February 25th, 2010

Summary: Small Press Anthologies, 2009

Small Press Anthologies, 2009

Here are five books I decided to characterize as being from the small press. That's a dodgy definition, I know -- what is "small" these days? And are these presses any smaller than many of the others put in other categories? No ... but these were kind of left over when I had assigned the others to categories. I will also apologize for the quick treatment these books will get ... to be quite honest, little enough was really memorable in most of them, and also I'm trying to get done with this year's project!

The books are:
Rage of the Behemoth, edited by Jason M. Waltz;
Space Sirens, edited by Carol Hightshoe;
Grants Pass, edited by Jennifer Brozek and Amanda Pillar;
Panverse One, edited by Dario Ciriello; and
Triangulation: Dark Glass, edited by Pete Butler.

Collectively these featured 75 new stories (4 novellas, 8 novelettes, 63 short stories (2 short-shorts), about 475,000 words of new fiction. 33 of the stories (44%) were by women, and 41 (55%) were SF.

Rage of the Behemoth was devoted to adventure fantasy, and was pretty successful in delivering just that. Plenty of swords. Plenty of sorcery. Lots of good old fashioned thud and blunder. The quality of the writing was uneven, thought quite good at the top levels. Not surprisingly, the best stories were by a couple of experienced writers. Lois Tilton's "Black Diamond Sands" is rather bitter in tone, as a son must redeem his late father's debt to a vile rival, who has enslaved he and his sister, and who sends the boy to diamond mines in the desert to try to find certain powerful diamonds. (Nice to see a new story from Lois after several years!) And Mary Rosenblum's "Black Ice" is a strong story of ice dragons and of betrayal among a group of nobles of disparate magical power. Other nice work came from Richard K. Lyon and Andrew J. Offut, from C. L. Werner, and from Kate Martin.

Space Sirens comes from Colorado small press Flying Pen, and it's the second in a series called "Full Throttle Space Tales", evidently an attempt to promote more adventure-oriented space-based SF. A good thing, on the whole. And this book's focus is one women protagonists, a good thing too. But on the whole it's not that strong a book -- I read it with some enjoyment, but was never thrilled. Best were probably David B. Riley's "Ruler", about a spoiled princess becoming the governor of an unstable planet, and Sarah A. Hoyt's "Bite the Hand", about a confrontation between humans and cat people far in the future. Also, stories by Rebecca Lickiss, Julia Phillips, and Selina Rosen were worthwhile.

Grants Pass is an anthology of stories set after a worldwide plague, published by Morrigan Books, out of Sweden. A young woman suggests that the survivors all head to Grants Pass, Oregon. The stories concern the journey, the idea of Grants Pass, but not any real attempt to build a new world or any such foolish thing. As with many tightly themed anthologies, the book is hurt by a certain sense of sameness. I'll be quite honest -- I don't remember the book well at all. If truth be told, I'm not a fan of post-apocalyptic stories -- especially essentially despairing ones like the bulk of those in this book -- which I concede is a personal weakness, not a weakness in the stories necessarily. But it did make it harder for me to warm to the book, especially with so many pieces back to back. In general I felt the book was full of well-written work that didn't appeal to me. Stories by Seanan McGuire, Jay Lake, and Pete Kempshall were my favorites.

Panverse One is a collection of novellas. Another good idea. And it the stories included are pretty interesting, on the whole, but again none quite thrilled me. Andrew Tisbert's "Waking the City", Uncle River's "Shiva Not Dancing", and Alan Smale's "Delusion's Song" were perhaps the best -- the last in particular is a strange and original tale, about the Brontë family, Emily in particular, but after some weird event has isolated Haworth from the rest of England. Probably too long, but much there was intriguing.

Finally, Triangulation: Dark Glass, is the latest of an annual series of anthologies sponsored by the Pittsburgh area SF writers' group Parsec. The book is a mix of a few reprints (some revised) and a number of new stories. My favorite story was probably the longest, "A More Beautiful Monster", by Loretta Sylvestre, about the relationship between a sorcerer, a demon, and a priest. I also liked stories by Lon Prater, D. K. Thompson, and Amy Treadwell.

Summary: "Other Genre" Anthologies, 2009

Anthologies with ties to other genres, 2009

This category last year listed a paranormal romance anthology and a mystery anthology on a werewolf theme -- both books marked outside the field. This year there is one similar book, Strange Brew, which is an urban fantasy book with elements of both mystery and romance. The other two books are more shoehorned in: the one a collection of Holmes pastiches, so in a sense a "mystery" anthology; the other a collection of modern day "pulp", and thus including stories from multiple older genres. So:

Strange Brew, edited by P. N. Elrod;
Son of Retro Pulp Tales, edited by Joe R. Lansdale and Keith Lansdale; and
Gaslight Grotesque, edited by J. R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec.

These three books had a total of 33 stories (18 novelettes and 15 short stories), about 290,000 words.

23 of the stories were by men (70%), and two were SF by my lights (6%).

I reviewed Strange Brew at Fantasy Magazine. It's not a terribly successful anthology without being terribly bad either -- lots of competent work, but in general the writers -- and their series -- seem more suited to the novel length. My favorites were: Jim Butcher's "Last Call", in which Harry Dresden and his policewoman friend Karrin Murphy investigate a case of magically tainted beer at Harry's favorite bar; Rachel Caine's "Death Warmed Over", in which a witch specializing in (temporarily) raising the dead is forced to raise a man she's raised before - despite the pain she knows it will cause him - because someone is killing witches; P. N. Elrod's own story, "Hecate's Golden Eye", a fine mystery (with caper elements) about private eye with a vampire sidekick who are hired to investigate the theft (or thefts) of a gem with a long supernatural history; and "Signatures of the Dead", by Faith Hunter, a strong thriller in which a witch and a shapeshifter help track down a pack of feral vampires.

Son of Retro Pulp Tales promised stories in the tradition of the pulps, and it delivered. Not all stories were fantastical -- there were Westerns, adventure tales, crime stories -- and mixtures. I found the book a quick and involving read -- as it ought to be -- but I don't think any stories are classics. Still, I liked Joe R. Lansdale's "The Crawling Sky", horror set in the early American backwoods; and Christopher Golden's "Quiet Bullets", a '50s ghost/Western combination; and a Harlan Ellison sendup of classic Martian pulp tales, "The Toad Prince; or, Sex Queen of the Martian Pleasure Domes", which starts strongly and goes on well for a while but kind of sputters out at the end -- still, generally fun stuff. As I hint, much of the rest of the book was good clean fun as well.

Finally, Gaslight Grotesque is a collection of horror-oriented pastiches of Sherlock Holmes. It didn't work that well for me on balance. Partly, I don't think Holmes and horror mix all that well -- they can, but often here they don't. Partly, this shares with other Holmes pastiche anthologie a certain tolerance for stories that pay homage to the canon just fine, but aren't written very well. The best stories here are "Celeste", by Neil Jackson, in which Holmes solves the mystery of the Mary Celeste, and "The Affair of the Heart", by Mark Morris, a fairly clever piece in which a couple of villains attempt to eliminated Holmes using time travel. Barbara Roden and Simon Kurt Unsworth also show well.