Patrick Nielsen Hayden (editor), New Magics
I got my first really bad cold in many years a few weeks ago.
(It's March as I write this review.) What that means to you, my dear reader,
is that I've been reading a lot of fiction these past few weeks. Some of it
won't be reviewed here even though it's excellent: Neal Asher's second
Polity novel, Line of Polity (very good hard sf), or the lovely Larry
Niven novels that I've been immersed in. But New Magics will be
reviewed here, as it is indeed a lovely GMRish anthology that you would
do well to read. Now excuse me for a minute while I get a freshening in the
Green Man kitchen of the Earl Grey tea with honey that I'm drinking for
my sore throat.... Ahhh, that's better.
New Magics is subtitled 'An Anthology of Today's Fantasy' and the authors herein certainly deserve that appellation. Patrick Nielsen Hayden, editor of this anthology and Senior Editor at Tor Books, has assembled twelve tales (from Jane Yolen, Harry Turtledove, Charles de Lint, Emma Bull, Neil Gaiman, Ellen Kushner, Susan Palwick, Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald, Katherine Kurtz, Andy Duncan, Sherwood Smith, Ursula LeGuin, and Orson Scott Card) from what I believe are all writers who have had other works published by Tor. Every author here has had work that was reviewed by us!
What tickles your fancy here will largely depend on your taste. I personally found some very good tales told well here and some that I could have skipped. Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald's 'Stealing God' story is set in the universe of his Apocalypse Door novel, which is, as Craig Clarke noted in his review, 'Raymond Chandler-era hard-boiled detective together with spy thriller, with a priest and Knight of the Temple as hero.' This tale of a very holy relic gone wrong just didn't work for me; the whole concept comes across as a very thin joke off hard-boiled PIs. I note that Craig likewise found the concept difficult: ' I'm not saying this is the dullest novel I've ever read, simply the dullest one I've ever forced myself to finish.' Much better was Neil Gaiman, with a story of really long quests and holy relics entitled 'Chivalry', which has a distinctly modern twist featuring one very determined British woman pensioner and one equally determined and extremely polite knight. Unlike 'Stealing God' which just bored me silly, this tale is up to the usual high standards of Gaiman in that it keeps you guessing 'til the end what will finally happen. No, it's not a major tale from him, unlike the story 'The Monarch of the Glen' appearing in Robert Silverberg's anthology, Legends II, which gives us an important look into what befalls the man called Shadow after the events of the Hugo Award-winning novel American Gods. If you like the fiction of the story and very much missed Douglas Adams, you'll love 'Chivalry'!
Charles de Lint offers up 'The Bone Woman' which first appeared as one of his annual chapbooks and then was reprinted in the second Newford collection, The Ivory and The Horn, which is where I first encountered it. It's a typically bittersweet Newford tale of magic providing redemption where none should be possible. It's a good introduction to his sprawling Newford cycle that has more novels, novellas, and novels in it now than I care to list here! Another choice tale here is Ursula K. Le Guin's 'The Bones of The Earth' a tale of wizardry from the world of her Earthsea books which first appeared in Tales from Earthsea. It's about the value of silence in place of words appropriate as the words that open the Earthsea trilogy are 'Only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life: bright the hawk's flight on the empty sky'. This tale is recommended particularly for those of you who stopped reading the series after the original trilogy, as it will give you a taste of newer works like Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind, the latest Earthsea novel.
Which brings me rather neatly to what I want out of an anthology like this.
I want to find out what authors, both known and unknown to me, have published
that I somehow missed. Just as I eagerly await the review copies of The Year's
Best Fantasy and Horror in summer so I can sit down and see what the editors
thought was good, an anthology like this, though smaller than that massive work,
often holds treasures that I didn't know existed. The find here for me was 'Liza
and the Crazy Water Man', Andy Duncan's tale of music and magic in the Appalachian
hills during the American Depression where the magic is intertwined with love
in all forms. Not surprisingly, anyone who's read Charles de Lint's Seven
Wild Sisters will feel at home in this tale as the setting is strikingly
similar. If you like this story, I'd also recommend Donald Davidson's The
Big Ballad Jamboree which has no magic in it but which does explore
the same themes of music and radio in this era.
The last story I'll single out for high praise, 'Mama Gone', is also set in the Appalachian culture that so many fantasy writers have found fruitful. (Though not Sharyn McCrumb, who declared that she is 'far too good to be writing genre fiction'! Funny, I wonder what the magic realism in her Ballad novels is, if not fantasy? Sure as Hell surprised me that seeing the dead wasn't within the fantasy genre!) Jane Yolen, on the other hand, is too good a writer to worry if her fiction is 'mainstream' or not. Here she gives us a tale of a vampire done in not by garlic or a stake in the heart, but by the overwhelming force of having someone care about you. I'll say that it will make my year end list of best short fiction that I will read this year!
I will be keeping this anthology as there's many a tale that I'll wish to read. That is the highest compliment I can give it, because generally speaking I do not keep such anthologies after I read them. If I did I'd be quite literally knee deep in them, as I see a dozen or more such anthologies in a given week. This one will find a cherished place in the third floor library in our home!