New Realms of Fantasy Column

I’ve recieved my contributor copies of the October 2009 issue of Realms of Fantasy.

In my column, I talk about:

Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev
Dull Boy by Sarah Cross
The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
Kiss of Life by Daniel Waters
Once Dead, Twice Shy by Kim Harrison
Sea Change by Aimee Friedman
Fairy Tale by Cyn Balog
Me, My Elf and I by Heather Swain

For any of the above authors who can’t get their hands on a copy of the magazine, contact me for a copy of the review, if need be. Otherwise, they’ll go live in my archives in a few months, when the next issue comes out.

Reviews from the previous issue of Realms which can now be found online here:

Percy Jackson and the Olympians #5: The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
Beka Cooper: Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce
Highway to Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill
Fortune’s Folly by Deva Fagan
The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry
Zombie Queen of Newbury High by Amanda Ashby
Hottie by Jonathan Bernstein

If you have any questions, comments, complaints, or praise, feel free to drop me a note. It’s always nice to know I’m not doing this in a vaccuum.

Fiction in this issue is by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, William R. Eakin, Ben Francisco, S.E. Ward, and Jay Lake.

Now On Sale!

Today, Like A Queen has gone live and is now available for download. Follow the above link to the Circlet Press site to see the full details. They have a number of links to different formats, depending on your need – everything from buying it for the Amazon Kindle to PDF format to online reading.

Like A Queen is an erotic ebook anthology of lesbian fairy tales, retold and explored from new angles. (Its companion, Like A Prince, also on sale today, features gay fsiry tales.) This features my story, “After the Hunt.”

In the original fairy tale, as found in Grimm, “The Twelve Huntsmen” is the story of a young princess who, after being jilted by her fiance for another princess, goes undercover as a male hunter in his court to win him back, only to find her efforts hampered by a number of tests. “After the Hunt” looks into why she did what she did, suggests her motivations weren’t entirely what we expected, explains the magical talking lion, and gives the other princess in the story some time to shine as well. It’s fun, it’s hot, and you can believe there’s a happy ending….

This marks my first published erotic piece -and- my first published non-urban fantasy. I hope people like it.

I, Alien, edited by Mike Resnick (Daw, 2005)

Mike Resnick has never shied away from asking a lot from the authors who grace his collections. In the past, his anthologies have covered all manner of alternate realities, pasts, and futures, male authors have been asked to write as female, and female writers as male. Now he asks them to take a real leap of the imagination, in I, Alien. A whopping twenty-seven stories take a look at things from an alien perspective, looking at a wide variety of topics in the process. There’s a wide range of tones to be found here, allowing for comedy (Laura Resnick’s “Diary of a Galactic Émigré,” in which an alien finds out the hard way that his chosen disguise is not that of the Earth’s dominant species) and drama (Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “The Injustice Collector” is the story of an interspecies trial brought about by radical misunderstandings, and multiple interpretations of the same basic concepts.)
For the down to Earth, there’s Paul E. Marten’s “Creature For Hire,” which shows that even an alien can fall upon hard times in the fickle eyes of the public. Michael Burstein’s “Pedagogy” examines the differences in education and discipline between an alien species and Earthlings, leading to the sort of resolution we’ve all wished upon obnoxious people at one point or another. Janis Ian’s “Correspondence With A Breeder” is a hilarious piece about time travel, would-be-writers, a famous editor, and some major miscommunications.
Just to show that anthropology is alive and well on other planets, we have Barbara Delaplace’s “Resident Alien.” Proving that aliens come in all sizes, including the mindbogglingly small, there’s “Aortic Insubordination,” by Batya Swift Yasgur and Barry N. Malzberg. Josepha Sherman’s “What Must Be” is a thoughtful, tragic story about coming-of-age rituals, and the consequences that arise when traditions and customs are violated, even unwillingly.
Communication is essential when negotiating contracts and business deals between races. Just look at the narrator of Linda J. Dunn’s “First Contract,” who discovers the hard way why his species has had such trouble in the past dealing with humans. Is it madness, however, to expand one’s worldview? Tobias S. Buckell looks at a strange semi-symbiotic/slave relationship between humans and a native species in “Anakoinosis.” Who’s benefiting more: the humans who get slave labor out of the aliens, or the aliens who learn through their dealings with us?
Adrienne Gormley also looks at rites of passage, in “Nobodies.” To prove one’s worth to the tribe, they first have to survive a period of testing. But have the worthiest been surviving all these years, or just the most dangerous? John DeChancie’s “The Loaves and the Fishes” postulates that the concept of a Witness Protection Program may exist on other planets, with interesting results for the alien who hides here on Earth. Mike Resnick himself explains the truth behind our origins; it’s less spectacular than one might imagine.
These are just some of the stories to be found in I, Alien. Tales by Robert Sawyer, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Terry McGarry, Harry Turtledove, and Stephen Leigh also help to flesh out a collection that’s consistently entertaining, occasionally thought-provoking, and well-worth picking up. I thoroughly enjoyed this anthology.

You Bet Your Planet, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Brittiany A. Koren (DAW, 2005)

Just when you thought it was safe to turn off the television and open a book, reality TV and game shows have invaded your favorite anthology. Well, maybe not quite, but in You Bet Your Planet, eleven authors tackle the task of translating reality television, games shows, and contests to a science fiction setting, producing a fascinatingly mixed bag of results.
Esther Friesner’s “Cook’s Turing” is one of her typically humorous pieces, about a woman accidentally tapped to represent Earth in an interstellar cookoff that will determine whether we’re accepted as equals, or as slaves, by a powerful alien race. It’s Iron Chef as you’ve never seen it, with some truly laugh-out-loud moments. Susan Sizemore’s “Dish of the Day” is another story about a cooking contest, where the prize is a much-needed planet for humans to colonize, and the main dish may just have some objections to being turned into a centerpiece.
“Heart’s Desire,” by Mickey Zucker Reichart, is a worthy successor to Stephen King’s own take on reality game shows, “The Running Man.” In a future where everyone has everything they need, one man discovers that he wants nothing more than an honest job, and he’s willing to go on a deadly game show to earn it. But is he ready for what they’ll force him to do? Another game show with high stakes and deadly consequences for failure can be found in Josepha Sherman’s “You’d Better Win!” in which a man stranded on an unfriendly planet can only get home if he survives the natives’ most popular show.
Susan Shwartz looks as a failed reality show contestant in “Mind Games,” following her as she ends up playing a far stranger game with highly personal stakes. Ed Gorman’s “Stop Or I’ll Shoot” comes darned close to outright horror; of all the stories in this volume, it evoked the strongest negative reaction from me. Basically, a man is forced to compete on a game show where death isn’t just a possibility, it’s practically a guaranteed outcome, and things are rigged against him. Full of unpleasant, ugly characters, this story is really something of a sour note, or a splash of cold water to the face.
Jane Lindskold’s “Here to There” follows her recurring character, spaceship captain Ah Lee, as Lee is drawn into investigating a plot which threatens the peace between several races. As an undercover contestant on a game of stamina, skill, and survival, Lee will be stretched to her limits as she looks for a saboteur. Also going undercover to foil a dastardly plot is the hero of Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s “Name That Planet!” which requires a secret agent to use her brain like never before.
Robert Sheckley’s “Scenes From The Contest” is another show where things are rigged, and this time, even the hero is in on the fix, though he doesn’t know it consciously. All he knows is that he’ll have to survive numerous challenges, and do it all for the sake of someone who may never have a chance to appreciate it. Russell Davis’ “The Hollywood Dilemma” is a return to that much-beloved chestnut, the deal with the Devil, in which a game show host finds that in order to escape one contract, he may have to sign an even more infernal one. In Bruce Holland Rogers’ “Entertaining Folly,” a rag-tag group of humans are selected to appear on the alien version of a reality show, and for one, it’s the trip of a lifetime.
All in all, You Bet Your Planet has some very good stories and some entertaining stories, and I was quite pleased with the contests for the most part. I’m not much of a reality show fan (save for the odd episode of Survivor and those Iron Chef reruns), but I greatly enjoyed what this collection had to offer.

Best Time Travel of the 20th Century, edited by Harry Turtledove and Martin H. Greenberg (Del Rey, 2005)

Harry Turtledove has done a great job so far with his “Best … of the 20th Century” anthologies so far, so I knew going in that this reprint collection of time travel stories was bound to be of interest. Here we have eighteen of the very best stories told about time travel, some which are quite well-known, and some which are a bit more obscure. Naturally, Ray Bradbury’s classic “A Sound of Thunder,” is present. That’s one of those stories I always think of as soon as anyone brings up the perils of traveling through time, and in many ways, it’s one of the sub-genre’s flagships.
Also present are stories like R.A. Lafferty’s “Rainbird,” Arthur C.Clarke’s “Time’s Arrow,” Connie Willis’ “Fire Watch,” Theodore Sturgeon’s “Yesterday was Monday,” Joe Haldeman’s “Anniversary Project,” and “A Gun For Dinosaur” by L. Sprague de Camp. Many of these I’d heard of, but hadn’t actually read before, so it was a genuine treat getting to see them for the first time. If you like time travel, this collection is definitely worth looking for. As far as reprint anthologies go, this one succeeds admirably in delivering a good, solid mix and giving the reader plenty of story for his money. Turtledove is on a roll with this series; I hope he’ll find some more themes to mine for future volumes.

Children of the Rune, edited by Sue Weinlein Cook (Malhavoc Press, 2004)

Based on the role-playing game Arcana Unearthed, created by Monte Cook, this is a collection of stories told in the land of the Diamond Throne. The quick rundown: numerous fantastical races inhabit various parts of the land of the Diamond Throne, including the reptilian mojh, giants, humans, sprytes, and the leonine litorians. Every so often, someone will be granted amazing powers, as represented by a mysterious runic tattoo which identifies them to one another and the world. What these so-called runechildren do with their powers varies tremendously from being to being. Some are good, some bad. Some warriors, some mystics. All are unique in their own way.
The thirteen stories contained in this volume explore the many possible paths the runechildren can take, from thief to healer, con man to warrior, martyr to villain. Authors represented include role-playing game fiction mainstays Lucien Soulban, Ed Greenwood, Jeff Grubb, Richard Lee Byers, and Monte Cook himself.
It’s always hard presenting a collection of work based on a game setting: you have to walk a delicate balance between staying original, and staying true to the game, telling stories without making it feel like a game session transcribed. Too often, characters that succeed on the gaming table fail when forced to carry a real story. Furthermore, the story runs the risk of trying to convey too much of the setting information. Too much, and it’s overwhelming. Too little, and it’s generic fantasy. Luckily, Children of the Rune manages to walk the middle ground more often than not, telling some fascinating fantasy stories without succumbing to the many pitfalls available to such an endeavor. Were I more of a fantasy gamer, I’d be a lot more tempted to check out Monte Cook’s Arcana Unearthed, based on the potential tapped in Children of the Rune. As a stand-alone collection, furthermore, it holds up fairly well, even if the setting introduction feels like a lot to take in all at once. Fans of Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance might want to check this out.

Best of the Best, edited by Gardner Dozois (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2005)

Just a few months ago, I lavished praise upon the most recent volume of Dozois’ Year’s Best Science Fiction. Now we have Best of the Best, an impressive paperback tome which draws upon the first twenty volumes in the series to offer up a fascinating retrospective. As Dozois acknowledges, it’s a purely subjective effort; his choices were influenced by mood, timing, space constraints, and the need to balance out better-known works with lesser-known ones. If compiled a month later or a week earlier, the lineup could have been quite different. And, of course, it’s one man’s opinion. That said, what we have here is still pretty darned incredible: three dozen stories, taken from twenty years worth of the Year’s Best collections, representing the many facets and the vast potential of the science fiction genre.
This volume is chock-full of excellent stories and fan-favorite authors, many of them award winners in one capacity or another. In here, you’ll find Greg Bear, Nancy Kress, Bruce Sterling, Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Joe Haldeman, Connie Willis, Michael Swanwick, Ursula K. LeGuin, Ted Chiang, and many more. To detail the stories themselves, I’d need a lot more space. Suffice it to say that if you’re a fan of science fiction, and you like short stories, it would be a gross oversight not to check this book out for yourself. Normally, I’d say that a title like Best of the Best is like waving a red flag at a bull, but the truth is, Dozois makes a persuasive case with his choices. I’d happily hand this collection to someone who wanted to see what science fiction is capable of, or who wanted a general introduction to the field.

Christmas Stars, edited by David G. Hartwell (Tor, 2004)

Originally published in 1992, and released last year just in time for Christmas, it’s obvious what the unifying theme of this anthology is: Christmas as re-envisioned in science fiction and fantasy. There’s plenty of interesting stories to choose from here, looking at the holiday and its most notable icons in all sorts of different lights. Of note are stories like Connie Willis’ charming “Miracle,” James Powell’s whimsically twisted “The Plot Against Santa Claus,” Edward Wellen’s dystopian “Sanity Clause,” and Ben Bova’s introspective “Silent Night.” Other authors to be found here include Spider Robinson, Gene Wolfe, Anne McCaffrey, Ray Bradbury, John Ford, Arthur C. Clarke, and William Gibson.
While every year brings us at least one, if not two or three, Christmas-themed anthologies, Christmas Stars still stands above the rest, like the angel on the tree, by virtue of an all-star lineup and some classic reprints that deserve to stay available for new generations to read. It was good to see this collection on the shelves again after a length absence, and even though by the time this sees print, it’ll be well into spring, it might be worth looking for Christmas Stars. Christmas in July, anyone?

Transformers Legends, edited by David Cian (iBooks, 2004)

While the Transformers franchise has been in existence steadily since it first hit America back in the early ‘80s, it still seems to primarily carry that ‘80s atmosphere, no matter how it’s updated or changed every few years. Whether the ever-popular giant robots transform into cars, airplanes, gorillas, spaceships, or two-headed flying tigers, they still manage to hang onto the essential elements. Ask anyone who’s even remotely familiar with the Transformers mythos, and they’ll be able to tell you about Optimus Prime and Megatron, even if they’re fuzzy on the other thousand or so characters which have sprung up across four or five different and distinct generations. However, though there have been plenty of cartoon series, several different comic books, and uncounted toys to flesh out the brand, the fiction aspect of Transformers has mostly been left alone, until now.
Transformers Legends is the first (to my knowledge) anthology to collect stories about the various aspects of the Transformers universe, from Generation 1 to Armada, from Beast Wars to Robots in Disguise. No stone is left unturned in the process, and the thirteen stories within certainly manage to offer something to please any fan of the franchise, no matter what era they most identify with. Fan favorite Simon Furman, long credited with telling some of the most dynamic comic stories of the original Transformers, is featured with his story, “A Meeting of Minds,” which looks at a pivotal moment in the Beast Wars/Machines era, when one Megatron met another, to devastating effect.
Another standout story is Alexander Potter’s “Redemption Center,” in which the quintessentially treacherous Decepticon known as Starscream is granted a second chance at trust, companionship, and a sense of belonging. In a true question of nature versus nurture, he has to decide between factions and loyalties while struggling with the dictates of his programming.
Other stories look at the Minicons (John J. Miller’s “Something Robotic This Way Comes”), the popular robot known as Bumblebee (Jennifer A. Ruth’s “Joyride”), the many incarnations of Optimus Prime (Sean Fodora’s Prime Spark”), and the strange history of the Armada universe (John Helfer’s “Fire in the Dark”). All in all, this is an excellent anthology for fans of the Transformers universe, touching upon enough facets of the concept to please just about any fan. However, this is definitely a collection for fans; newcomers might be lost amidst the unfamiliar names and references scattered throughout.