New Magics, edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Tor, 2004)

In the same spirit as Hayden’s previous YA anthology for Tor, New Skies (which covered science fiction), New Magics collects some of the very best fantasy short stories from the last two decades.

Neil Gaiman’s “Chivalry” is a clever, wry look at where the Holy Grail might have ended up in modern times, as well as the noble knight who still seeks it. How can anyone defeat the Grail’s new guardian, a kind old woman with an eye for propriety? “Charis” is an all-too-rare story by Ellen Kushner, reprinted from the excellent Borderland series (edited by Terri Windling). In a city on the edge of the modern world, where humans and elves mingle in a magical, musical, unpredictable town, just about anything can, and does happen. Susan Palwick tackles a truly unusual subject, as she mixes fantasy and literary speculation in “Jo’s Hair,” a subtle piece that follows the chopped-off hair (and the money paid for it) of the main heroine of Little Women.

Debra Doyle and James McDonald tell a story of Peter Crossman, modern-day Knight Templar, in “Stealing God.” Part detective story, part spy story, it’s a sharp and quirky adventure. Jane Yolen’s “Mama Gone” is a short, creepy piece about a woman turned into a vampire, and how it affects the family she’s left behind. Charles de Lint gives us another tale of the mythical North American city Newford, in “The Bone Woman,” in which the mysteries of the titular character are explored, and revealed. Ever wonder what happens to the parents left behind when children go off to some magical land to have great adventures? In Sherwood Smith’s “Mom and Dad at the Home Front,” a mother and father struggle with how much freedom to allow their wayward children, and whether they have the right to protect them from their dreams. Emma Bull’s “A Bird That Whistles” serves as a prequel to her classic War For The Oaks, detailing an important emotional turning point for one of the book’s main characters.

Stories by Harry Turtledove, Andy Duncan, Orson Scott Card, and Ursula K. LeGuin round out this excellent collection of top-notch authors and fantastic stories. Some of these stories have never been reprinted before, and they come from such diverse sources that it’s worth picking up this anthology just to have them all in the same place.

Robots, edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois (Ace, 2005)

This is the latest in an ongoing series of theme reprint collections edited by Dann and Dozois, and as always, the title is self-explanatory. With nothing older than twenty years, and most of the stories published within the last ten, it’s a nice compilation of some of the more intriguing robot-themed stories to be found out there. Of particular interest are Mike Resnick’s “Robots Don’t Cry,” Chris Beckett’s “La Macchina,” Geoff Ryman’s “Warmth,” Michael Swan wick’s “Ancient Engines” and Howard Waldrop’s “Heirs of the Perisphere.” Undoubtedly, short fiction readers will have stumbled across some, if not most, of the stories reprinted here, but there are a few that may have gone overlooked. They do a lovely job of covering a wide variety of tones and themes, with something of an emphasis on how mankind and robots interact, and what they mean to one another. From the robot that would not leave the girl he was charged to care for, to the young man seeking out the robot caregiver of his youth, to the bizarre journey of a trio of animatronics, there’s something for everyone here.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 8, edited by Dean Wesley Smith with Elisa J. Kassin and Paula M. Block, Pocket Books (2005)

Now in its 8th year, the Strange New Worlds short story contest has proven to be a great way for Pocket to find new Star Trek writers. Already, a number of past winners have graduated to writing for the myriad fiction lines, and I’m sure we’ll see more yet to come. It’s not easy trying to turn out a professional-quality story in a shared universe with so much history and continuity behind it, trying to tell something new without actually making any changes to established characters, and so my hat’s definitely off to those authors appearing in this collection. The stories cover all of the major Star Trek eras, focusing upon the five television series to date, as well as a final section entitles Speculations, for stories which don’t fit into continuity neatly. It’s probably ironic that the grand prize winner for this year’s contest, then, as well as the second place winner, both fall into the Speculations category.
All in all, it’s a strong collection of Star Trek stories, sure to appeal to Trek fans. They do suffer from the limitations inherent in the contest, focusing on major characters only and unable to actually make any sort of changes to the universe as a whole. But as self-contained episodes in the Trek universe, they succeed nicely. I’ve read enough of this anthology, and the previous entries in the series, to recognize a good thing when I see it. Here’s looking forward to number 9 and beyond.

Star Trek: Tales from the Captain’s Table, edited by Keith R.A. DeCandido (Pocket Books, 2005)

Following on the heels of their Tales from the Captain’s Table miniseries from a few years ago, a group of Star Trek authors have turned in a whole new collection, featuring many of the newer captains added to the literary canon. The concept remains the same: somewhere outside of normal space and time, there’s a bar where only captains can go, and where the price of a drink is a story of some sort. It’s a place where captains from any time, place or race, be they seafaring or space faring, get together to have a good time and spin some yarns.
Having covered all the traditional Star Trek captains in the last go-around, the authors were forced to stretch a little this time, but with the expansion of the Star Trek fiction line, we’ve seen a nice crop of new captains. Thus, there are stories told by and about Jonathan Archer of the first Enterprise, Chakotay from Voyager, David Gold from S.C.E’s U.S.S. da Vinci, Kira from Deep Space 9, Klag from the I.K.S. Gorkon, Picard in his Stargazer days, Riker as the new captain of the U.S.S. Titan, Shelby from New Frontier’s U.S.S. Trident, and Demora Sulu from the U.S.S. Enterprise B. It’s an interesting selection of characters, and a fair representation of the diverse Star Trek fiction Pocket’s been putting out of late. It’s certainly an all-star cast of Trek writers, including Christie Golden, John J. Ordover, Michael Jan Friedman, Peter David, and Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels.
The stories themselves are generally pretty good, ranging from the serious to the overblown to the comical (Archer’s story, in particular, goes right over the top and keeps on going, intentionally). Were it not for the fact that some of these stories seem to play fast and loose with reality (as captain tales sometimes must) I’d suggest this to be the perfect sampler of Star Trek fiction, since we have representatives from just about all of the fiction lines being supported at the moment. It’s an entertaining collection, and one that should appeal to even the most casual of Trek fan, though I’m not sure how well it would serve as an entry-level book. Certainly, I think we can expect to see another volume once they’ve accumulated more captains with stories to tell.

Magic Tails, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Janet Pack (DAW, 2005)

Take your classic collection of fairy tales. Add one part humor, two parts fantasy, and a whole lot of fanciful felines. Shake. Serve. That’s the recipe for this clever collection, in which fourteen authors retell their favorite fairy tales, from the viewpoint of the cat. If there was no cat the first time around, they add one or two. From retold tales to all-new ones, from quirky reinterpretations to sequels, they manage to add a whole new angle to some old favorites.
Alan Dean Foster gets the ball rolling in “Ali Babette.” When a woman finds a magic pillow, she ends up releasing a djinn, all right. A djinn of the cats, one capable of granting only the wishes cats would make. Her attempt to find satisfaction under such restrictions showcases a nice twist on the usual “three wishes” routine. Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s “Cat Among the Pigeons” gives the fortune-seeking soldier of “Twelve Dancing Princesses” fame a feline companion to help him solve the mystery of the worn-out shoes and exhausted maidens. Now, if Charles de Lint’s “Dark Eyes, Faith, and Devotion” follows the pattern of any specific fairy tale, it’s not one I’m familiar with. In it, he returns to his signature setting of Newford, where an unlicensed cab driver gets a very unusual fare, an attractive woman who asks him to help her rescue her cat. However, there’s something stranger going on below the surface, as our hero soon discovers.
Jody Lynn Nye’s “Sleeping Beauties” looks as the titular sleeping princess, and the cat sworn to protect and serve her, and the lengths to which he goes to find a suitable prince to break the curse during her years of enforced slumber. Edward Carmien’s “The Devil’s Bridge” has an old woman, the Devil, a cow, and a cat, and a sinister bargain. Jean Rabe’s “Suede This Time” picks up where “Puss In Boots” left off, with a whole new crop of unpleasant ogres to deal with. However, in dealing with the ogres who have secretly invaded the castle, a new light is shed upon the nature of Puss’ owner, whose gratitude, it seems, has its limits. We also get a new version of “Sleeping Beauty” in Andre Norton’s “The Cobwebbed Princess.”
A cat is used to save the day in a twisted version of “The Three Little Pigs” in Mickey Zucker Reichart’s twisted retelling, “All The Pigs’ Houses.” I somehow suspect the cat might object to the manner in which it’s used to thwart the blowhard wolf bent on pork for dinner, though. Michelle West and Debbie Ridpath Ohi turn their attentions to another old favorite, “The Show Queen,” in which a cat plays its own part in reuniting two long-separated friends. Authors such as Josepha Sherman, Richard Lee Byers, Edward Serken, and Bruce Holland Rogers round out the list of contributors.
I love cats, and I love fairy tales, so there was pretty much no way this anthology could fail with me. With some excellent authors, and some highly imaginative stories to choose from, this collection didn’t let me down in the least, and I was more than satisfied with its offerings. If you like fantasy or felines, this one’s sure to appeal. Give it a shot.

In the Shadow of Evil, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers (DAW, 2005)

What is it about the dark side that fascinates us so? What compels us to occasionally root for the bad guy, and why do we love to watch the villain at work? These are some of the questions that drive the stories in this collection, an anthology which focuses its sights on worlds and places where “evil” is winning or has already won. Be they willing servant or the bitterly enslaved, the protagonists of these stories all live under the yoke of what we (or they) would consider evil.
Tim Waggoner turns in a thoughtful story, “To Embrace the Servant.” In it, a master perfumer lives from month to month as he struggles to constantly appease a strange snake god with new scents. However, his attempts to find a better life for his daughter may end in tragedy, if he doesn’t watch his step. Russell Davis’ “The Angel Chamber” is a disturbing story told from the viewpoint of a young girl faced with a kind of death. Whether it’s fantasy, science fiction, or horror all depends on your viewpoint, and how you interpret the narrative. I will allow that it involves a real evil, though. Isaac Szpindel’s “Ineffable” looks at how, in fighting monsters, it’s easy to become one, as a rabbi pushed past his moral limits creates a golem to fight a horrifying war for him, even as the golem chafes at his bonds of servitude.
Julie Czernada’s “Peel” looks at a world where evil has triumphed, and then lost all sense of purpose. What -does- evil do when there’s nothing left for it to fight or subjugate? Gregory Benford’s “Iraqi Heat” turns a timely eye towards a land where evil has seeped into the land for so long, the land itself is starting to fight back. Told from the viewpoint of some American soldiers sent far from home to fight and die in a place not their own, this story features some very unusual instruments of justice. Tanya Huff’s “Slow Poison” follows a cook forced to serve a brutal warlord who’s killed her king and conquered the area. Forced to serve or die, the cook concocts a cunning, and subtle plan to protect her people and ultimately dispose of the gluttonous warlord.
Obviously, there are some very strong stories in this collection, with authors such as Jane Lindskold, Fiona Patton, Michelle West, Mickey Zucker Reichart, and Jody Lynn Nye also contributing. With stories tackling evil in the real world and in fantasy worlds, it’s a strong collection that really takes advantage of the theme to tell some daring, and thoughtful, tales. Mostly fantasy, it’s also got some definite horror elements woven throughout it. It’s worth checking out.

Women of War, edited by Tanya Huff and Alexander Potter (DAW, 2005)

As this title suggests, the common denominator is that each of the fifteen stories within focuses upon a female, be they soldier, warrior, or innocent caught up in times of war. Thus, we’ve got a mixture of military science fiction, fantasy, action, and girl-power.
Some of the authors take the opportunity to visit previously-established characters. Sharon Lee and Steve Miller give us a short story exploring the pre-military life of Miri Richardson, who plays a major role in their Liaden Universe books, in “Fighting Chance,” and they show us how the headstrong young woman joined up in the first place. Tanya Huff drops in on Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr, heroine of her Valor books, in “Not That Kind of War.” It’s a short but sharp piece that exposes the characters to the pointless brutality of a quiet war. Bruce Holland Rogers’ “The Art of War” puts a human defense group up against an implacable, indecipherable enemy which lays waste to entire planets. It’s up to one woman to figure out the strange secret of the alien attackers before they destroy yet another world for no reason. In “Elites,” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, one old veteran has found a kind of peace in running a halfway house for other vets, those women who just can’t escape the trauma of their military service. However, is our heroine as well-adjusted as she thinks she is, or has she yet to find her own healing?
While there are some very good stories in here, including ones by Jane Lindskold, Rosemary Edghill, Julie Czernada, and Stephen Leigh, I must confess that many of them didn’t really catch my fancy, making this a case where I skipped over more stories than I like. However, it’s still a strong selection, both of authors and of themes addressed, and I definitely found some stories that made me think.

Gateways, edited by Martin H. Greenberg (DAW, 2005)

This anthology explores the concept of gateways, with each of the 29 original stories collected within detailing a different portal, of one kind or another. Whether they link distant galaxies, the past and future, or even life and death, they all manage to bring two very different realms together.
One of the oddest stories in the book has to be Robert Sheckley’s metafictional story, “The Two Sheckleys,” about an author named, what else, Robert Sheckley, who gets invited to write a story about, what else, gateways. Before it’s over, there’ll be more than one Robert Sheckley, and they’ll both travel into distant realms in search of a story. Russell Davis’ story, “Midnight at the Half-Life Café” finds a long-hospitalized man journeying into a strange limbo realm, where he’ll make the most fateful decision of his life in a mysterious nocturnal café. Rebecca Moesta’s charming “Postcards” links two very different, yet similar, girls across universes, offering one of them a possible way out of a bad situation. Daniel Hoyt’s “Shift Out Of Control” takes a look at parallel dimensions and alternate timelines, and addresses just how confusing it can all be to those unprepared for the infinite possibilities. In Janet Deaver-Pack’s “The Trigger,” a young woman, missing for years, returns with a bizarre story about visiting a whole new world. How she got there, and how she got home, is the mystery, but after meeting her parents, is it any wonder she wants to go back?
Rebecca Lickiss’ “Spring Break” is a howlingly funny, off-color tale of pirates, fairies, and one very lost teenager. In “Double Trouble,” John Zakour revisits the future of Zachary Johnson, the last P.I. on Earth, as he investigates a mystery involving time travel. “By the Rules,” by Phaedra Wilson, follows a group of gamers who get a little too involved in their current game, literally sucked into the setting. In Jim Fiscus’ “Carded,” a man set on some corporate revenge finds both enemies and allies in another dimension, due to a case of mistaken identity.
These are just some of the entertaining, and quality, stories to be found in this collection. Clearly, the authors all had a lot of fun in exploring their theme, and they certainly didn’t hold back in stretching the idea to its limits. This was definitely a good collection, with something bound to appeal to just about any fan.

Low Port, edited by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller (Meisha Merlin, 2003)

Inspired by, though not based upon, the Low Port setting from Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s popular Liadan series, Low Port is a collection of stories aimed at giving characters who normally remain in the background a turn to shine. We all know these characters: the bums, grifters, con men, barmaids, merchants, drifters, the people who aren’t necessarily heroes or villains, the ones who get by while the more dramatic people do their thing. And these aren’t the humble farmers or assistant pig-keepers or orphans destined for great things, either. They’re the white noise in the background, the crowd scenes, the spear-carriers.
Hence, in Low Port, you’ll find a wide variety of characters. The main character of John Teehan’s “Digger Don’t Take No Requests” is a musician and con man who’s currently holding the record for longest transient inhabitant of the Moon, having spent nearly five years trading on unexpired visa chits to stay where he belongs. But time’s got to run out for everyone, and sooner or later, Joe’s going to be sent back to Earth, unless he can wrangle an unusual solution. After all, there’ll always be a need for dishwashers and janitors in space.
The winner of Most Unusual Title is Edward McKeown’s “Lair of the Lesbian Love Goddess,” a down-and-dirty cop story of a decidedly unusual beat. Rest assured, it’s not what you think, which may just be a good thing. Nathan Archer’s “Contraband” introduces Jeffers, a customs officer willing to bend the rules to line his own pocket. However, when he stumbles across a unique cargo, he learns that he’s not entirely devoid of scruples. But what’s a guy to do when everything looks okay on paper? Get creative, that’s what.
In “Spinacre’s War,” by Lee Martindale, a disgraced military commander is placed in charge of an obscure, unremarkable territory on the edge of nowhere. When he decides to abuse his power and “lose” the people he’s been assigned to care for, he sets a chain of events in motion that will ultimately force a reckoning between town and military base. But really, what chance does a ragtag band of whores and cripples stand against finely-trained military men? In “Bottom of the Food Chain,” by Jody Lynn Nye, we’re introduced to Hap, one of the many forgotten, disenfranchised residents of the Belowstairs section of Delta Station. Just another have-not, in a community that couldn’t even tell you what they don’t have, Hap has some big dreams. Then a stroke of luck delivers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity into his lap. Granted an effective blank check, with the sky the limit, what will he reach for?
In “The Times She Went Away” by Paul E. Martens, the legendary Annie Jones changes a man’s life everytime she walks into it… and out again. A pirate, smuggler, hero, villain, thief, scoundrel, mercenary, and much more, Annie dominates the scene wherever she goes. But for Peter, a mild-mannered poet, she’s an inspiration, and the touchstone by which he’s measured his life. For every hero that strides the stars, there’s a poet or lover or dreamer in every port, and here, we see what effect the hero has on those whose lives they intrude upon.
These are just a few of the twenty stories which make up Low Port. Spanning science fiction and fantasy, including authors such as Sharon Lee, Lawrence Schoen, Ru Emerson, and eluki bes shahar, this is a highly imaginative, rather eclectic collection, with a little something for everyone. Low Port is great fun, and it sheds light on settings and characters rarely given the attention. Lee and Miller clearly have a knack for picking interesting and entertaining stories.

Flights: Extreme Visions of Fantasy, edited by Al Sarrantonio (Roc, 2004)

Following up on his previous anthology, Redshift, which was a collection of science fiction stories that sought to redefine the boundaries of expectations, Al Sarrantonio has now come out with the companion volume, which looks towards raising the bar for fantasy in terms of quality and imagination. Flights is a massive volume as far as anthologies go: 560 pages and over 200,000 words, broken down 29 stories of varying lengths, ranging from short-short to novella.
The authors represented within are some of the very best in the field, including Charles de Lint, Larry Niven, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Robert Silverberg, Neil Gaiman, Harry Turtledove, Orson Scott Card, Jeffrey Ford and Gene Wolfe. With everything from high fantasy to urban fantasy to fantasy that defies casual categorization, this is easily one of the more impressive collections to hit the shelves this year thus far. There’s no way I can discuss every single story, not without running way over my limit, so let me present a few, taken from the book like snapshots.
Joe Lansdale’s “Bill, the Little Steam Shovel,” is presented as one might a children’s book. Certainly on the surface, the adventures of a steam shovel who just wants to do the very best he can would seem like a children’s story, but in this word, steam shovels aren’t all innocent and pure and sparkling. They have needs and desires and use foul language when no one’s looking, like the rest of us. While I’d love to see this one properly illustrated, I’d be afraid to leave it lying around for the kids. For adults, it’s great fun, however.
L.E. Modesitt’s “Fallen Angel” is an unusual, somewhat sad look at a different side to the relationship between Heaven and Hell, and between the angels who stayed, and the one who fell the furthest. It’s a fascinating premise, but may require more than one reading to fully get all the subtleties.
Dennis L McKiernan retells an old and familiar fairy tale in “A Tower With No Doors.” There’s a prince, a witch, and a lovely maiden trapped in a high tower. But not everything is as it seems.
In “Riding Shotgun” by Charles de Lint, a man with a troubled past gets a chance to change it, only to discover that the price he pays is more than just his life. Has his atonement, however, unleashed something even worse? Part ghost story, part urban legend, part time travel, it’s a complex cycle of events which lead into unexpected territory, but with hope always at the end of the tunnel. Though de Lint’s tackled some of these themes before, he still manages to make them feel fresh and new, and his solution is inventive without wrapping things up too neatly.
Kit Reed delivers a story about the day after the end of the world, in “Perpetua.” A family of miniaturized survivors travel in a specially outfitted alligator, avoiding the disasters which have made the outside world all but uninhabitable. But for one girl, survival is nothing without the man she loves, and the bond she forges with the alligator could save or doom them all. Plain and simple, I love the concept, and the imagery the story conjures up.
Peter Schneider gives us “Tots,” which does for four-year-olds what cockfighting did for chickens. Yes, two toddlers enter, one toddler leaves. I don’t know whether to be fascinated, appalled, or both. But then again, that’s part of the magic of the genre: anything is possible with the right twist of imagination.
Neil Gaiman’s “The Problem With Susan” can be looked at as an unofficial epilogue to the Narnia books. After all, whatever did happen to Susan, the only one of the four children not to show up for The Last Battle? What if she carried on and grew up? But that’s not the whole story. This is a dreamlike story, casting the characters in a strange new light, placing subversive, thoughtful suggestions regarding the Lion and the Witch (but no wardrobe), as well as the nature of Mary Poppins and of childrens’ books. It’s a typically Gaimanesque piece, taking the familiar and twisting it around so that we’re forced to reconsider what we’ve always known, making us reevaluate and reappreciate it.
The above stories are just the tip of the iceberg. What can I say, except that if you love fantasy in any of its forms, and you enjoy short fiction, Flights may very well be the don’t-miss collection of the year, sure to produce some award nominees and award winners, and maybe a few new classics. Miss this, and you’ll be losing out on something rich and strange.