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The Newsletter of
The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic

Volume 1, Number 2 (Winter 1996)
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The Texas Hermes:
The Fiction of Don Webb

by Paul DiFilippo
Copyright © 1996, Paul DiFilippo

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(Fiction Collective, paper, $8.95, 154 pages. Available from FC2, Unit for Contemporary Literature, Campus Box 4241, Illinois State University, Normal, IL 61790). 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(Drumm Books, chapbook, $3.00, 44 pages. Available from Chris Drumm, PO Box 445, Polk City, IA, 50226) 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(Wordcraft, paper, $7.95, 78 pages. Available from Wordcraft of Oregon, PO Box 3235, La Grande, OR 97850). 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!

The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic is based at the Department of English of the University of Rhode Island. We thank the University and the Department for their support.

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