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The Steam-Driven Boy and Other Strangers - John Sladek Tenalp yawaraf a morf emoc I, stnatibahni htraE olleh. D NT WHSH T DSTR U, JST GV U KNWLDG. CwN www wNDwRSTwND Mw?

Sladek's short stories are one crazy ride, you never know what will happen next, as he constantly pulls tricks from the hat like a magician turned into a broken automaton. The bad side of this is that sometimes the tricks come raining down all at once, taking away all the fun. The magician might tear his belly apart and reveal some hot chick inside, but wait, she is in fact a robot, who was once a human who lived in the future, but came back to the past with a time bicycle and now is split in two or three or four selves and she may be a spy or a whore or a scientist. And wait to see what's inside the bunny!
Have I bored you or what?

This is how some of the stories feel - a mumbo-jumbo of characters and events that are not actually related, which don't make any sense and are not even funny. I skipped those after a page or two (Secret Identity, The Best-Seller, Solar Shoe-Salesman). As a matter of fact, there are only a few stories that make sense (sort of). I'm speaking from my point of view, as I'm not very familiar with the science-fiction genre and thus couldn't grasp the alleged references to SF masterworks. In this respect, the Parodies section was totally wasted on me.

I don't know why, but I've started with the bad parts; I'm a bit angry, it's true, because the title and some good ratings have deceived me into believing that I'll adore these stories. They are not quite what I've expected, but fortunately many stories are a lot of fun - crazy and absurd as they may be. In fact: they are outrageously crazy and absurd! They are a blend of surrealism, humor and science-fiction which sometimes hits the right mix (as in The Secret of the Old Custard, A Report on the Migrations of Educational Materials, The Happy Breed, The Transcendental Sandwich, The Momster, 1937 A.D.!).

Jenny and Peter came home from school, demanding a ‘snack’. Agnes gave them Hungarian goulash, bread and butter, coffee and apple pie. They paid 95 cents each, and each tipped her 15 cents. They were gruff, dour eight-year-olds who talked little while they ate. Agnes was a little afraid of them. After their snack, they belted on guns and went out to hunt other children, before it grew too dark to see them.

I truly felt like weeping with him, but, for various reasons, my tear ducts had been removed.

There was money all over the floor, and lucky charms, but it was electrified. I tore along on my scooter, whose headlamp seemed to show darkness instead of light. I had to hurry, before the bureau closed, but the hands on my watch were wrong, no matter how I turned it to look at it.

Oh, and there were also riddles throughout the stories, like these:
(please don't tell me you wouldn't wreck your brain to understand it, because I did!)

To get a sense of how Sladek's stories feel, you can watch the short movie Breakfast, made by the surrealist artist Jan Švankmajer (there are also Lunch and Dinner, if your interest is aroused).