As I write this, I’ve been on a complete binge of all things Metropolis. Accordingly, I stumbled across this anthology of short stories and wondered where it has been all my life. It’s as though it were written for me. But I recognize a larger truth: it was written to feed the machine. The pulp authors who put this together feel the same as I do about the legendary silent film. It called to them, demanding they feed the Great Machine of Metropolis. It’s the only explanation.
The only way to properly review an anthology is to cover everything in it, which I’ll try to do now.
What Right Law? by William Patrick Maynard & Michael Richard Maynard
“An obsessed visionary and a mad scientist caught up in their love for the same woman create the unimaginable that in the end might ruin them all.”
This is an impressive little prequel told in parts that gives us the origin story for the Great City of Metropolis and a look inside the hearts — or lack therein — of Joh Fredersen, Rotwang, and the demon Moloch who has used their love of the woman Hel to serve his ultimate needs. What’s perhaps most impressive of this is this father-son collaboration not only filled in the gaps to the original story in a way that completely satisfies, but it does so in a way that extrapolates the relationship between Fredersen, Rotwang, and Hel based on the real-life relationship between Fritz Lang, Rudolf Klein-Rogge (who played Rotwang in the film), and Thea von Harbou. That’s inspired.
The Metropolis Murders by Michael Panush
“Private Investigator Eisenstein is hired by a Boss Moroder to track down and capture the serial killer known as the Laughing Man.”
Adding a noir vibe mixed with the imagery of the silent era, the Laughing Man is a walking Easter egg, a sci-fi composite of appropriate influences, all of which I’m pleased to say I correctly guessed. The author offers confirmation in his afterward. It’s a straightforward tale that adds new layers to Metropolis, fleshing it out and making it feel like a real city. More Easter eggs lie within the story, and the revelations at the climax are brilliant.
Servo-Surrugate by Kevin Noel Olson
“Someone is kidnapping babies from the Underground City.”
Here’s a fascinating question to ask when it comes to Metropolis: can a black market for infants possibly be a good thing if the end result is the babies will be raised in a loving environment by people who want them, can afford them, and can guarantee a future without the slavery of the Underground? The black market operates by willing consent… until demand outstrips supply. But are those responsible doing it for love or money? Does it matter? This one had quite a bit of meat on the bone. I find it hangs with me after the book has been finished.
The Man from Air Tower 12 by Erik Franklin
“A lunatic fighter pilot is attacking the towers of Metropolis and only a quiet, unassuming traffic controller has any chance of stopping him.”
While the original story of Metropolis explores the extremes of those who live at the highest heights and deepest depths, the film gives us a glimpse of taxi drivers, zeppelins, and post World War I era aircraft, all of which lend to the milieu of the dystopian deco nightmare that is Metropolis, and all of which hint at an unexplored middle ground of “average citizens.” That’s where this story fits in, opening the world just that much further with this tale of an unlikely hero.
On the whole, I’m truly impressed. I have a love of pulp stories to begin with, but to have a collection based on Metropolis, especially a collection that’s written so well… I’m so happy to have found this. Each of these stories stands as a snapshot of the world, lending to a collection where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Obviously, if you’ve not seen the restored version of the film, or if it’s been awhile, that would be the place to begin before diving into this anthology. But if you’re like me and feel that insatiable need to explore this world, this is the book for you. As of now, there is no Volume Two, but this is one I’ll be eagerly awaiting while I investigate other works in these writers’ repertoires.