Howard Waldrop has been called "a national treasure" and after reading this collection of 10 stories it's not hard to see why. He has a fascination (perhaps an obsession) with twentieth century pop culture, obsolete technologies, and arcane ephemera that permeates his stories and makes for a unique reading experience. He is also a meticulous craftsman, and it shows in these finely written tales.
Waldrop creates stories out of seemingly absurd connections that no one else could imagine. The excellent title story conflates Christopher Marlowe, the Shakespearean era playwright who wrote "Dr. Faustus", and Marlowe the narrator of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness", as CM takes a journey on the frozen Thames river in search of the real Dr. Faustus at the behest of Queen Elizabeth (in reality, CM actually did serve as a spy). Waldrop even manages to throw in a riff on Philip Marlowe, the detective in Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep! No one else could have conceived this idea or made it work, yet in Waldrop's hands it becomes a classic story. "US" is a moving alternate history story that shows three possible lives that might have been led by Charles Lindbergh Jr (who in real history died as a baby during the infamous botched kidnapping). No other story I've read captured so well the loss of human potential when a life is ended prematurely. "Mr. Goober's Show" centers around a brother and sister who, in the early 1950s, accidentally view on an obsolete TV set a children's show that no one else may have witnessed, a viewing that changes the course of their lives. "Major Spacer in the 21st Century" begins with the downfall of the creator of a 1950 children's science fiction TV show as the McCarthy hearings begin, and picks up in the year 2000 in a world where Y2K really did lead to a technological disaster. As a result, "Major Spacer" is given a second chance to change the world for the better. These are just a few highlights in a collection with no weak stories.
This is Waldrop's sixth collection of stories, and in my opinion the best since his first collection (Howard Who). I hope this book will be reprinted by a mass-market publisher so that more people get to read it. If you like this book, I would recommend that you search for his other collections, all of which are excellent.
If you like Waldrop's writing, I would also recommend short story collections by Avram Davidson (The Avram Davidson Treasury, The Other Nineteenth Century, Limekiller), Andy Duncan (Beluthahatchie), Terry Bisson (Bears Discover Fire), and Neal Barrett jr (Perpetuity Blues).