition to the eldritch library. More thoughtful than unnerving, most of these stories are somber fantasy rather than straight up horror. The disquiet they induce is just a bonus! Here are the story titles.
Souvenirs from a Damnation - A very promising start to the book! The story is glimpsed in fragments relating to a list of disparate items. Al Azif is mentioned, as it is in several other fantasy stories here.
The Shiny Surface - A modern fantasy piece about a mirror that perhaps reveals too much.
Ool Athag - Under the influence of the Typhonian Tablets, a mystic seeks the knowledge of all things in Ool Athag. I thought this was a very good and moody fantasy worthy to be included in a Dreamlands anthology. Perhaps it owed more to Clark Ashton Smith than HPL.
Mission to Monnat - Too brief, but very evocative. A ship carries a message to a strange country across the sea. Of minor interest to mythos fans is a passing mention of Dagon.
The Jest of Yig - Of direct interest to mythos fans, this cautionary tale shows that just because you can communicate with an eldritch being doesn't mean it has any regard for you. It was among the better modern Yig stories I have read.
The Agony Man - A sculptor causes effects by the uncanny realism of his creations in this well written non mythos horror story.
The Sound of a Door Opening - A direct tip of the hat to Lovecraft here, as dreams beget reality and vice versa. What did HPL dream of? Can you recreate reality starting from a dream of reality, starting with cynical expectations?
The Lamp - Mr. Webb is fascinated by how imagination can influence reality, how perception creates the world around us.
The Heart of the Matter - Somewhat unusually for the Cthulhu mythos this is something of a love story; it turns of de Juntz of The Book of Eibon had been given a key to eternal life by Ludwig Prinn, only to fall for a faithless woman. He becomes more a figure of pity than fear.
The Prophecies at Newfane Asylum - I know of only a few mythos stories set in the time of the Revolutionary War. The Fungi from Yuggoth were collecting even back then.
It Sounded Angular - Very well written! A group of friends are offered eternal life and wealth if they dare to seek it. It has more of a Dreamlands than mythos feel.
The Yellow Flower - A man down on his luck meets a new girl who tells him about a self help book called The Yellow Flower. If you can find this book its influences on you may not be all that helpful.
Pig - Pig was a talented loser artist known to the narrator of the story, who seems to have turned his life around with the help of The Yellow Flower. Now his sculpture subjects are pain and humiliation depicted in exquisite detail. Finding a copy of The Yellow Flower could be difficult and the results of reading it not what you'd expect.
The Fourth Man - Although the Necronomicon is mentioned by name, this story is contains more allusion than specific reference, perhaps owing more to Chambers than Lovecraft, not just because of the color of the flower. A self help book seems to inspire destruction in those who read it. For now, I guess, this concludes the series of stories centered on The Yellow Flower. I found these three stories fascinating in aggregate and engrossing individually. I hope Mr. Webb continues in this vein in some future works.
The Collector - This story is dedicated to Zealia Bishop but that's as close as it gets to mythos. Instead it is a pretty darn good modern fantasy about an art collector. Who the collector is might surprise you.
The Flower Man - Al Azif is mentioned but this is actually fantasy instead of mythos as a young girl with healing talents is compelled to join a strange sect. It was absorbing like most of the stories in the collection.
The Idiot God - The title is a clear allusion to Azathoth. What would Azathoth use for sustenance, if you really think about it? The prose was not terribly explicit but it sure made me squirm and the story was one of my favorites in the book.
When They Came - Somewhat hard to properly categorize or even describe, an explanation is offered for the origin of fantastic beasts for our legends. Again I was struck how the imagery and thought behind the prose stuck with me long after I finished reading.
The Skull: A History - Very brief, a man really wants to see through Lovecraft's eyes. Good enough, but I would have liked another longer work
Key to the Mysteries - A wizard chooses an apprentice in this well written fantasy.
Meeting the Messenger - An excellent mythos story! A paleographologist comes across The Yellow Text of Thanos Kon, Contacting the Messenger. Mythos fans, of course, know who the Messenger is. One thing that never makes too much sense in Yog Sothothery is just why the Great Old Ones would want to come to this particular little sliver of reality or why they even deign to notice humanity. Don Webb's explanation is as good as they come. Maybe this was my favorite from the whole book.
A Little Night Music - This reads almost like a fairy tale or a folk tale. Mr. Webb could no doubt write a very good high fantasy. A poor thief meets an acolyte of the god of music and pain, and learns about both.
The Source and the Stone - More fantasy than anything else, a Grecian princess from a tiny isle makes a supreme sacrifice for her people.
I was left in a bit of a quandary. I found Webb's prose to be well crafted; it lingered on my imagination. As noted, there are enough mythos stories in here to tempt a serious Lovecraftian. I liked just about all of the stories and disliked none of them. I recommend the prose highly but as I noted at the start of this review, the font was a major downer. Also if you like seething tentacular obscenities this won't be your cup of eldritch tea.» - Matthew T. Carpenter
Don Webb, The Double: An Investigation (St Martins Press, 1998)

«Too much sex, some dopey philosophy spun from grade-B SF novels and New Age tracts and a sprinkling of genuinely funny lines mark this hybrid mystery/fantasy debut. Computer game designer John Reynman finds a dead man in his Austin, Tex., house. The body has tattoos where John has tattoos, and dyed bronze-colored hair where John's is natural. The Austin cops are naturally interested. John is worried. He hires lawyer Michelle Galen, who quickly becomes his lover and, later, his ex-wife's lover. An unlikely amalgam of stud and nerd, John follows a trail back in time to a secret society of adventurers that included his deceased father and Dr. Niles, who knew John's dad and helped him find a fortune in silver. Webb doesn't deliver clarity, but energetic prose and computer gaming lore abound. The story, if it were relieved of the obsessive focus on sex and some of the semi-philosophical, pseudo-mystical speculation, would carry readers along on a pleasant ride.» - Publishers Weekly

«John Reynman awakens one day to discover a man who looks just like him lying dead in his living room. John's subsequent dealings with police, his relationship with the female lawyer he hires, and his attempt to learn about his double all take place in a surreal world punctuated by arid humor, graphic sex, and bizarre characters. As he stumbles across arcane clues, a weird witness, two books in a car, three men at the door, a strange message on his laptop, he ponders the reality of death. A well-written but sometimes baffling debut; for larger collections.» - Library Journal

«Don Webb's first novel The Double will come as no surprise to readers familiar with his huge output of short stories and essays, particularly for the highly regarded Fringeware Review magazine. There must be something in the water of Austin, Texas, because Webb's Vision is an unusual but strangely compelling one.
Webb's dialogue and plot structure is like something out of a David Lynch movie co-written by Robert Anton Wilson and Jack Sarfatti. There are some unusual twists on familiar themes from crime and occult mystery literature, and on what it is like to survive fin-de-siecle nervous breakdowns, dissociations, and fugue states.
Webb has obviously done both research and praxis of S&M, Memetics, and Optimal Psychology; methods for the alchemical processing of Humanity via Ordeals-of-Change; and creative excuses for handling editors via psychological warfare ("I woke up this morning, and there was a dead body in my room that looked exactly like me!").
A wyrd trip, but one definately worth taking.» - Alex Burns
Don Webb, Endless Honeymoon (St. Martin's Press, 2007)

«Way back when, Robin Hood's turf for his deeds of derring-do was England. Nowadays, Willis and Virginia work the turf in Texas, righting wrongs by spotting society's nastiest creeps - the mean and bitter people who make everybody's lives worse. (A high-powered computer program allows them to identify these people easily.) Their modus operandi is to perform an ingenious prank on the nasty cuss in hopes of rehabilititating him or her.
Imagine the shock when they put a prank into action on July 4th . . . only to find their victim has just been murdered for real. Someone must be one step ahead of them.
And indeed, someone is, a shadowy figure. Someone else is also lurking one step behind them, and there's an FBI agent who's keeping pace with them, and it seems there are other figures in the mix... Like a caper novel as Philip K. Dick might have written it, Endless Honeymoon is a weird and wild run through the world of crime.»

«As readers of his two previous mysteries know, Webb likes to whip up murder, humor and sex into a heady froth. His latest starts out with a similar blend of ingredients and for more than half its length seems destined to be a memorably enjoyable outing. A married couple - Willis and Virginia Spencer - get their kicks by punishing wicked people in their native Texas, using carefully staged scenes of vengeance to frighten them almost to death. One such prank turns lethal when the Spencers cross paths with a legendary serial killer - the same man who developed the secret computer program that helps them target their victims. Also in the mix are two FBI agents - one ex and one current - obsessed with finding the serial killer. So far, so noir--especially when the killer turns out to be a sad and fragile old gentleman. But things begin to sag when Webb adds one ingredient too many: a mysterious woman who has hired the ex-FBI guy to bring her the head of a longtime quarry.» - Publishers Weekly

«In Endless Honeymoon, Don Webb chronicles the exploits of a serial killer with a unique obsession: On a personal mission to rid the world of those who delight in the misery of others, he targets only the cruel and mean spirited, people whose passing is mourned by no one. Although he's made dozens of kills across America over the span of several decades, the FBI has few clues as to his identity or motive.
The job of tracking down this legendary killer (I won't reveal his rather colorful nickname, as this is a family web site) has ended several careers, most recently that of Abel Salazar. Although severed from the Bureau, Salazar, funded by a mysterious benefactor, continues the pursuit. Salazar follows up every lead regarding his nemesis, including those uncovered by his successor in the investigation, the hapless Special Agent William Mondragon.
Recent events have led Mondragon to focus on Willis and Virginia Spencer, a couple who, stumbling upon an early version of the killer's victim-selection software, put it to an entirely different use - instead of eliminating their targets, they play elaborate pranks on them, hoping to scare them into changing their ways. Unfortunately for the well-meaning couple, their activities bring them into direct contact with their "mentor" when they one night select the same target. That fateful encounter is a catalyst for the rest of the novel, setting in motion a bizarre scenario where all parties are eventually thrown together. The results are by turns outrageous, tragic, and comic.
Essentially a "road" novel, Endless Honeymoon hangs together nicely. Webb keeps things hopping, even while exploring familiar terrain. The book draws most of its strength from the revealing interactions of a strong ensemble cast - Webb explores the duality of love and hate, destiny and chance, loyalty and betrayal, crime and justice, retribution and forgiveness, while making his audience laugh its collective head off. Webb's skewed perspective, one he shares with fellow Texans Joe R. Lansdale, Howard Waldrop, Neil Barrett, Bruce Sterling, William Browning Spencer, and Lewis Shiner, and with spiritual brother David Prill (a Minnesotan!), is a breath of fresh air, making Endless Honeymoon a welcome change of pace from the usual fare.» - Hank Wagner

1 comment:

  1. I briefly studied under Don Webb in Austin Texas in the mid nineties. I always regretted having to move before I could complete further courses under his direction. Now I'm looking forward to revisiting his work through his fiction. Thanks for this great article about a very wise person.


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