Definitely an above-average anthology. I picked it up because it features Maureen McHugh, among several other favorites, and it definitely did not disappoint. My only quibble: the cover. The foreword to the book goes on at great length about how awesome the cover art is. But – it is not. It is a piece by a cover artist from the 50s/60s that never got used back then – probably for good reason. It doesn’t reflect the writing to be found within this volume at all. So don’t let it put you off!
The Pelican Bar, Karen Joy Fowler : First off – this is not an SF story; not even slightly. The bar of the title is a real place in Jamaica, and the reform school/jail for young persons that the story is about is a real place. I’ve even seen it – from a distance. (Thankfully, it closed in 2009 – but similar institutions still are in business.) That said, this is an amazingly written, powerful story, and bringing attention to the issue of parents who ship their children off to places beyond any law, where they are essentially tortured and abused, is a horribly important issue. My only fear is that, due to appearing in this venue, people might assume that the horrific elements of the story are somehow fantastic. They’re, sadly, all true.
A Practical Girl, Ellen Klages: A young girl meets a neighbor’s child, and discovers that their fathers had been good friends. Although the boy is odd, she’s mystified as to why she’s never met him before, and why he’s about to be shipped off to a home. An invisible turtle and a magic square might help save him.
Don’t Mention Madagascar, Pat Cadigan: Not at all cyberpunk (which Cadigan is known for)- but a wonderful story merging time travel and actual travel. Following the clue found in a photo, two women book their trip to who-knows-where – or when.
On the Road, Nnedi Okorafor : An African-American woman returns to Nigeria to visit family – and ends up getting in touch with her roots on a far more primeval level than she expected, as she encounters ancient magic.
Swell, Elizabeth Bear : Magical gifts are always going wrong. Here, a siren gifts a musician with a voice beyond compare. Success and adulation looms – but can she truly accept this gift? The story has a nice message about being yourself… but I wouldn’t necessarily have made the same choice!
Useless Things, Maureen F. McHugh: A sad story, set in a post-apocalyptic (but all too realistic) American West, about the erosion of trust. A dollmaker is robbed by people she tried to help. Meanwhile, her (creepy!) dolls are used to defraud… Beautifully written; very depressing.
The Coral Heart, Jeffrey Ford: An epic fantasy of love and revenge. In style, very like pulp fantasies of the past – I was reminded quite a bit of Moorcock’s Eternal Champion series. (The knight, here, has a sword which turns all it touches to hard, red coral.)
It Takes Two, Nicola Griffith: I’m not generally a fan of romance. But this story was so romantic I couldn’t help falling for it. It’s also very hard to say anything non-spoiler-iffic about it! Does it matter why you love someone; if you love them?
Sleight of Hand, Peter S. Beagle : A woman’s husband and daughter are killed in a terrible car accident. Grief-stricken, she wishes it could have been her to die; instead of them. A mysterious old man says that if she’s serious, he could make that happen… Bittersweet, lovely story.
The Pretender’s Tourney, Daniel Abraham: A knightly tourney should determine who the successor to a contested throne should be. Unfortunately, one of the most eligible contenders has no wish to be king, and no belief in the concept that Divine Providence will determine the outcome of such a contest. He tries to arrange to throw the fight – but not everything comes out as expected.
Yes We Have No Bananas, Paul Di Filippo : In the absurdist vein – which is not my favorite vein; if it’s yours, you will probably like this. A future world of ecological disaster, time-travelling magic, and… Josephine Baker?
Mesopotamian Fire, Jane Yolen &Adam Stemple: Kind of juvenile, like much of Yolen’s work – but it’s also just funny. Will appeal to anyone, old or young, who’s ever been frustrated by the academic-paper-writing process.
The Visited Man, Molly Gloss: A depressed, lonely old man meets (apparently) the painter Paul Gauguin, a neighbor in his apartment building. Although their relationship is complex, the man gradually comes out of his shell… Not really a ‘fantastic’ story; although I guess it would have to be considered ‘alternate history’ as Gauguin died in the Marquesas, not in Paris.
Galápagos, Caitlin R. Kiernan: A woman is summoned or sent on a mission to a possibly-derelict spaceship, because her lover may or may not be the only surviving crewmember. In store for her are horrors unspeakable – as we can guess, since the story is narrated from her bed in a psychiatric ward.
Dulce Domum, Ellen Kushner: Hmm. Not my favorite Kushner, and not at all an SForF story. This is family drama all the way, as a man tries to avoid his family at Christmastime. Gradually, via reminiscences of childhood reading of The Wind in the Willows, the reasons for his pain and resentments are revealed. It’s a nice, emotionally complex story; but I don’t think it fits in with the book.