Review: The Weight of Words edited by Dave McKean and William Schafer

The Weight of Words edited by Dave McKean and William Schafer
Subterranean Press (December 2017)
248 pages; $40 hardcover
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

Like all great artists, Dave McKean has a style that is immediately recognizable as his and his alone. His unique visuals have graced everything from comic books (perhaps most notably his eight-year run as cover artist for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series and his collaboration with Grant Morrison on the graphic novel Arkham Asylum) to album covers. book covers….even stamps. So, what happens when you ask a group of authors to filter that style through their own distinct voices?

You get The Weight of Words, an anthology edited by the artist along with Subterranean Press publisher William Schafer, that is as varied and unique as McKean’s artwork.

Subterranean Press has never limited itself to one genre, and they’ve dipped into all corners of their roster of regulars to fill these pages. The result is an anthology that’s all over the map in terms of subject matter and theme…much like the work of the artist they are celebrating. Each story is inspired by a piece of McKean’s artwork, which is helpfully reprinted along with the story. I enjoyed taking a few moments to look at each piece to see where it took me before diving into the accompanying story—a great way to see how differently we as individuals view and perceive art.

As is the case with most anthologies, different stories work (or don’t work) for different people. The divide here may be greater for some, not due to the quality of the work, but due to the wide range of styles and backgrounds represented. Usually, anthologies revolve around a particular genre; that’s not the case here, as horror and sci-fi and fantasy have all been invited to mix and mingle at the party.

A couple of standouts for me:

In “Robo Rabid,” Joe R. Lansdale imagines a world decimated by technology. Things have come full circle for humans, who are once again reduced to a few scattered tribes hiding in deserts and caves from ancient, towering gods. The difference is these gods are robots, moving through dangerous rituals without emotion or reason, acting exclusively on what their programming tells them to do.

A young girl hides and watches as a group of these robots kill her parents and abduct her siblings. Shamed but resolute, she embarks on a mission to find them. Lansdale dials down his trademark wit to tell a straightforward story of the young girl’s journey—a journey that culminates with an epic battle, the outcome of which (in a move few but Lansdale could pull off) turns on a classic film musical.

“Robo Rapid” takes place in a bleak future, but it’s not without hope….until a devastating last line that we should have seen coming, but never do.

I was still reeling from “Robo Rapid” when I began the next story, Joe Hill’s “All I Care About is You,” another story centered on technology. In Hill’s story, technology still provides a measure of comfort and entertainment to the people of the world. One of the “advancements” available to people is the Clockwork, a robot that is totally devoted to whoever drops a coin in its slot. Of course, that devotion only lasts until the timer runs out or another coin is deposited, but, for however long you can afford, you can have a friend like no other.

Iris is having the worst day ever when she runs across a Clockwork on a busy city street. She activates him in the hopes of getting some help with a little manual labor, and ends up spending what appears to be a perception-altering afternoon with him; the kind of day that changes a person’s perspective on what’s important, on what it really means to connect with someone….or some thing. But Hill has something other than the pat, “you’ve made me a better person” ending in mind. It’s a wonderful, heart-wrenching story, filled with little details (like living mermaids in glass balls, and bubbles that people can float in) that make me want to revisit this particular world in the future. I hope Hill feels the same.

My copy of The Weight of Words is an advance paperback edition, but it’s still a thing of beauty to behold. I can only imagine how gorgeous the finished hardback editions will be. Surface impressions aside, the stories within will, like McKean’s artwork, impact each person that encounters it in different ways.

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