Jeffrey Ford first came to my attention via the first story in this book. Along with Joyce Carol Oate's Fossil Figures, Polka Dots and Moonbeams was a real standout in Sarrantonio and Gaiman's anthology Stories. An unexpected slice of period piece, Polka Dots and Moonbeams mixes a swift cocktail of love, addiction and existential uncertainty within a backdrop that feels fresh. It's menacing, ambiguous yet strangely beautiful at times too.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, this story appears to be very much in one of the two major veins which Ford writes. In this, he creates a fantasy setting borrowing from periods that aren't necessarily - most commonly doing his own very specific flavour of Dickensian steampunk. Like his earlier trilogy The Well-Built City, they are often concerned with ideas of uncanny science as can be seen in stories like Daltharee and The Dream of Reason. Both of these stories concern that of a mad scientist, and their strange and rather sinister approach to science they contain an eerily convincing quality. The Dream of Reason particularly is another stand-out from the collection.
Also in the darkly-Dickensian setting are Doctor Lash Remembers and Daddy Longlegs of the Evening. Both are excellent examples of Ford's ability to tread between the uncanny and outright horror - the latter notable for retaining its atmosphere whilst indulging in an enjoyably pulpy tone.
When taking on more conventional genres, Ford's stories are no less unique. Sit the Dead is an excellent vampire romance, and Coral Heart is a very strange take on heroic fantasy. The longest story in the collection is Wish Head, a murder mystery about a beautiful young woman's body that is washed up in a local river. It's melancholic and sinister, and surprisingly one of the fastest reads in the whole book despite being the longest. It's preoccupation with strange symbols is echoed somewhat by Relic, a story about lies and faith.
When he's not writing quasi-period pieces, Ford tends towards a high unique blend of the fantastical and the autobiographical. Down Atsion Road, The Double of My Double Is Not My Double and The War Between and Heaven and Hell Wallpaper are all examples of this. Another real standout from the collection is also in this: Every Richie There Is is almost not fiction at all, by the author's own admission, but it's a haunting snapshot of a life glimpsed out of the corner of your eye. 86 Deathdick Road, meanwhile, is disturbing in a way I've rarely encountered outside of the works of Richard Shearman.
It's not all darkness and melancholia: short stories like The Seventh Expression of the Robot General and After Moreau are playful and funny.
The final standout in the collection is Ganesha, a story about a young woman and a Hindi deity. The story of faith and self-actualisation exudes pathos, and expresses the core concepts in a highly creative and interesting manner.
Crackpot Palace is an excellent collection, full of great ideas and unique atmosphere. Not every single story lands, but most do. Worth a read, especially if you're a fan of the works of writers like Kelly Link and Michael Swanwick.