Tuesday, 23 December 2014
Review: Fantasy For Good: A Charitable Anthology
Fantasy For Good: A Charitable Anthology by Jordan Ellinger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I bought this book after reading the introduction via Urban Fantasy magazine. The intro is from the son of Roger Zelazny, one of my favourite writers, who died of colon cancer, and the proceeds of the book go to colon cancer charities.
I enjoyed some of the selections, though the book did have one major problem: it doesn't appear to have been past a copy editor, meaning that the stories are just as they have come from the contributors. Now, in some cases, they're professional enough that this doesn't matter, because they produce a clean manuscript, or, in the case of the reprints, the story may already have been copy edited. In other cases, though, this puts some embarrassing and distracting errors on display.
It also seems to be a rule for anthologies that the editors make at least one error in their introduction, and here it's "poured" when they mean "pored".
Now to the stories. They're in several sections. The first is Sword and Sorcery, which has a tendency to veer into Grimdark - in other words, unpleasant stories about unpleasant characters who almost deserve their considerable suffering. That's not the case for all of them, fortunately, but it is for most.
"The Edge of Magic", Henry Szabranski: The story of an unhappy marriage and the war between men and women.
"Annual Dues", Ken Scholes: A redemptive moment for a grimdark character? That doesn't end well.
"Elroy Wooden Sword", S.C. Hayden: A genuinely good-hearted and heroic character is, of course, a naive dupe. Several apostrophe issues, comma splices, "a furry of smoke and fire" (typo for "fury"), a couple of other homophone errors and misspellings, the anachronistic term "coolest" dropped into the middle of the text, but otherwise not a bad story of its type.
"In the Lost Lands", George R.R. Martin: One of the kings of grimdark. I thoroughly disliked all the nasty, cruel, self-centred characters, but it was beautifully written and cleverly plotted.
"Worms Rising from the Dirt", David Farland: Not even the beginning of a story, but a part from the middle of a story, with no real conclusion.
"Snow Wolf and Evening Wolf", James Enge: This, I thought, was well done, the clash of two different kinds of werewolf in medieval Iceland.
"Knight's Errand", Jane Lindskold: This is the kind of story I enjoy more, with a world-weary knight rediscovering some of his idealism as he and a winged horse fight against the trap of a sorcerer. Lots of imaginative worldbuilding and the feel of a true old-style sword-and-sorcery yarn.
Fairy Tales: this was a dark genre in its origins, and has returned there from its sojourn in Disneyland.
"Languid in Rose", Frances Silversmith: This story about the breaking of a curse by a courageous young queen reminds me a little, in its theme if nothing else, of Ursula Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas". Typo "membered" for "remembered".
"Green They Were, and Golden-Eyed", Alan Dean Foster: Foster's stories strike me as the fictional equivalent of a "For Dummies" book, successful because they aim so low in terms of challenge to the reader. This is a somewhat cutesy Christmas story about Santa being helped by rainforest frogs, and contains a few minor errors and a shaky and inconsistent attempt to sound Australian, as well as a dangling participle and a couple of misused words ("needful" for "needy" and "propitiate" for "propitious").
"Golden", Todd McCaffrey: I read the first of the books that Todd McCaffrey wrote in his famous mother's Pern series, and was amused, in an appalled kind of way, to see him repeatedly refer to burning coals in a "grazier" (which must have been painful for the cattle farmer concerned). Accordingly, I was expecting homophone errors, and I got them, most notably "horde" (a group of dangerous beings) when he means "hoard" (a collection of valuable objects). Since this is a story about (non-Pern) dragons, the word comes up a lot, and it's consistently wrong. There are also a number of sentences in which some key word has been missed out, and "quilting" when he means "quirking". The story itself is... OK, but not anything special. It's clear that it wasn't because of his writing talent that he got published.
"Mountain Spirit", Piers Anthony: I used to read a lot of Piers Anthony, but it's not something you can sustain as an adult, really, certainly not as a feminist adult. This story is a particularly egregious example of gender stereotyping, written in the same sort of for-dummies style as the Foster.
"Moon Glass", Megan N. Moore: I enjoyed this story about love and its excesses and symbols.
"The George Business", Roger Zelazny: Perhaps not one of Zelazny's best works, but there's plenty of distance to travel between Zelazny's best works and "not good". This is amusing, the story of two initially fairly inept confidence tricksters who happen to be a knight and a dragon, and he knows how to spell "hoard".
The Paranormal: This appears to be the editors' term for what I would call supernatural horror, for the most part.
"Only the End of the World Again", Neil Gaiman: Even more than Zelazny, for my money Gaiman is unable to write a bad story, and even when (as here) there are deeply disturbing elements to it, I somehow end up enjoying it. Even though it's Lovecraft fanfic, which I usually abominate. What is the man's secret?
"Lenora of the Low", Marina J. Lostetter: Dark and gruesome, and with a couple of issues ("accompaniment" for "companion", and "broach" for "brooch"), but, to me, a successful story of a woman's revenge taken for her sister's sake.
"Trufan Fever", Katherine Kerr: I enjoy Kerr's writing, and this is no exception, a shifter story that could as easily have been in the Urban Fantasy section of the book, where its tone would have fitted better. A few fumbled sentences don't detract too much.
"Undying Love", Jackie Kessler: A nasty, tragic story with a demon who seems too nice by half, but helpless to prevent a long series of horrible events.
"Dancing with the Mouse King", Carrie Vaughn: I usually enjoy Vaughn's work more than this. Not that it's bad, I just didn't follow why the protagonist suddenly switched sides near the end. It's beautifully told, and the theme is nicely sustained, though.
"Showlogo", Nnedi Okorafor: I don't know if the lack of a clear beginning-middle-end structure is an imitation of African storytelling or just being a trendy literary fantasy writer, but in either case I didn't enjoy it all that much. The content of the piece I enjoyed more (apart from some minor copy editing errors); the title character is interesting, but ultimately needs a plot he isn't given.
"The Bluest Hour", Jaye Wells: The homophone errors discrete/discreet and Channel/Chanel and the occasional slips into past out of present tense, plus occasional missing words and the double use of the same simile ("pain like an aneurism") left me feeling that this needed more editorial attention than it received. The story itself was one of those alienated-loser-finds-a-kind-of-redemption tales that leave me fairly cold.
"Pandal Food", Samit Basu: It's OK to have a twist, but it's not fair to deliberately mislead the audience away from the twist. Also, rather a nasty ending. The odd copy edit wouldn't have gone amiss.
"Loincloth", Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta: This is an odd one in terms of time period. The technology says it's present-day, but the kind of movie being made is pretty much a thing of the 1950s or earlier. As, indeed, are the gender politics.
"Man of Water", Kyle Aisteach: The mythical beast here appears to be the semi-honest former Congressman. All joking apart, though, it's a good story, with tension and action and a resolution at the end.
"Bones of a Righteous Man", Michael Ezell: Very clearly inspired by King's Dark Tower. A couple of times, the tense is off (should be past perfect rather than simple past), but overall, a successful story, with some redemption in among the tragedy.
"Time's Mistress", Steven Savile: The only story I didn't read all the way through. Tell, tell, tell, tell, tell, tell, tell, tell, comma splice, tell, tell, tell, tell, tell, sentence fragment, tell, tell, tell, missing commas, tell, tell, tell, sentence fragment, tell, tell, tell, and then I skipped to the end, bored and not caring what happened (from my glance at the ending, nothing much).
"Little Pig, Berry Brown and the Hard Moon", Jay Lake: Jay Lake, like Roger Zelazny, died of colon cancer, so his inclusion here makes sense. I wasn't sure I liked this story at first. It has the feel of a Native American tale, very formal, but by the end it had become a powerful story about death and passing on the baton to the next generation and giving up childhood, all the more poignant given his own family's situation.
"The Grenade Garden", Michael Moorcock: I've never got into Michael Moorcock's work, and this story certainly isn't the one to change my mind. It's possible that if I knew the Jerry Cornelius mythos it might make some kind of sense, but I doubt it. Full of unsignalled shifts of place and time, multiple related characters, unlikely events, and complete non sequiteurs, it seemed like random nonsense to me. The frequently missing closing quotation marks didn't help any. At least he knows what a horde is.
"Sand and Teeth", Carmen Tudor: I have to admit I didn't completely follow this one either, though it was a model of lucidity compared to the previous story. There seems to be a little subgenre of Egyptianish temple priests/priestesses, and this is an example.
"The Seas of Heaven", David Parish-Whittaker: This is one of those stories where you're not sure whether the events are actually taking place or if the narrator is mad. On balance, I tend to go for the latter. The events, and the narrator, are nasty and I didn't enjoy it greatly.
When I started this review I thought I'd enjoyed most of the stories, but that appears to have been selective memory. If you have a greater appetite for darkness than I do, and are less inclined to notice a lack of copy editing, you may well enjoy it much more.
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