Steven H. Silver and Martin H. Greenberg, editors, Magical Beginnings (Tekno Books, 2003)

Andre Norton, Peter S. Beagle, Ursula K. Le Guin, Susan Schwartz, Charles de Lint, Megan Lindholm, Ellen Kushner, Esther Friesner, Mickey Zucker Richert, Emma Bull, Mercedes Lackey, Tanya Huff, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Michelle West, Lisanne Norman, Fiona Patton.

There, now you want to go off and read this book, right? My work here is done.

Oh, OK. Grey says I have to write something a little more thorough. Hmmm. Let's see — Magical Beginnings is a collection of the first stories ever sold by each of the authors mentioned above. There, now go ahead and get it. What? Sheesh, you want more? Fine, I'll try to pull myself away and tell you a bit about some of the tales....

Having just sold my own first story, I'm completely in tune with the giddiness inspired by that first letter of acceptance; as Esther Friesner says in her introduction to "The Stuff of Heroes," "Upon opening it I did severe damage to our cat's mental health by shrieking with joy and to our house by doing the Published Author Polka." I do not, however, even begin to pretend that my story approaches those in this book. Every one of these tales hints at the future glory rightly in store for these writers.

Take, for example, Peter S. Beagle's "My Daughter's Name is Sarah." Beagle, author of such greats as The Last Unicorn and The Folk of the Air, has always, to my mind, written beautifully simple and yet poignantly real characters, and this story serves as the harbinger of his signature style. A simple narrative sketch written from the point of view of one Elias Reiner, it's not a fantasy story, not really, merely a short tale of a child's first heartbreak and of a father's love for his daughter. Yet it's by far the most powerful story in the collection.

Tanya Huff's "Third Time Lucky" is a funny and delightful story about a long-lived lady wizard and her ancient nemesis, who turns out to be ... well, you really should read it because it's far too easy to spoil a short story by revealing the good parts. But it's good! And Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "Sing" is sad and creepy and sweet all at once, with a view of another race unlike any I've seen before or since. This story epitomizes the anthology's theme of magical beginnings, and no one reading "Sing" should be surprised that Rusch went on to fame and adulation.

"Birthnight" from Michelle West interprets Christian and faerie mythology in a new way, made me cry, and is outright brilliant. Emma Bull's "Rending Dark" is a riveting read, the first of her works which, as she says, "put a high value on chatty characters and food." Mercedes Lackey, naturally, cranked out a sword and sorcery Darkover story for Marion Zimmer Bradley and here it sits, as entertaining as any of Lackey's later work.

Charles de Lint is most renowned for his brilliant urban fantasy, but he writes heroic fantasy, too. His first professional sale, "The Fane of the Grey Rose," is a heroic fantasy story which he later expanded into his novel The Harp of the Grey Rose and in which he introduced a character who would later appear in Newford as Cerin Kellady. "Grey Rose" is true high fantasy, overwrought flowery language and all, but it's fun, and well enough written that the slightly melodramatic tone (which initially made me giggle) swiftly pulled me in and was all but forgotten by the end of the story. It's a personal distaste for that sort of writing, mind you, and one that this story managed to overcome quite well because the harper, the fairy maid, and the evil Yarac Stone-slayer are, like most of Charles' characters, quite real. It's a lovely story.

These are short stories, and as I said, it's far too easy to spoil them in the reviewing. But to read these stories is to understand how and why these authors became icons; it's akin to finding the first sketches by a da Vinci or a Lautrec. Magical Beginnings is a wonderful glimpse into the past, and a fun read even if you're not familiar with all of the authors included. Now can they all go off and read it, Grey?

[Maria Nutick]

Here's a site for Andre Norton, and a great fan site for Peter S. Beagle. Ursula Le Guin is online here. Charles de Lint, Megan Lindholm, and Ellen Kushner have great Web sites! So does Mickey Zucker Reichert. Visit Esther Friesner here. Emma Bull is here, and you can find tribute sites for Tanya Huff here and Fiona Patton here. Mercedes Lackey has a Web site. Kristine Kathryn Rusch is here and Michelle West is here. Here's Lisanne Norman. And don't forget Steven H. Silver and Martin H. Greenberg