edited by Jonathan Strahan
Night Shade Books, 2009
Strahan spends his introduction discussing book covers so we must rely on the back cover blurb to determine this volume contains stories where strange and wonderful things happen – where reality is eclipsed by something magical and new. So, let’s get to them:
The Pelican Bar, Karen Joy Fowler
What is the best way to bring an out-of-control teenage girl back to a place in the human race? Rehab places are popular these days. How will the young lady emerge from her year-long confinement? What’s new in the trope? There is no compassion in the staff of the rehab center. They may or may not be human but it is certain they have a dismal view of what humans are actually like. Something about this opener fell flat. Expecting magic and wonderment, maybe, and what the story delivered was, at best, depressing.
A Practical Girl, Ellen Klages
Here we get our first taste of the magical and new. Mix a mystery of parental friendships and disappearance, an autistic boy, the world turtle, and the magic of numbers. Well, the magic of mathematics, actually. Watch the young lady fabricate a magic that can save the boy from a fate worse than a home for autistic children.
Don’t Mention Madagascar, Pat Cadigan
This is what happens when a very determined young woman discovers a photograph of the Rolling Stones as they were in the 1960s, except that the young woman’s mother and aunt are in the picture. The difficulty is that the two women in the picture are as aged as they should be in 2009 and both have been absent from this world for a few years now. The detective work is both lucky and solid as two friends try to run down the reality or lack thereof in the photograph. What they find is magical and new and not quite what they expected.
On the Road, Nnedi Okorafor
Another young woman returns to Nairobi on a visit to relatives to discover a young boy who has been brutally murdered knocking on her front door. While her Grandmother and Aunt know what is happening and could be of assistance, the young woman’s inability to ask for help leads her to a shiny, new, paved road, something not normal for Nigeria, where she encounters something that could be normal for Nigeria but nowhere else.
Swell, Elizabeth Bear
What counts most for a musician? Is it the ability to play anything and everything well or the need to express yourself through the music. The two states are not mutually inclusive. A mermaid lures the young musician into her domain. As a going-away present, the mermaid blesses the young lady with the former talent. The story is how she deals with the gift and the title says it all, musically.
Useless Things, Maureen F. McHugh
In the New Mexico desert, outside Belen, a woman alone, deals with making a living and frequent visits from immigrants. Her living comes from sculpting dolls and other things not so wholesome. The immigrants come begging for food. There is terror to be derived from both aspects of her life. The magic is dark and the behavior far from new.
The Coral Heart, Jeffrey Ford
For a change, the protagonist is male and the love interest conflicted. He wields a sword named The Coral Heart as the blade turns what it touches to red coral. Behind him lies a forest of coral statuary but now, a fortune is told that has him finding love for the first and only time in his life. She is an enigma, this new love, with an agenda both magical and in total accordance with the Coral Heart.
It Takes Two, Nicola Griffith
Love is magical but not new. To make it new, you need to consider it a simple chemical reaction within the brain and then develop a drug that will stimulate that reaction. You’ll need a field trial, of course, and that will require two participants. It’s better if it’s a blind test so that the participants are unaware of what’s really happening. After the trial, how do the participants decide whether what they felt was love or just a drug overdose?
Sleight of Hand, Peter S. Beagle
How often have we heard people say that they would give anything if they could just prevent some catastrophe befalling loved ones? Here is a woman presented such an opportunity and she takes it. What happens is not what she expected but it is magical and new and horrifying and wonderful all at the same time.
The Pretender’s Tourney, Daniel Abraham
It isn’t easy to be the only atheist in town. No matter how you try to arrange events to dismiss any possibility of divine intervention, events just do not cooperate. This prince even volunteers to throw the Trial by Combat to determine the country’s next king believing he has taken the matter out of any god’s hands. Has he?
Yes We Have No Bananas, Paul Di Filippo
An alternate universe where global warming came and stayed, flooding lowlands resulting in all kinds of weird and fun twists on the U.S. as we know it. For example, Daniel Webster is President but it is long past 1836. In the midst of a born loser being reclaimed, a quantum debate is settled with surprising results including the comings and goings of a Nubian princess and the delivery of the last banana.
Mesopotamian Fire, Jane Yolen &Adam Stemple
A young lady appeals the grade assigned to her thesis: The Mesopotamian Dragon: Fictions and Facts. It probably doesn’t help that her professor’s moustache gets singed in the process.
The Visited Man, Molly Gloss
When the man who lost wife and child wants to resign from the world, his neighbor, in his bumbling manner, drags him back. The neighbor paints things that visit him in the night, jungle animals and such. He is not a particularly good painter but his paintings have something about them. And, then, a ghost visits the painter, a ghost that the protagonist meets more than once.
Galápagos, Caitlin R. Kiernan
Do you know what happened to the finches, the tortoises, the mockingbirds, and the iguanas that once populated the Galápagos Islands? History repeats itself but this time its humans caught in the evolution and Mars is the new habitat. But the seeding produced some bad moments for all the alphabet agencies, all the space exploration agencies, and one young woman acquainted with the driving force among the humans.
Dulce Domum, Ellen Kushner
Christmas brings some difficult situations. The son of a two-dad family has lost one of his fathers and is trying to hide from the misery in the arms of a woman not intimately connected with Christmas. The framework of The Wind in the Willows floats in and out of the son’s emotional wrestling match.
There is some adult content sprinkled in a few stories but nothing over the top. The stories do, indeed, deliver something magical and new. Each, save perhaps the opener, draws you into its world and lets you enjoy the stay. Recommended.
© 2010 Dain Bieger