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08-02-05: Your Fantasy Comes to Life

Agony Column News Even When We're On Vacation

by Terry Weyna

You know you want this.
Its the time of year when the “years best” anthologies are hitting the shelves in big 500+ page chunks. Whats a short fiction fan to do but yell “Hooray”?

My hoorays are especially loud and excited when the fantasy anthology edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer appears. This anthology, which has been trending better and better each year, has its emphasis on fantasy published as fantasy; that is, it does not seek out slipstream fiction in literary periodicals. You wont usually find A.S. Byatt or magic realism here, but youll nearly always find Gene Wolfe and plenty of dragons.

This years collection, Years Best Fantasy 5 (Eos, $7.99, 500 pages), looks absolutely delicious. It starts with a powerful story about dragons by Robert Reed, and continues from strength to strength thereafter. There are stories by Peter S. Beagle, Neil Gaiman, Tim Powers, John Kessel, and Kage Baker. And, oh yeah, Gene Wolfe. Im planning to dive in with both feet.

Its interesting to find that there are only two stories appearing in both Years Best Fantasy 5 and in Karen Haber and Jonathan Strahans Fantasy: The Best of 2004 (ibooks, $7.99, 353 pages). The Haber and Strahan volume always appears relatively early in the year – this year, in February – and has increased in quality since Strahan ame an editor. While a few authors repeat with different stories, only Tim Prices “Pat Moore” and Peter S. Beagles “Quarry” appear in both books. Both are solid stories, the Beagle occupying the realm of traditional fantasy, while the Powers follows the more urban/spy/weird fantasy weve come to expect from him.

The Locus of great fantasy.
I gobbled up the Haber and Strahan when it first arrived, and now, five months later, I find that the stories that stuck with me were Jeffrey Fords “The Annals of Eelin-Ok” and Kelly Links “The Faery Handbag.” Fords story is a fairy tale told with a high degree of realism, as odd as that combination sounds, about the life and love of a species that lives in sand castles until the waves wash them away. During the few short days Eelin-Ok lives, he leads a complete life, described meticulously in his journal. It is almost like reading anthropology, and yes, it is in that way reminiscent of Le Guin. But Ford has his own style and his own talent that perhaps partakes more of Bradbury than Le Guin in its sentiment. Whatever the case, “The Annals of Eelin-Ok” is a very fine story.

Kelly Links tale is an urban fantasy featuring a teenager and her grandmothers magic handbag, in which time moves at a different pace. I kept remembering the scene in Mary Poppins where Mary unpacks her carpetbag, removing all sorts of things too big to fit there, including a full-sized hatstand. This handbag is of the same species, only it carries around an entire country and its inhabitants. Its a lovely little story.

On August 1, the Ellen Datlow/Kelly Link/ Gavin Grant anthology, “Years Best Fantasy and Horror,” will be published with its gorgeous Tom Canty cover. One of the recurring best parts of this collection is its introductory materials: long essays on the state of fantasy and horror fiction, lists of honorable mention stories, discussions of notable novels, and fantasy and horror in film and on television. My list of books to read always lengthens considerably while Im reading these essays. I will, of course, be snatching up the first copy I can find.


08-01-05: Terry Weyna Reads F&SF

"It's a Bargain."

by Terry Weyna

To my mind the addres label stripes and UPC code detract from the cover. But I'm known to be cranky about such matters. --Rickk
I've been reading the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction for more than 25 years. Somewhere along the way, it became mostly something that arrived every month and got tossed into the pile of "I'll read it someday" periodicals and books, which pile has come to consume most of my home. I've been a bit more likely to read a story or two here and there since Gordon Van Gelder took over the post of owner and editor a handful of years ago, but it's been years since I read an issue cover to cover.

Beginning with the August 2005 issue, though, that's going to change. If this issue is any indication, F&SF has become a source of truly excellent fiction. I was particularly bowled over by "Maze of Trees" by Claudia O'Keefe, a story of an urban woman caught in the Appalachian Mountains, unable to leave her small circuit and condemned by a force that inhabits her to preserve the countryside forever pristine. This story feels real, a word utterly inapplicable to nearly every other fantasy, no matter how wonderful. I expect to see this in at least one of the "best of" anthologies next year.

Mary Rosenblum's "Gypsy Tail Wind" is an interesting science fiction story about miners in the Oort Belt. It features multiple personalities, marauding pirates, and gypsies, the last apparently a version of humans specially designed for a green environment in space. It's a fine new turn on a space-faring human race, keeping the dream of the stars alive in the days of a grounded space shuttle program.

For those who like their fiction weird, there's "Refried Cliches: A Five-Course Meal" by Mike Shultz. It's a collection of clever little mini-stories, a sort of palate cleanser in between the meatier s tuff found elsewhere in the magazine. M. Rickert contributes "A Very Little Madness Goes a Long Way," a story of grief and crows, brothers and husbands, escape and death. It is a very strange tale that will feel very familiar to anyone who has ever suffered the type of huge loss that cannot be completely shared with anyone. Bruce McAllister's "Spell" feels like every childhood summer I lived through, somehow. It must be the sun coming through the trees that does it. Robert Reed's "Pure Vision" makes one wonder whether knowing men's souls would really be such a good idea.

The story that really stays with me, along with "Maze of Trees," is "The Woman in Schrodinger's Wave Equations" by Eugene Mirabelli.This one keeps popping into my head at odd moments, with its strange synchronicities, the relationships of chance in research, and the way perhaps all of history is somehow woven together by symbols we don't even think about.

Charles de Lint offers his thoughts on books, and Elizabeth Hand offers a close look at John Crowley's recent work. Lucius Shepard adds his disdain of movie sequels to the mix.

This is simply a great collection of fiction and commentary. I have a bad feeling that I've been missing something wonderful for some years now. It's a good thing that I've kept all those back issues, and that letting the subscription run out never occurred to me. At only $3.99 an issue at the newsstand for 162 pages of good writing, it's a bargain.

Agony on the Road

OK, so you don't expect to be reading this, right? Well, get ready for more and continual surprises. It's Sunday morning as I write this -- I live a day in the future, and while I was thinking I might give myself a break, I'm unable to do so. And I have this article from Terry Weyna. So, as for the schedule, we're going to San Francisco tomorrow morning, and then on Tuesday we fly to Chicago, then to Glasgow. Now, there's small chance I'll be able to cobble something together tomorrow or even Tuesday, but I may be able to let it go. Once we get to Glasgow, I'll be reporting as often as I can. I've got a full slate of reading and a backlog of reviews to write, so I'll cease this chatter and get on to what matters. Feel free to email me should you have any questions or requests of me while I' at Worldcon.