This is a much overdue review. This collection of fantasy and sci-fi stories is solid, though I did learn that as much as I like short stories, I do not enjoy reading a whole collection straight through which is why it took me so long to read. I prefer to intersperse my novel reading with short stories. That, however, does not take away from the collection; it is merely a personal reading preference.
The difficulty with short stories is creating a world and characters to bring in your readers and then ending the journey rather quickly. Many of these stories do the former very well, but the latter is much more difficult. Some stories feel like chapters in a novel; others feel over too quickly. Sometimes, this is a good thing because the reader is left contemplating the world of the story and wants to stay in it; sometimes, it is not so good because the reader feels manipulated to the ending. Another personal reading revelation: If asked, I would say that I favor fantasy over sci-fi, yet I preferred the sci-fi stories in this collection. Perhaps sci-fi lends itself to the short story format better than fantasy as the latter needs so many more words create the particular magic/fantasy of the story. Sci-fi has a more common language for world creation; each fantasy world is so different (think LofTR and HP). Overall, I recommend the anthology. There are many good stories in there.
So, let me go on and comment on many of the stories in the collection itself:
“THE APOTHECANT” by Brendon Taylor: very good. A strong story with which to start the collection. Characters are fully developed and believable. The world is well drawn and the story is complete. A good opening to the collection.
“IMPERIAL GHOSTS” by Arinn Dembo: charming story. I really like the characters of Cleona and Tiberius. But the ending is too abrupt and left me thinking, what’s the point? (Okay, there is a statement of sorts about the evil men do to each other, and war and all that, but,I still felt a little let down.)
“SALT AND WATER” by Charlie N. Holmberg
I was thoroughly absorbed in the character, but the ending feels like the end of a chapter rather than the end of the story. I was completely engaged, but too much is left unanswered not only what happens next, but also things like why could he not lie to those particular guards.
“THE WAXING DISQUIET” by Tony Pi & Stephen Kotowych; An exploration of love and fate woven skillfully together. (Once you read this, you’ll see what I did there.)
“THE BEESINGER’S DAUGHTER” by Jeff Wheeler: well told, well developed characters, not a surprising ending but a believable one. Wheeler foreshadows nicely. I could use this story in class.
“PIRATE READERS” by James Van Pelt; loved this one–especially as an English teacher trying to get her students to read.
“THE MOST REASONABLE HOUSE IN FAERIE” by Dfydd McKimm: The story about the fairies–I didn’t really like it at first; it seemed silly and a bit stilted, like the author was trying too hard to be clever, but the ending brought it all into place and made it worthwhile.
“LEVI’S PROBLEM” by Brendan Taylor: The story is clever. The reality of Levi’s problem is unexpected yet plausible within the scope of the story. I liked it. Grandfather’s dissertations on the state of the world, global warming, and overpopulation threaten to become rather long winded, but Levi interrupts him and breaks it up. I particularly like Levi’s feelings of paranoia and realization of his true situation. These are well conveyed.
“HER GLIMMERING FACADE” by Eleanor R Wood. Brilliant, but sad. When Carlos experiences dizziness outside Toshiko’s house, one expects he is being transported somehow to where she is. But, that reality is unexpected as is Carlos’s eventual decision to return to the other one.
“THE PRICE OF HEALING” D. K. Holmberg- good characterization and suspense, but, more needed. Of course I want Kira to live, but even if she doesn’t, I want more of the story. The ending is too abrupt. Though, I guess you could say it is successful when you are left wanting more.
“AUTUMN AT THE DRAGON’S CAVE” by Kathryn Yelinek. This is a beautiful story about loss and the idea of caring for others by giving them what they need, not what we think they need.
“MONGREL” by Maria V. Snyder This may be my favorite story, and yet, I have reservations. For most of the story, this does not seem to fit the genre. Actually, I’m impressed that the magazine’s gatekeepers read far enough to get to the fantasy element. That being said, I feel that the fantasy element could have used a couple hundred more words– not a lot, but enough to flesh out Mongrel’s initial reaction to the revelation at the end. She’s a little quick to figure out who the guy is at the end (not the what, but the who- when you read the story, you’ll understand).
“A DRAGON BETWEEN WORLDS” by TE Bradford I really liked this story, until the ending. The ending felt a bit contrived and left me wanting. I’d rather see Cyril do something unexpected with the dragon.
“METAMORPHISTRY” by Jeff Wheeler I am a big fan of Wheeler’s, but this story did not catch my fancy. One of Wheeler’s strengths is characterization, but this time it was too stereotypical. From the moment we meet B and G, I could suss up their roles, and nothing about the story surprised me.
“THEFT OF WORDS” by DK Holmberg
Again Holmberg builds a suspenseful story full of intriguing characters, but once again it reads like a chapter of a larger piece rather than a self contained short story.
“MOONBODIES” by Scott Hughes The opening reads like an English teacher trying to get his students to use the literary present tense. Then the story itself is so familiar. I really feel like I’ve read it before. And then the ending…clever, but too contrived for me. This is a story about storytelling rather than a story in itself. It is a little too self-consciously meta.
“PAWPRINTS IN THE AEOLIAN DUST” by Eleanor R Wood. This is a fantastic story. Strong ending to the collection.
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The other day I was in my classroom watching my students take a quiz, not an exciting activity, I assure you. Glancing over my bookshelves, I spied a copy of Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac. I pulled out the slim volume and perused the back which gave no indication of its content but rather hailed its winning of the Booker Prize (back in 1984). I then remembered reading another Brookner novel, Visitors, which I enjoyed immensely and, quite honestly, was drawn to this one because of its short length—it is nearing the end of the year, and I am dangerously close to not making my reading goal on my Goodreads Book Challenge.
Within a page or two of reading, I was reminded how much I like Anita Brookner. Her voice is controlled, yet fraught with tension. The novel is a quiet scream. It’s “women’s fiction” for those who think “women’s fiction” is too insipid or irrelevant. This is a thinking woman’s novel. And in perfect irony, the main character is a romance novelist. Edith Hope is an English romance novelist who arrives at the title hotel on Lake Geneva, having been sent there by persons at first unknown to atone for social crimes also unrevealed at first. As a novelist, Edith is successful; in social settings, she is controlled and introspective and doesn’t trust her own judgment. It is near the end of the season, and the crowds are gone. Remaining are a small coterie of regular visitors, each escaping or banished from their own sad realities.
Through a combination of third-person narration and first person letters written by Edith to “Dearest David,” Brookner weaves a quietly complex tale of the inhibitions and self-doubt even the calmest and most assured possessed. Edith is a self-effacing woman whom others tend to dominate; yet, she discovers she does have her own quiet will and desire. Much of the novel occurs in Edith’s thoughts and reflections; yet, these are based on her interactions with others. There is an intensity to the language and emotion that renders the essentially simple plot significant. Brookner hooked me on the first page by describing Lake Geneva as “spreading like an anaesthetic towards the invisible further shore,” setting the tenor of the hotel as somewhere one goes to forget. Yet Edith learns, as we all must, that one cannot forget the past or erase who one essentially is.