Five “Best Of” Anthologies from 2004

The Year’s Best Science Fiction #21, edited by Gardner Dozois, (St Martin’s Griffin, 2004)
Year’s Best SF 9, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer  (Eos, 2004)
Year’s Best Fantasy 4, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (Eos, 2004)
Science Fiction: The Best of 2003, edited by Karen Haber and Jonathan Strahan  (iBooks, 2004)

Nebula Awards Showcase 2004, edited by Vonda N. McIntyre  (Roc, 03/04)
That’s right, it’s just about that time of year again, or at least it is as I write this. By now, the last of the assorted “Best of” anthologies for the previous year have come out, with maybe one or two stragglers still to hit the shelves. We’ve seen a pretty good crop emerge over the past few years; joining the venerable Year’s Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Duzois are the Year’s Best Fantasy and Year’s Best SF series, both edited by David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, and Science Fiction: The Best of 2003, edited by Karen Haber and Jonathan Strahan. (Hey, there’s only so many ways to say ‘Best of.’)

By far and away, the best of the best is still Dozois’s massive volume, a shelf-threatening monster that goes above and beyond the call of duty to collect more than 300,000 words worth of science fiction. And let’s face it, you’ll find all of the major names in here: Michael Swanwick (“King Dragon”), Vernor Vinge (“The Cookie Monster”), Harry Turtledove (“Joe Steele”), Terry Bisson (“Dear Abbey”), Kristine Kathryn Rusch (“June Sixteenth At Anna’s”) and so forth. It’s not surprising that a large percentage of the stories found here were originally published in Asimov’s, Analog, or F&SF, though more than a few of the remaining entries first appeared in two original anthologies: Live Without A Net (Roc, 2003) and Stars: Original Stories Based On The Songs of Janis Ian (Daw, 2003). If this particular collection has any weakness, it’s that relatively few of its stories come from small press anthologies or magazines. However, there’s one major component to the Year’s Best that allows it to stand out in the crowd, and that’s Dozois’s lengthy and in-depth overview of the science fiction field for 2003. It’s a near-comprehensive round-up of every aspect, from magazines to anthologies, from the major publishing houses to the small presses, from new novels by major authors to the debut efforts of new talent, from fiction to non-fiction to movies to television, and so on. Major awards are likewise covered, and momentary respect given to those notables in the field who passed on.
Frankly, anyone can bring together a couple dozen stories and, with all validity, express their opinion that these are the best of the year. However, Dozois’ analysis of the year is impressive and invaluable to anyone with interest in the field, rivaled only by the essays to be found in the companion volume, Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (this year edited by Ellen Datlow and Kelly Link; I’ll be discussing it in my next column, most likely). Throw in a list of Honorable Mentions for stories Dozois thought worthy of mention even if he didn’t have the space for them, and you end up with the Rolls-Royce of “Year’s Best” collections. No fan of science fiction should be without this collection.
I know, after that, anything else might seem like a letdown, but rest assured, the other offerings are just as good in their own ways. Hartwell and Cramer, for instance, range further afield in their efforts to collect what they consider to be the best in science fiction and in fantasy. A number of authors appear in both Hartwell’s Year’s Best and in Dozois’s Year’s Best; apart from Nancy Kress’s “Ej-Es,” there’s very little overlap in terms of stories. In here, you’ll find Michael Swanwick’s “Coyote at the End of History,” Joe Haldeman’s “Four Short Novels,” Gregory Benford’s “The Hydrogen Wall,”Allen Steele’s, “The Madwoman of Shettlefield,” Stephen Baxter’s “The Great Game,” and many more. The strength of this collection lies in its diversity, presenting a number of strong stories from authors new and old. However, it’s almost purely a fiction collection, lacking the in-depth analysis that’s become Dozois’s hallmark. Still, Year’s Best SF 9 is a lovely collection and well-worth checking out. The differences in tastes between the editors of the various collections mean that the readers are the true winners.
Likewise, Cramer and Hartwell have done a great job of bringing together almost two dozen stand-out fantasy stories, resulting in a good, solid collection that really does showcase some of the field’s high moments of the previous year. Neil Gaiman is in here with “Closing Time,” and Michael Swanwick continues to make his presence known with “King Dragon.” Terry Bisson’s “Almost Home,” is here, as is Gene Wolfe’s “Of Soil and Climate,” and Tanith Lee’s “Moonblind.” Octavia Butler’s “The Book of Martha” and Kelly Link’s “Catskin” likewise provide reasons to check this book out. Year’s Best Fantasy 4 is a worthy addition to the “Best of” shelf.
Then you have Haber and Strahan’s collection, which manages to gather just over a baker’s dozen which they consider to be the best. Some familiar names pop up, and once again, there’s considerably little overlap between the various anthologies. Jeffrey Ford’s “The Empire of Ice Cream,” Lucius Shepard’s “Only Partly Here,” Michael Swanwick’s “Legion’s in Time,” Ursula K. LeGuin’s “Confusions of Uni,” and Neil Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald” are some of the highlights. Again, Science Fiction: The Best of 2003 is primarily a fiction collection, with just a brief introduction to serve as a primer for this volume. If you’re looking for a quick roundup of some really good stories, you’ll do pretty well here. There’s not much to distinguish it from the others of its ilk, but it has nothing to be ashamed of.
The last in this mini-essay is a book of a different color altogether. The Nebula Awards Showcase 2004, edited by Vonda McIntyre, examines the best in the science fiction and fantasy field from the viewpoint of the writers, editors, and so forth themselves. Presented each year by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the Nebula Awards are some of the field’s highest honors. Thus, we have this book, containing short stories, novellas, and even excerpts from books that made it to the final ballot, reprinting both the winners and some of the almost-wons. Thus, in here you’ll find Ted Chiang’s “Hell Is the Absence of God,” “Bronte’s Egg” by Richard Chwedyk, “Creature” by Carol Emshwiller, and an excerpt from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, all of which won their respective categories. Then you have nominees like Michael Swanwick’s “The Dog Said Bow-Wow,” Charles Stross’ “Lobsters,” and Adam-Troy Castro’s “Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl’s.” Adding to the qualities of this book are the various introductions written for each story by the authors, and the assorted essays touching upon relevant topics. Of note is Molly Gloss’ “A Few Things I Know About Ursula,” looking at SFWA’s 2002 recipient of the Grand Master Award, Ursula K. LeGuin. Another essay looks back at the man who essentially created SFWA, Damon Knight. Among those sharing their memories and experiences with one of the field’s most notable (and occasionally notorious) personalities are Fred Pohl, Leslie What, and James Gunn. A third essay honors the 2002 recipient of SFWA’s Author Emeritus, Katherine MacLean. I will note that the stories and excerpts contained here were all published in 2001; there’s a bit of a time delay between publication, award, and then publication of the showcase anthology. My opinion is that if you really want to see what the SF field itself thinks best represents its efforts in a year, this is a perfect book to pick up.

The Locus Awards, edited by Charles N. Brown and Jonathan Strahan (Eos, 2004)

The Locus Award is given out each year by Locus magazine to the story picked by Locus readers out of a selection chosen by various editors and reviewers. Of those stories given the Locus Award over the past thirty years, eighteen have been chosen: four from the ‘70s,six from the ‘80s, five from the ‘90s, and three from the past few years. Now, the hard part is finding that small a number which can still represent the vast amount of material produced in that length of time, not to mention the radical evolution of the science fiction field over the years. Thus, and let’s be honest, even eighteen stories isn’t even going to catch sight of the tip of the iceberg. But Brown and Strahan give it a courageous attempt at trying to put together a satisfying list. The stories you’ll find here are the ones first selected by editors and reviewers, narrowed down by the readers themselves, and then finally sorted into this list, the pinnacle of the best in their opinion.
So what made the cut? Harlan Ellison’s classic “When Jeffty Was Five,” and Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Day Before the Revolution” join Gene Wolfe’s “The Death of Doctor Island” and John Varley’s “The Persistence of Vision” to represent the ‘70s. In the ‘80s, we see authors such as George R.R. Martin (“The Way of Cross and Dragon”), Pat Murphy (“Rachel in Love”), and Octavia Butler (“Bloodchild”). The ‘90s bring us Terry Bisson’s acclaimed “Bears Discover Fire” and Connie Willis’ “Even the Queen” as well as Bruce Sterling’s “Maneki Neko.” To start the new millennium off properly, there’s Neil Gaiman with “October in the Chair,” Greg Egan’s “Border Guards” and Ted Chiang’s “Hell Is the Absence of God.”
Frankly, there aren’t a lot of surprises here. Given that by the book’s definition, it’s collecting award-winning stories, everything here has probably already been reprinted more than once, and any avid reader of science fiction will already be familiar with at least some of the material. Still, it’s a very nice selection of some top-notch material, and the biographical essays accompanying each story are a nice touch. So if you wanted a volume that contains a good selection of excellent work over a several decade period, either for yourself or as a sampler for a friend, The Locus Awards is a safe bet.

Powers of Detection, edited by Dana Stabenow (Ace, 2004)

Murder, magic, mystery, and mayhem all collide in this sharp-edged collection of stories blending fantasy (or science fiction, in one case) and mystery (mostly murder), edited by Dana Stabenow. This isn’t the first, nor will it be the last time we see the two genres overlap, as there’s a long and respectable history of such things. Stabenow’s managed to bring together a nice, varied group of authors, some best known for their SF/Fantasy work, others better known for their mystery fiction.

Donna Andrews, who’s written two books thus far about a computer-bound Artificial Intelligence who solves mysteries, turns in “Cold Spell,” in which a wizard’s apprentice must aid her master in investigating a bizarre death up at the Duke’s castle. When a recently-captured prisoner up and dies from a wound to the chest, and there’s no way anyone in the room could have done it, it’s up to Gwynn to figure out how it happened. Clever and possessing a nice twist, “Cold Spell” lays the groundwork for what I hope to be more stories featuring these characters.

Simon R. Green returns to one of his most popular settings in “The Nightside, Needless To Say.” However, this story is a departure from the Nightside’s usual point-of-view protagonist, John Taylor. Instead, we’re introduced to Larry Oblivion, private investigator who’s come down with a sudden and severe case of death-with-temporary-amnesia, a condition which doesn’t stop him from investigating his own murder. In the Nightside, death isn’t always an absolute. But who killed Larry Oblivion, and why didn’t they let him stay dead? The answer may be much closer at hand than he thought.

Also returning to one of her more popular characters, Charlaine Harris supplies us with an all-new story of Sookie Stackhouse, telepathic barmaid and off-and-on girlfriend to a vampire. However, it’s not vampires she needs to worry about today. It’s fairies, who need her to help puzzle out how and why one of their own was killed. Was it revenge, or motivated by love, or greed, or something else? Sookie, now used to such bizarre goings-on, may be a reluctant investigator, but she’s still good at getting the job done.

Sharon Shinn looks at a school for mages, where the current Headmistress has to deal with a rash of bizarre, magical killings among the senior staff. Everyone, it seems, have a motive, even Camalyn herself, though the raw power and skill needed to pull off such attacks limits the suspects. The big question is, will Camalyn solve this mystery before she becomes the next victim? In “The Sorcerer’s Assassin,” Shinn has created a great setting, one only faintly reminiscent of what has become the quintessential school for magic-users, and I hope she’ll come back to it again soon.

Laura Anne Gilman bucks the trend by focusing on a mystery that doesn’t revolve around murder, in “Palimpsest,” a story starring magical thief Wren and her partner Sergei (who are also the main characters in Gilman’s first original novel, Staying Dead). When Wren is hired to steal (or rather “retrieve”) a painting, she finds herself caught in the middle of conflicting agendas and a dangerous conspiracy. Luckily, her quick wits and her partner’s keen instincts are more than enough to handle the job… right? With Wren and Sergei, Gilman has a near-perfect team, genuinely likeable characters who carry the story in part due to their charisma together. Think Thomas Crown Affair with a little Nick and Nora Charles, and you’re on the right track.

Mike Doogan’s “The Death of Clickclickwhistle” is the solitary science fiction offering, but it’s by no means any less enjoyable than the other stories. On a special mission delivering a number of alien diplomats to a long-awaited get-together, it’s up to a minor functionary to figure out just who – or what – just got killed, by whom – or what -, how and why. With thirteen alien species involved, some much more alien than the others, there’s a lot to work with. However, the true answers are as unexpected as they are intriguing. In space, diplomats play for keeps.

Stories by John Straley, Anne Perry, Michael Armstrong, Jay Caselberg, Anne Bishop, and Dana Stabenow herself round out this entertaining collection. There’s very little disappointment here, and some rather satisfying tales. Powers of Detection is definitely worth getting if you like mystery mixed with fantasy, or vice-versa.

Cosmic Tales: Adventures in Sol System, edited by T.K.F. Weisskopf (Baen, 2004)

One common grievance among science fiction fans is that real life has failed to catch up to our expectations of the future. More specifically comes the disappointment that we remain tied down to the Earth, instead of reaching to the stars and colonizing the Moon and traveling to other planets. In response to this desire, and in celebration of the potential the future holds, comes this anthology. Eleven authors offer up their views of a future where we’ve continued to follow our ambitions and travel beyond the confines of one planet. In several cases, they also offer non-fiction essays to expand and explain their viewpoints.
Thus we get stories like “Earth’s First Improved Chimp Gets Job As Janitor,” by John Ringo. While the title may sound rather whimsical, the story itself is quite serious, looking at a future where genetic engineering has created a faster, stronger, tougher teenager, one who suffers from discrimination and fear. When he strikes up a friendship with a philosophical, genetically-modified chimpanzee who serves as his school’s janitor, their lives are both changed, especially after big trouble hits.
Monkeys on the brain? Apparently so, since Wen Spencer gives us “Moon Monkeys,” in which a growing number of monkeys sent to the Moon suffer from a series of unfortunate events, most of them fatal. Who ever thought there would have been so many ways to get killed in the Moon’s first colony? Rest assured, there’s a reason to send monkeys to the Moon, and it’s not what you might expect at first.
Getting away from primates in space, Margaret Ball’s “Communications Problem” deals with the issue of how different groups will get along in the future. In the asteroid belt, there’s room for all sorts of minority and special interest groups to claim a place to call their own, but they still have to cooperate. Elaine works for ComCentral, trying to juggle the personality conflicts and needs for dozens of asteroid communities, and she knows just what she’s doing, so why is she letting one tiny group get to her? This is a personality-driven, quirky story along the same lines as Connie Willis’ work, and it’s a great deal of fun.
Allen Steele reveals that even in the future, some things will never change, as he regales us with the story of a high-tech casino heist on the Moon, in “High Rollers.” It has everything needed: cunning, adventure, robots, explosions, a mob boss, and a deadly secret.
In “Time In Purgatory,” Rebecca Lickiss also takes us to the Asteroid Belt, though her version is a lot wilder, an untamed frontier highly reminiscent of the Wild West. When Hell Week hits on Purgatory, the local sheriff finds her workload overflowing with action and mystery, and it’ll take all of her resourcefulness to set things right. As usual, Lickiss delivers a great tale with some memorable characters and a fast-paced plot.
Other authors include James P. Hogan, Jack McDevitt, Travis S. Taylor, Paul Chafe, and Gregory Benford. For those who like good old-fashioned science fiction adventure, this anthology has a lot to offer.

Little Red Riding Hood in the Big Bad City, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers (DAW, 2004)

Fans of the urban fantasy subgenre are bound to find this anthology intriguing, as seventeen authors take various classic fairy tales, and retell them in a modern, urban setting. All of our old favorites are here, from Red Riding Hood to Puss in Boots, from the Big Bad Wolf to a guy named Jack. As you can imagine, the end result is both intriguing and entertaining.
I was at first hard-pressed to identify the source for Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s “Mallificent,” but I’m pretty sure after rereading that it’s the Snow Queen, as a young woman must brave the hazards and temptations of the mall in order to rescue her little brother before he’s trapped there forever. Russell Davis’ “The Last Day of the Rest of Her Life” is a retelling of the Little Matchgirl, with a gritty take on an already tragic tale. Tanya Huff gives us a struggling musician named Jack and a would-be popstar named Lyra Gold, who have to work together to escape the demonic clutches of B. Stalk Productions, in “Jack and the B.S.”
Alan Dean Foster turns the tables on a certain old favorite that’s seen a resurgence in popularity due to a recent movie, in “Panhandler.” To say it’s disturbing is an understatement, but at the same time, it’s almost brilliant in how it skews the source material’s original themes.
In “Trading Fours With the Moldy Figs,” Jean Rabe conjures up a jazz-drenched tale of a secret fairy tale culture in New Orleans, where famous -and infamous- wolves go to jam and make sweet music. “Puss in D.C.” by Pamela Sargent brings the talking cat to the nation’s capital, where he juggles his CIA association with serving the son of his late master, while trying to make a better life for them both.
Janeen Webb turns in a variation on Faust with, what else, “A Faust Films Production.” Some guys will do anything to make that hit movie, no matter what the cost. In ElizaBeth Gilligan’s “Brownie Points,” a centuries-long association between a family and their supernatural friends may come to an abrupt end thanks to the modern joys of unionization and lawyers. Meanwhile, “Little Red in the ‘Hood” by Janet Berliner reimagines Red Riding Hood -and- the Wolf with surprising, and bizarre results. No wonder the wolf liked dressing up in Grandmother’s clothes….
Bill Willingham’s “Meet Mister Hamlin” takes an all-new look at the Pied Piper, as he delivers a woman’s darkest wish, and then returns to claim payment. (And if you like modernized fairy tales, do check out Willingham’s comic book, Fables, starting with the first collection, Legends in Exile. I mean it.) The computer industry gets its own fairy tale, in David Niall Wilson’s “If You Only Knew My Name,” an obvious update of Rumpelstiltskin, with a high-tech twist. Jody Lynn Nye’s “Keeping It Real” merges the classic Shoemaker and the Elves with a lesser-known tale from slave culture, as a shoe designer in the big city finds he has help in unexpected places. Finally, Michelle West’s “The Rose Garden” looks at a Beauty and the Beast where the Beast has lived long past the age of fairy tales and magic, and has yet to find his freedom from the curse. Could the answer reside in his own heart, which he sealed off long ago?
Story for story, this is a highly enjoyable anthology with a lot going for it. It’s hard to single out any one or two as better than all the rest, but if I was going to, I’d suggest “Trading Fours” and “Little Red in the ‘Hood” both have their moments of surprise. Overall though, I was extremely happy with the stories contained within.

Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2004)

Much like the Addams Family, this all-new collection of stories is creepy, spooky, and just a little bit odd, invoking the very best of the gothic spirit, in the tradition of Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe. Part horror, part psychological thriller, these stories play both on supernatural fears and all too human terrors.
M. T. Anderson’s “Dead Watch” is inspired by an old Roman folk tale, but also has its roots in some of the more eerie European fairy tales. When a traveler in need of some extra money agrees to watch over a recently deceased man’s body for the night, so as to protect it from the predations of witches and other nocturnal nasties, he soon finds that he’s in for much more then he bargained. The ending is skin-crawling and unexpected, sure to leave you jumping the next time a branch scratches against the window at night. Set in the same world as Anderson’s equally chilling Thirsty, “Dead Watch” looks at a modern society haunted by the creatures of the night, usually for the worse.
Barry Yourgrau produces a major twist on an old theme in “Have No Fear, Crumpot Is Here!” Basically, Walter Mitty meets Dennis the Menace with a vampiric twist, when a young man with too many dreams and not enough responsibility ends up babysitting a real hellion of a child, a summer job which can only end in tears. As the protagonist might label it, this one is “Crumpot and the Underage Vampire of Doom.” It’s pure comedy, but the sort that leaves you chuckling uneasily, and checking the time to see how long until nightfall. Just in case.
Then there’s Gregory McGuire’s “The Prank,” in which a young woman sent to live with her aunt as an alternate to a home for trouble teens, after a social mishap, discovers some bizarre secrets regarding her family. Just who is that in the attic, and why does she look so young and beautiful despite her purported age?
“Endings,” by Garth Nix, is the tale of a vampire who’s existed far beyond his prime, whose legend is forever intertwined with Sorrow and Joy, only one of which can free him from the curse of immortality.
Neil Gaiman deconstructs the genre, then reworks it, in his preposterously-long-titled offering, “Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Nameless House of the Night of Dread Desire.” It’s both a story, and a story about someone writing a story, and to describe it further would rob it of its power. Gaiman, ever the master of the dark fantasy and twisted folktale, is in his element with this self-aware, wryly Gothic tale.
Stories by Joan Aiken, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Celia Rees, Janni Lee Simner and Vivan Vande Velde finish off this delightfully dark collection. Though aimed at young adult readers, with many of the protagonists themselves teenagers or younger, this is an anthology which older readers will enjoy just as much, though I wouldn’t read it before bedtime. Sometimes, it’s a little too effective at evoking those hidden feelings of dread and unease.

ReVISIONS, edited by Julie E. Czernada & Isaac Szpindel (Daw, 2004)

Alternate history stories have a long and honored tradition in the science fiction genre. The great thing about them is that there’s a never-ending number of historical pivotal points that can be expoited, and every writer has a slightly different take on things. In this new anthology, editors Julie Czernada and Isaac Szpindel bring together fifteen stories revolving around the double-edge theme of “What if X was invented earlier/later than in the real world?”
Thus, we have stories like “The Resonance of Light” by Geoffrey Landis, which sees infamous ‘mad scientist’ Nikola Tesla inventing the ruby laser in an attempt to prevent World War I from taking place. Will his invention save the day, or doom the world to chaos and war? One man has the power to affect the fate of millions, but has he truly planned for every eventuality?
Julie Czernada’s “Out of China” posits a world in which the nature of the Black Plague, and the importance of sanitation and hygiene, is figured out in the early 14th Century, thus influencing a very different course of events over the next few hundred years.
In Laura Anne Gilman’s “Site Fourteen,” space exploration is preempted in favor of deep sea exploration, and a government agency called NEREUS seeks to colonize and master the ocean’s depths. However, just as with space travel, there are dangers in exploring the unknown.
Looking at one of history’s greatest inventors, Kage Baker tells a story in which Leonardo DaVinci’s great ideas were used for bloody, warlike purposes. What could the man have accomplished, if he’d actually sought to finish so many of his theoretical creations?
Doranna Durgin’s “A Call to the Wild” is an imaginative examination of a world in which our domestication of the dog failed, leaving us bereft of a valuable ally, and at the mercy of an insidious, all-too-familiar enemy. In “The Terminal Solution” by Robin Wayne Bailey, one of the worst diseases of our time makes its appearance a century earlier, plaguing a society decidedly unready for its ravages.
John G. McDaid shows us a rather familiar scenario in a most unlikely setting, in “The Ashbazu Effect.” Quite simply, what if the Sumerians had invented the printing press? They too might have had would-be writers, editors, and publishing houses, and a need for fiction. Kay Kenyon’s “The Executioner’s Apprentice” gives the secret of genetic sequencing to the Mayans, and Jay Caselberg’s “Herd Mentality” uses cloning to give the world several hundred Einsteins, all of whom have an idea of how to guide society’s progress.
The worst thing you could say about an anthology like this would be that it’s slightly formulaic, and that some stories spend more time reflecting on the cause of historical change than they do on the plot itself. However, that’s actually not the case; there are some fantastic stories to be found in this collection, especially “The Executioner’s Apprentice” and “Site Fourteen.” As far as bang for your buck, ReVISIONS is definitely a good selection of stories, sure to please any alternate history afficionado.

Emerald Magic, edited by Andrew M. Greeley (Tor, 2004)

In Emerald Magic, the magical green hills of Ireland come alive in 15 stories focusing both on the long tradition of Irish fantasy, and on the creatures of Faerie which are so closely associated with Irish myth. The lineup represented in this collection is an all-star one, featuring some of the very best names in fantasy today.
Charles de Lint’s “The Butter Spirit’s Tithe” is classic de Lint: seven years ago, a musician got in trouble with a butter spirit, a rather cranky sort of household fairy, and now the butter spirit has come to collect what he believes is rightfully his. Only a desperate confrontation between mortal and fairy will end this once and for all, and it’ll take cunning, true love, and determination to win through. As always, de Lint writes some of the best modern fairy tales around, though his characters have become progressively less surprised by the unusual events which befall them. While I never balk at new de Lint stories, and often turn to them first when I spot them in magazines or anthologies, I have to wonder if there are any normal people left with whom we can sympathize in his world.
On a more humorous track, Diane Duane looks at an entirely different Irish myth in “Herself.” Legends have power, and sometimes, they come to life on their own. Featuring leprechauns, conveyor-sushi bars, the fate of the shoe industry, Ireland’s only superhero, the ghost of James Joyce, Anna Livia (goddess of the Liffey) and a diabolical green tiger, it’s a fairy tale inspired by a few too many at the pub. Pure genius. I found myself reading bits of this one out loud just to see how it sounded.
Ray Bradbury’s “Banshee” is a love story with a poignant, midnight edge to it, in which unfulfilled desire has kept a spirit trapped on Earth for far too long, far beyond the point of hope and redemption. Fred Saberhagen’s “A Drop of Something Special in the Blood” is a vampire story with an unusual genesis, suggesting an inspiration for a much more famous vampire tale.
Andrew Greeley turns in a story of his own: “Peace in Heaven?” in which the forces of Heaven and the creatures of the Fae finally conduct some long-overdue peace talks. Once they were all on the same side, until a war split them along ideological lines. A different kind of peace talks turn violent in Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple’s “Troubles.” Of all the stories in this volume, this is the one I want to see more of. Stemple and Yolen touch only briefly upon a secret world of an ongoing war between the Fae Courts in the New World, but what little we see hints at so much more, of a much greater plan.
Other contributors to this collection include Jacqueline Carey, Cecilia Dart-Thornton, Elizabeth Haydon, Tanith Lee, Jane Lindskold, Morgan Llywelyn, L.E. Modesitt, Jr, Judith Tarr, and Peter Tremayne. Most of them are known for their takes either on fairy tales (such as Dart-Thornton’s brilliant Bitterbynde trilogy) or Irish myth (like Morgan Llywelyn’s beautifully-crafted novels.) Emerald Magic is an outstanding anthology with plenty to please even the most discerning of readers. If you like Irish-flavored fantasy or fairy tales of the classic variety, you can;t go wrong here.

Sirius the Dog Star, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Alexander Potter (DAW, 2004)

“Every dog has his day,” goes the old saying. And now, at last, the canines take center stage in an all-new anthology dedicated to the dogs of fantasy and science fiction. While fantastic felines still have a considerable lead, with no less than five, and probably closer to ten, anthologies to call their own, there have been very few looks at man’s supposed best friend. Well, in Sirius the Dog Star, Alexander Potter has gathered together sixteen stories that demonstrate why dog is man’s best friend, whether it’s on Earth, in space, or in realms beyond the imagination.
In “Finding Marcus,” by Tanya Huff, one faithful pooch journeys from world to world to world via transdimensional Gates, forever seeking his lost master and friend, like the Flying Dutchman’s favorite dog. The inclusion of a streetsavvy crow could spell the end to Rueben’s loneliness, but will it bring him closer to Marcus? It’s unfortunate that this story reads like a vignette, because I really want to see more of Reuben’s quest.
Rosemary Edghill’s “Final Exam” partners a man with a specially-trained dog to perform an invaluable service: determining which criminals are redeemable, and which will be executed by the state. It’s a hard job, but necessary, and the judgment of the dog is infallible, right? The heroine of Bernie Arntzen’s “Precious Cargo” is a space-traveling merchant with a particular dislike of dogs, obligated to fulfill a deal made by her partner. Will her hatred overcome her morals, when she realizes the true nature of what she’s carrying, and just what is the right thing to do under the morally questionable circumstances?
Doranna Durgin returns to one of her characters, the god-touched Brenna, for an eerie story about human desires and godly retribution. I have to say, I never expected to see a Welsh Corgi as the savior and hero of a story, but “Hair of the Dog” makes it believable. In “All the Virtues,” Mickey Zucker Reichart mixes history and fantasy to give us the story of Heaven’s only dog, a creature whose unfailing loyalty earned it a unique reward. Based partially on the real-life stories of dogs who remain loyal beyond their owner’s death, it’s an odd, touching tale. Elaine Quon’s story, “Improper Congress,” is a humorous tale of a future where sex is a lot more recreational, and technology still has its occasional screwups.
John Zakour’s “Dog Gone” is a tale of Zachary Johnson, the last Freelance Private Investigator on a not-so-near future Earth. When he’s called in to investigate the disappearance of a genetically-modified, super-intelligent dog, he finds himself up against some stiff odds. Bethlyn Damone’s “Life’s a Bichon” is an odd tale about a weredog, and the veterinarian tasked with hunting down certain problems. Worth expanding into a longer story, it’s a little unsatisfying in its current state, especially with such a pun for the title. Meanwhile, Jane Lindskold’s “Keep the Dog Hence” draws upon traditional tales of the Wild Hunt to tell a story of cruelty and retribution. In similar vein, Nancy Springer’s “Snow Spawn” also looks at the bad things that can befall very bad people.
Stories by Michelle West, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Stephen Leigh, India Edghill, and Julie Czernada round out the pack. All in all, Sirius the Dog Star (dedicated to a rescue dog of the same name, lost on 9/11, otherwise I suspect this would have been named Dog Fantastic) is a perfectly good anthology with a lot of good stories, and a few standouts. Ranging from historical to futuristic, serious to humorous, it has a little something for everyone, and will undoubtedly appeal to the dog lovers in the audience.

Imaginings, edited by Keith R.A. DeCandido (Pocket Books, 2003)

Editor Keith DeCandido approached this project with a simple goal: to provide a home for the much-maligned bastard child of the short fiction world, the novelette. With the guidelines set that all stories had to have a fantastic element, and be between 8,000-15,000 words, he opened the floodgates and chose the very best of the resultant deluge. The result is Imaginings, ten stories which threaten to redefine the novelette as we know it.
With stories by Harry Turtledove, Janet Berliner, Craig Shaw Gardner, Sarah Zettle and Adam-Troy Castro among the mix, it’s obvious that Imaginings is a high-octane, boundaries-stretching anthology right from the get-go. Now, the novelette isn’t my favorite form of short fiction; I prefer the all or nothing method, either a story is short and to the point, or it’s an actual novel. Longer stories require an unusual commitment, and raise various questions: how much time do you set aside for a 15,000 word story, and is it okay to stop in the middle if time runs short? That said, I decided to give this book a shot. The question soon turned from ‘when do I stop’ to ‘do I have to stop?’ There’s an intriguing mix of stories collected here, making it hard to put this book in any one category or subgenre.
In “Inescapable Justice,” Aaron Rosenberg tackles a particularly difficult subject for fiction: a superhero story that’s not set in an established comic book universe. Without the familiar four-color imagery already set in our subconscious, it can be hard to convey the superheroic action properly; Rosenberg gets around that problem by keeping the story on a personal level. When one of the world’s greatest heroes hangs up his cape and turns away, he’s forced to live with the tragedies he could have prevented. But what will force him to decide once and for all the course of his future?
Nancy Jane Moore’s “Walking Contradiction” is an unusual – no, make that experimentally odd – tale involving a private detective, a subculture of ambigendered people, a radical cult espousing neutering, and a cloning plot. To be honest, I’ve read the story several times, and I’m still not sure I completely get all of its intricacies. It’s still an unsettling exploration of gender and sexuality in a future where both have become a lot more fluid.
What can one say about Craig Shaw Gardner’s “A Planet Called Elvis” than “Thank yew. Thankyewverymuch.” Seriously, when space travel and pop culture collide, the results are bound to be unexpected. A pair of law enforcement agents are about to find out the hard way how hard it can be to find one Elvis among millions. Toss in some psychedelic drugs, a truly innovative (and fattening) way to die, some hip-swiveling music, and you have a far-out adventure that reads like Austin Powers meeting the King himself in a groovy futuristic setting. Thank goodness it wasn’t a planet named Hanson.
Charles Harness’ “The Thalatta Thesis” combines radical terraforming on Venus and vicious funding battles in a gripping story that goes from the halls of academia to the planet next door, where a world will be changed forever. In “Amends,” by H. Courreges LeBlanc, a love triangle between a telepath and two telekinetics turns deadly when jealousy and infidelity become issues. Sex has never looked so inventive, or so complicated. The true victims of the conflict have to be the ethical issues surrounding the misuse of psychic abilities, and the way in which things unfold makes this story one to think about long afterwards.
These are just some of the varied offerings to be found in Imaginings. As imaginative, experimental, provocative, thought-expanding and downright taboo-threatening as the legendary Dangerous Visions or the more recent Redshift, Imaginings is bound to have at least one story that appeals to any given reader. While not every story will please, that’s to be expected in an anthology with such variety. Special mention should go to Adam-Troy Castro’s Nebula-nominated story, “Of a Sweet Slow Dance in the Wake of Temporary Dogs,” a somewhat-surreal journey through a stream-of-consciousness mindscape and a twisted sense of reality. Check out Imaginings, and support a new home for longer short fiction.