This season, three fantasy masters have story collections out from Tachyon Publications — a splendid opportunity to feast yourself on a rich assortment of weird, funny, whimsical, lyrical, dark, thought-provoking tales that beautifully explore the full range of our imaginative landscape. If any of these are among your favorite authors, you will surely want to pick up their latest offerings — and if you’ve not yet had had the pleasure of making their acquaintance, this is the perfect opportunity to do so. Whether you devour all the stories or just sample the ones that are to your taste, there’s a good chance you’ll find something that interests you here.
I’ve already mentioned Jane Yolen’s The Emerald Circus, which Tachyon kindly allowed me to offer as part of the Witch Week giveaway last November. I described it then as “a master storyteller’s riff on various well-known tales including The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and of course the Arthurian legend. Three Arthurian stories are included, of which my favorite is the novella Evian Steel, a striking re-imagining of the forging of Arthur’s sword in connection with the power of women’s magic. If only Yolen had been able to fulfill her intention of making this the central portion of a novel … perhaps one day she will? A new introduction by Holly Black gives a tribute to Yolen by the next generation of fantasy writers, and each story has an endnote about its creation and original publication, paired with a thematically related poem — quite a unique feature!”
Other standouts for me were “Blown Away,” which imagines an alternative fate for Dorothy from the point of view of one of the Kansas farmhands (including a stint in the Emerald Circus of the title), and “Sister Emily’s Lightship,” which makes the unlikely pairing of Emily Dickinson and an alien visitor seem almost inevitable. Yolen has made me look asquint at all the classic books and authors on my shelves now…what antics might be going on just beyond or around those hallowed pages?
From Yolen’s literary extravaganza I moved on to The Overneath by Peter S. Beagle. His first collection in some years, it includes uncollected work along with several stories previously unpublished in print, and many of them are dazzling. The title comes from the breezily inventive “The Way It Works Out and All,” in which Beagle himself appears as a character along with fellow fantasy author Avram Davidson, who’s discovered a way into the mysterious “plumbing” behind the ordinary world. I love this image, and it could be taken as a metaphor for the uncertain and sometimes dangerous ways the author has to tread in bringing the gifts of the imaginative world to us. Beagle casts himself as being more reluctant in this endeavor than his intrepid friend, yet I suspect he’s no less of an adventurer at heart.
Such sly humor is only one of the narrative tones at Beagle’s disposal, though, as he brings us a couple of stories about the wizard Schmendrick (from his famous novel The Last Unicorn); tales of three other very, very different unicorns; a melancholy fairy tale resonant with themes of aging and forgiveness; tales of technological magic that comes via laptops and wireless transmitters; and much more — as a former Seattle resident I was especially pleased to see the Fremont Bridge Troll get his very own story. Beagle’s notes at the head of each selection further illuminate their origins and his creative process.
Jo Walton is a newer addition to the fantasy and science fiction scene than either of these two long-established names, yet has quickly proved herself as one of the most versatile and inventive writers around. In Starlings, her first collection of short works — mostly not exactly stories, but chapters from unwritten novels, fragmentary fiction, writing exercises, poems, and even a play — her experimental spirit is strongly in evidence. Readers looking for a polished set of conventional short stories may be disappointed, but those who can take each piece on its own terms will find much to enjoy.
Actually, I thought that Walton spent way too much time apologizing for not writing “real” stories. I found many of her “non-stories” delightful, from the first, a trio of twilight tales that reminded me strongly of Joan Aiken, to the last, a play based on an Irish legend (and where does one get to encounter something so highly non-commercial these days?). A selection of poems completes the volume, many of which are also based in myth, legend, and pop culture — “Godzilla Weeps for Baldur,” anyone? If one piece doesn’t do the trick for you, just move on; at the very least you’ll encounter a wild and wonderful imagination at work along the way.
Thank you, Tachyon, for these bursts of magic to enliven some cold winter nights. I hope you’ll give them a look.