James Frankel (editor) and Patti Perret (photographer), The Faces of Fantasy (Tor, 1996)

This is one seriously cool book, which is why I'm reviewing it now. It's also great summertime reading, as both the text and photos are great mind candy. ( I should tell you that I've got The Best of The Doors on the sound system, it's warm and muggy outside, and a pitcher of lemon ice tea from the Green Man kitchen is sitting on the desk here. Bliss!) I'd forgotten about this book 'til I was helping Liath this week update the database we call 'Roots and Branches', which cross-references all of the authors in the library with the material written about them. So if, for example, you need to know what we have on Terri Windling, R&B'll tell you that we have nothing on her and her works, but that there's a very good bibliographic page on her own Web site. But the database also contains other cool stuff, i.e. a listing of signed posters that GMR has acquired thru the years. Neat, eh?

Liath mentioned that we had a copy of The Faces of Fantasy that only was signed by Terri Windling, who did the introduction, but it had a neat photo of Holdstock in it. 'Eh?' I said, 'I don't recall that book.' She said we got it in when I was touring one summer with Danse Macabre, so I hadn't gotten the listing of new books that the library had acquired. She gave me the book and I retreated to me office to go thru it.

What you have here are photographs of many authors, such as Steve Brust, Emma Bull, C. J. Cherryh, Pamela Dean, Charles de Lint, P. C. Hodgell, Patricia McKillip, Elizabeth Moon, Tim Powers, Michael Scott Rohan, Caroline Stevermer, Terri WIndling, Gene Wolfe Patricia Wrede, and Jane Yolen. Is starts off with Windling giving a long, thorough Introduction on the history of magical literature. Don't worry -- the essay does (eventually) get 'round to how the book came to be.

By dint of knowing lots of musical sorts, Windling met Betsy Wollhiem -- yes, that Wollhiem! -- and became intrigued with tales of the 'wild and wacky science fiction community which seemed to stretch across the country like one big extended family.' This led, not surprisingly, to a book called The Faces of Science Fiction, which was published a decade or so before The Faces of Fantasy. That book forms a sort of not-quite-as-good prototype for this later book; it's a little rougher, not as well-crafted as this endeavour is. It also, and this is important, lacks an index that tells you where each author is in the book. No big deal if they were in alphabetical order, but they are not; they have been (apparently) randomly sorted! Urgh! But it's well worth looking at, as some of the writers include Roger Zelazny, Hal Clement, Norman Spinrad, Joe Haldeman, Mike Resnick, Forrest J. Ackerman, John Kessel, Charles Sheffield, Greg Bear, George R. R. Martin, Octavia Butler, Edward Bryant, Larry Niven, Jack L. Chalker, Frederik Pohl, Jeffrey A. Carver, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Gardner Dozios and Samuel R. Delany. Bloody cool, I say!

Both books offer the reader of fantastic literature a feast of words and photos. In the latter book, which you really should get in the hardcover edition, photographer Perret offers fantasy lovers a treat in this visual cornucopia of beloved authors, who have been photographed in various locales and settings. Each portrait searches for a unique take of the over one hundred writers herein. Though some of the photos in The Faces of Science Fiction are exceptional, such as the one of the sorely missed Roger Zelazny before the fireplace in his Santa Fe house, or the also sorely missed Issac Asimov in a tux on the balcony of his New York City apartment, far too many of them are static, too much like stock publicity photos. (I have a contest here on an irregular basis to pick the worst publicity photo. Invariably the winner is a newly minted singer-songwriter who's done their very first CD. Neither the CD or the publicity still are pretty sights.)

Ahhh, but all is vastly improved in The Faces of Fantasy, as Perret is a much better photographer, both technically and artistically, and appears to have a better grasp of the community she's interacting with. From the cover -- which features a not-terribly-happy-looking Neil Gaiman against the background of his Victorian house in Minnesota -- to the index citing where each writer is in the book, this is truly a great endeavour. It won a 1997 Hugo Award for Best Nonfiction Book, which didn't surprise me 'tall.

I said it had photographs and text. Let's look at just one such example -- Neil Gaiman. The photo on the cover is repeated on the inside without, of course, the overlaying text. The bibliographic note is brief, but the essay by him is worth reprinting here.

THESE ARE NOT OUR FACES

 
This is not what we look like. You think Gene Wolfe looks like his photograph in this book? Or Jane Yolen? Or Peter Straub? Or Diana Wynne Jones? Not so. They are wearing play-faces to fool you. But the play-faces come off when the writing begins. Frozen in black and silver for you now, these are simply masks. We who lie for a living are wearing our liar-faces, false-faces made to deceive the unwary. We must be, for, if you believe these photographs, we look just like everyone else. Protective coloration, that's all it is. Read the books: sometimes you can catch sight of us in there. We look like gods and fools and bards and queens, singing worlds into existence, conjuring something from nothing, juggling words into all the patterns of night. Read the books. That's when you see us properly: naked priestesses and priests of forgotten religions, our skins glistening with scented oils, scarlet blood dripping down from our hands, bright birds flying out from our open mouths. Perfect, we are, and beautiful in the fire's golden light...
 
There was a story I was told as a child, about a little girl who peeked in through a writer's window one night, and saw him writing. He had taken his false-face off to write and had hung it behind the door, for he wrote with his real face on. And she saw him; and he saw her. And, from that day to this, nobody has ever seen the little girl again. Since then, writers have looked like other people even when they write (though sometimes their lips move, and sometimes they stare into space longer, and more intently, than anything that isn't a cat); but their words describe their real faces: the ones they wear underneath. This is why people who encounter writers of fantasy are rarely satisfied by the wholly inferior person that they meet. "I thought you'd be taller, or older, or younger, or prettier, or wiser," they tell us, in words or wordlessly. "This is not what I look like," I tell them. "This is not my face."
Cool, eh? Of course it is! It's Neil, who's so cool that I must quote Zaphod Beeblebrox from Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: "I'm so cool you could keep a side of meat in me for a month! I'm so hip I have trouble seeing over my pelvis!" But Neil's hardly the only cool thing here -- Terri against a stone doorway in England has a slightly weird story to tell 'bout shape shifters, love, and what the old tales don't tell you. Emma Bull, on the other hand, has a cautionary tale on how hard it is to 'take a genuinely inclusive photograph of a writer.' Will Shetterly, husband of Emma and an all-around neat person -- have you visited his blog yet? -- has a listing of five things that he learned in forty years, including 'Art is the real world'. I should shut up now. Just go buy this book, as anyone who reads Green Man needs it. And if Liath comes looking for this copy, you can tell her that I'm not giving it back! It's mine, mine I say!

[Jack Merry]