Published by Solaris
George Mann: http://www.solarisbooks.com/authors/george-mann/george-mann.asp
Solaris Books is a new imprint with publishing operations in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Their parent company is the gaming giant Games Workshop, so there is some good genre knowledge and passion behind the creation of these books. The imprint has launched with a variety of books and writers – Space Opera, Epic Fantasy, Cyberpunk, Dark/Urban Fantasy and short fiction. The last leads me to this review of course, in the form of the George Mann edited Solaris Book of New Fantasy.
Short fiction has a long tradition in the genre and Solaris is continuing the tradition by the genre in publishing multiple anthologies. The mix of authors in this volume is, as one would hope with such an anthology, varied. George Mann opens this volume with Mark Chadbourn’s Who Slays the Gyant, Wounds the Best. The story is moody and atmospheric, straddling the line between horror, mystery, and fantasy. Chadbourn has been publishing in the UK for some time, unfortunately his books haven’t quite made it across the pond. Hopefully, this solid story will be the start
Tornado of Sparks is set in the world James Maxey introduced readers to in the Bitterwood, also published by Solaris. This world is populated by Dragons who seem very human in their dialogue and actions. I thought this story was entertaining, if a bit patchy, and could served as a lead in if readers are interested in jumping into Maxey’s full length novel set in this world.
T. A. Pratt’s Grander than the Sea read very much like a Lovecraftian Chthulu story. Pratt effectively set the mood for the story and provided a Twilight Zone like ending that I found satisfying. The story is a contemporary/urban fantasy set in the Pratt created in Blood Engines. This story has me interested enough to consider reading that novel.
The Book of All Hours, the two book saga comprising Vellum and Ink is the setting for Hal Duncan’s The Prince of End Times. Duncan’s writing is quite polarizing, with the interspersed dialogue styles and frames of reference. I didn’t think this story was as strong as Duncan’s novel length fiction, I wasn’t able to get as much of a sense of the story here.
In King Tales, Jeff VanderMeer pulls out his fable/fairytale/folk tale pen for a couple of fun little stories wherein a bear, cats, and birds each vie for the kingship of their respective species, and then some. VanderMeer is consistently an entertaining writer whose output is, more often than not, a quality story, regardless of length. Though typically an unconventional writer, VanderMeer shows with this little tryptich that he can excel at a more conventional story.
Very often, Chris Roberson will play with history in his stories, and specifically where history and fiction intersect. And Such Small Deer is such a story, told from the point of view of a certain Van Helsing who meets with a doctor (Moreau) who experiments with various animal species. This story took a bit of getting into for me, but balanced out very nicely by the end.
An author of many fantasy novels, including The Tales of Einarinn series, Juliet McKenna is no stranger to secondary world fantasy. Her entry, The Wizard’s Coming is both a story with a moral, as well as an entertaining story where trusting a wizard may not be a wise thing to do. As Pratt’s story has me interested in checking out his longer fiction, this story, set in her Einarinn world, has me intrigued about reading her longer fiction.
Mike Resnick has been writing for quite a while, although most of his output is science fictional in nature. His story in this volume, Shell Game, is set in his urban fantasy world first seen in Stalking the Unicorn. These stories involve John Justin Mallory, private eye with a cat-woman assistant and a demon for a business colleague. I’ve been reading a decent amount of Resnick’s fiction over the past couple of years and this was a nice continuation of that particular trend. Pyr books will be re-issuing Stalking the Unicorn in 2008, as well as its sequel, Stalking the Vampire. That makes me happy.
The Song Her Heart Sang was a pretty strong story by Steven Savile that reminded me of the classic O. Henry tale, The Gift of the Magi. Savile has written various media/tie-in fiction and edited a few anthologies (Elemental review here), as well as short stories of his own. This story supposedly set in a new world created by Steve, which I found intriguing. I liked the story quite a bit and found it the most emotionally moving story in the collection. I would definitely read more stories set in this world.
Lucius Shepard is a writer whose reputation, and a strong one at that, has been built primarily on short stories. His entry in this volume, Chinandega, was a strange story. Like Roberson’s story, it took a bit for me to fully immerse myself in it, possibly because there were no quote marks “ to mark the beginning or end ” of character’s dialogue. It was at first, difficult to think of this story as fantasy. By stories end, the mysticism and magic melded with the story for something reminiscent of a Greek tragedy or old-world myth. A very powerful story that could have been the top story for me if the problems I noted didn’t exist for me.
Most readers of fantasy are familiar with Steven Erikson through his massive Malazan Book of the Fallen über-saga. However, his shorter work has more of a folkish feel to it. Quashie Trapp Blacklight leans more that way, with more than a pinch of a talking animal fantasy. Told from the perspective of a spider, a cat, an elephant, as well as various humans the story was fun if ultimately uneven.
The stories in this volume that didn’t quite work for me were Janny Wurts’s Reins of Destiny (set in her Wars of Light and Shadow series), Christopher Barzak’s In Between Dreams, Jay Lake’s A Man Falls, O Caritas by Conrad Williams, and Lt. Privet’s Love Song by Scott Thomas.
George Mann, the editor of this anthology, begins his introduction by asking “What is Fantasy?” Not an uncommon question, and a question that readers ask quite often. It is an open ended question, I think, and one just to provoke thought. The stories here provide a very good, if not quite exhaustive, sampling of the many flavors offered by fantasy. As the review indicates, I found the majority of the stories (11) to work for me while less than half (5) didn’t work for me. Chadbourn’s story was a solid opening story and I probably enjoyed Resnick’s, Savile’s, and McKenna’s the most. The stories that did work for by authors introduced to me by this volume have me interested in perusing their work. I don’t think Mann’s question was answered, but his goal of presenting an “exploration of High Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Comic Fantasy, Magic Realism…” was achieved, in terms of various types of fantasy included in the volume, even if all the stories didn’t explicitly work for me. Should this book turn out to be the first of annual series of fantasy anthologies, then readers will pleased.
© 2008 Rob H. Bedford