Kristen Pederson Chew, editor, The Bakka Anthology (Bakka Bookstores Ltd., 2002)
The inside flap states that this book contains 'Original Science Fiction stories from Canada's oldest science fiction bookstore.' Edited by Kristen Pederson Chew, it features eight stories by former employees of Bakka, and an additional story by Ed Greenwood, who once spent a day covering Bakka's counter. But before the stories begin, an introduction is provided to introduce Bakka to those who, like me, have never made it to Toronto, or had the pleasure of perusing its selection. Spider Robinson starts the book off with a recollection of his first trip to Bakka. Mark Askwith reminisces about discovering Bakka in his youth and ponders the creative output of its staff, past and present. Then Kristen Pederson Chew completes the introduction by providing a synopsis of Bakka's transformation over the last thirty years.
From there, the stories begin in order of each author's date of hire. First up, Robert J. Sawyer provides a chilling look at immortality and the sheer mind-numbing horror of having everything done for you in a futuristic paradise in his story "Shed Skin." Then Tanya Huff takes the reader down into the depths of the Toronto subway system at night following Vicki, a vampire who discovers there are giant telepathic blood drinking insects infesting her hunting grounds in "Another Fine Nest."
Fiona Patton's story "Lucky Charm" brings an ordinary rural family with some decidedly non-ordinary talents into sharp focus through flowing dialogue and a sense of the inherent magic of daily life. Michelle Sagara West follows with the piece "How To Kill an Immortal," not so much a narrative as as meditation on the price of immortality and its fleeting nature. Something of a metafictional piece, "How To Kill an Immortal" manages to be funny while being emotionally honest about the challenges relationships bring.
Tara Tallan has spent a lot of time pondering what life would be like on board a space ship, as is evident from the brilliant short "Family Matters," in which she tackles the routine boredom children experience when the rest of the ship's crew is off on assignment. Cory Doctorow follows this with a piece called "Truncat," returning to the Bitchun Society he explored in his novel Down and Out in the Magick Kingdom and using that setting to tell a tale about illicit file-swapping of consciousnesses.
Nalo Hopkinson's surreal piece "Herbal" called to my mind the early short fiction of Anaïs Nin, with its poetic and sensual juxtaposition of elephant and apartment, certainly not what I would have expected to find in a similar anthology and as such all the more effective. Chris Szego follows with a poignant portrayal of one woman's decision to take up the path of a storyteller in "The Steps You Have To Take."
Finally, Ed Greenwood provides the last story as a Fan Guest of Honor in "We Are All One under the Stars." While some of the other stories pay homage indirectly to Bakka, working the bookstore into the narrative in one form or another, this last story focuses on the magic of the bookstore itself, and the very creepy things that feed on that magic. Known as the creator of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting for AD&D, Ed Greenwood certainly has no lack of imagination and the pure joy of creating certainly shines through his solidly crafted prose.
Reading this book isn't just to be exposed to solid science fiction. It is to take part in stories generated by a family, one that arose somewhat spontaneously in the wake of shared interest. The Bakka Anthology has certainly earned its place on my top shelf of show-off books, and someday I'd like to visit the store itself, see if some of that writer's magic is still rubbing off.