Beagle, Peter S. and Jacob Weisman, eds. The New Voices of Fantasy (San Francisco: Tachyon Publications LLC, 2017)
I’m trying to read more fiction, and this happened to be on the new books shelf at the library. I’m glad I got it at the library, and I’m glad most of the stories are not like the opening tale, because I’d have walled it so hard I’d be patching both sheet rock and bricks. As with all anthologies, some stories are better than others, but the first one made me want to take a shower and scrub with steel wool.
As the title says, these are all short stories by relatively new-to-the-field authors, although I’m not certain Ursula Vernon is all that new. OK, compared to Peter Beagle she’s new. There is a mix of female and male, and several who are non-Anglo, just going by names. The stories range from semi-traditional, Ursula Vernon’s “Jackalope Wives,” and Usman T. Malik’s “The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn,” to very literary to not exactly a story with a plot. Several either have strong horror elements, or are horror with fantasy elements.
With a few exceptions, I found the stories depressing. The first one proved to be so black and vicious that I seriously considered stopping right there, and I did go look at birds on the bird bath for a while to clear my mind. Fortunately, although some of the other stories are also bleak, none are as disgust-inducing as the first. Several struck me as “ideas in search of a plot,” and another, “The Husband Stitch,” left me wondering 1) what was going on and 2) if the sex would ever stop and a plot get moving. Disjointed stream-of-consciousness with an unreliable narrator seems to be gaining in popularity for literary fantasy and horror, and several of the stories had that style. Only about a quarter of the stories had a happy ending, or at least a hopeful ending. Several left me wanting to run a sword through the protagonist, or beat them with a clue bat at the very least. I’d love to see Monster Hunter International take on the protagonist of the first story and her mother.
On the positive side, all the stories are very well written, even the ones I intensely disliked. Many are urban fantasy, some bordering on magical realism. There are some non-western mythologies brought into the mix, which I enjoyed, and the story of the haunted spacesuit was touching. The one about the night the skyscrapers of NYC fell in love was also fun, and the author handled the period slang very well.
Of the authors in the collection, I’ll probably keep an eye open for more by Ursula Vernon/T. Kingfisher, Usman T. Malik, and Maria Headley.
A. C. Wise’s contribution is supposed to be humor, but I couldn’t find what struck the reviewer as funny.
I recommend the collection if you want a sense of different writing styles that work in short form, if you are curious to sample a broad sweep of younger writers, and if you enjoy literary fantasy and magical realism. I am glad I checked this out from the library, because the three stories I really enjoyed don’t make up for some of the others.
FTC Note: I checked this out from the library for my own use and received no remuneration or benefit from either the editors, authors, or publisher.