Spencer, William Browning 1946–
Spencer, William Browning 1946–
Born January 16, 1946, in Washington, DC; son of Roland and Christine Spencer.
Home—Austin, TX. Agent—Jonathan Matson, 276 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10001.
Freelance graphic artist and writer.
International Horror Critics Guild Award, Best Novel, 1995; World Fantasy Award nomination for best short story, 2003, for "The Essayist in the Wilderness."
Maybe I'll Call Anna, Permanent Press (Sag Harbor, NY), 1990.
The Return of Count Electric and Other Stories (short stories), Permanent Press (Sag Harbor, NY), 1993.
Résumé with Monsters, Permanent Press (Sag Harbor, NY), 1994.
Zod Wallop, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Irrational Fears, White Wolf/Borealis, 1998.
The Ocean and All Its Devices (short stories), Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2006.
Work featured in The Year's Best Science Fiction, Eleventh Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois, 1994; The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Eighth Annual Collection, edited by Datlow and Windling, 1995; The Year's Best SF, edited by David G. Hartwell, 1996; and Lord of the Fantastic, edited by Martin H. Greenberg, 1998.
In his novels and short stories, William Browning Spencer combines horror (and horror-spoof), fantasy and psychology into postmodern tales of loss and obsession reminiscent of the work of everyone from H.P. Lovecraft to Kurt Vonnegut.
Spencer's novel Irrational Fears is a satirical look at alcoholism and recovery. The surrealistic novel received a starred review from a Publishers Weekly contributor, who noted: "Those who prize droll humor and vivid characters along with supernatural fireworks will love this finely crafted novel." The book takes a humorous look at AA and its successes.
In Zod Wallop the main character, a children's author, is shaken from the grief following his daughter's death to discover that some oddball characters he created for a book years before (the Zod Wallop of the title) have come to life. New York Times Book Review contributor David Bowman compared reading Zod Wallop to "dropping acid with Dr. Seuss." Noting that the work actually constitutes books-within-a-book in that the protagonist imagines two versions of the title story, while Spencer himself contributes a third, Bowman found the result a fiction that is "simultaneously madcap, tragic, cartoony and Cute." (Bowman capitalized "cute" purposely to point out that cuteness is a matter of taste. Bowman also noted: "One reader's Twinkie is another's tiramisu.") The reviewer also wrote that "whether read straight or wired, all three versions of ‘Zod Wallop’… are clunkily wonderful entertainment."
Previous to Zod Wallop was Spencer's Résumé with Monsters, an office farce about a mousy data-entry specialist who "possesses an imagination that creeps out of the shadows and sucks up quotidian reality like a B-movie alien," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. Though the magazine's critic was ultimately put off by the uneasy marriage of comedy and deranged mentality, kudos were given to "a cast of eccentric co-workers, … easy cracks about data entry and some ingenious narrative tricks." To Booklist contributor Dennis Winters, "this little gem contributes a soupcon more paranoia to the fictional world." Résumé with Monsters won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Novel of 1995.
Spencer's 1993 collection of short stories, The Return of Count Electric and Other Stories, caused some critics to evoke the spirit of Rod Serling, suggesting that this book, with its surreal themes and rapid twists of plot, owes a debt to Serling's classic television series The Twilight Zone. But this comparison "might send [Serling] twirling like a turbine in his grave, because a twist must not merely be a surprise or reversal, but something that turns the whole story over in the reader's hand," noted Harry Goldstein in his American Book Review article. Goldstein added that while each story has "plenty of narrative drive, … all of Spencer's passengers have the psychological depth of crash test dummies."
In the title story, the narrator searches his father's house intent on finding a death machine. What he finds instead is evidence that he, not his father, is a suspected serial killer. "Black humor also comes into play in ‘The Wedding Photographer in Crisis,’ whose protagonist forces the groom to go through with the ceremony at gunpoint, and in ‘Haunted by the Horror King,’ which shows a writer driven to madness by the success of Stephen King," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor.
Of his first novel, Spencer told CA: "Maybe I'll Call Anna is a novel of obsession and suspense, intended as entertainment but also written to clarify certain experiences. The hero of the novel and I have some experiences in common. I had encountered the sixties, worked as an orderly in an emergency room, and spent some months in an army stockade—and I had met my share of erratic, seductive ‘Annas.’ I had read many novels about the sixties that suffered from the euphoric recall that characterizes nostalgia, and I wanted to write something more in tune with my own memories of that time. I did not want to write a realistic coming-of-age novel. I wanted something heavily plotted, suspenseful, almost melodramatic. While I doubt any author can look at his published novel without some second thoughts, some reservations, I feel I succeeded in capturing a time and an attitude while writing a novel that has considerable narrative momentum."
Writing for Bookslut, Colleen Mondor called Spencer's 2006 short story collection, The Ocean and All Its Devices, "a great collection of the kind of literary speculative fiction that gets lost on the store shelves." Mondor went on to write: "I was quite impressed with what Spencer did with this collection and found his interesting introduction on the perils of the short story writer to be quite illuminating as well."
The collection features nine stories and begins with "The Oddskeeper's Daughter," in which a man seeks to regain his wife and child who have been taken from him by making a bargain with powers beneath the ocean. Another story, "The Essayist in the Wilderness," features a young naturalist who is observing a colony of crayfish and pondering philosophical questions, all the while totally unaware that what he is witnessing in the natural war "is not only unnatural but potentially horrifying," as noted by a contributor to Publishers Weekly. Other tales include "The Halfway House at the Heart of Darkness," which focuses on addiction in a virtual world, and "The Numbers," which combines a tale of gambling and science fiction.
"Spencer's stories are scintillating creations, disturbing and beautiful," wrote Regina Schroeder in Booklist. Writing for Agony Column, Terry Weyna commented: "The stories are weird, quirky, odd, strange, otherworldly, bizarre—in other words, not like anything you've read from any other author. Spencer's world is painful and funny, somehow off, slightly twisted. There isn't a clunker in the bunch."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Book Review, September/October, 1995, Harry Goldstein, "Surviving the Age of Image," includes review of The Return of Count Electric and Other Stories.
Booklist, September 1, 1993, Eloise Kinney, review of The Return of Count Electric and Other Stories, p. 38; January 1, 1995, review of Résumé with Monsters, p. 802; April 15, 2006, Regina Schroeder, review of The Ocean and All Its Devices, p. 34.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1993, review of The Return of Count Electric and Other Stories, p. 813.
New York Times Book Review, November 26, 1995, David Bowman, review of Zod Wallop, p. 29.
Publishers Weekly, August 9, 1993, review of The Return of Count Electric and Other Stories, p. 460; December 5, 1994, review of Résumé with Monsters, p. 66; October 16, 1995, review of Zod Wallop, p. 46; July 27, 1998, review of Irrational Fears, p. 58; March 20, 2006, review of The Ocean and All Its Devices, p. 40.
Agony Column,http://www.trashotron.com/agony/ (July 6, 2008), Terry Weyna, review of The Ocean and All Its Devices.
Bookslut,http://www.bookslut.com/ (July 6, 2008), Colleen Mondor, review of The Ocean and All Its Devices.
Rambles,http://www.rambles.net/ (February 10, 2007), Tom Knapp, review of The Ocean and All Its Devices.