Gary Turner and Marty Halpern, editors, The Silver Gryphon (Golden Gryphon 2003)
To publish twenty-four books is but the regular monthly workings of a publishing giant like Tor or Ace, but for a small press, it is easily a milestone. Thus, for its twenty-fifth book, Golden Gryphon Press decided to celebrate by bringing together the authors from its first twenty-four books and have each submit a short story that capsulizes his or her work.
The finished product, as can be expected, is quite variable in content, but unexpectedly consistent in quality. The writers are almost nearly all experts in the fantastic literature field, and so the stories are all captivating page turners.
The book starts off with 'Mother' by James Patrick Kelly, set in a future world where aliens have taken over and control the breeding of humans. The protagonist, Les, hopes to be able to breed in order to subvert the alien control, but to be allowed to breed, she has to prove her worthiness as a mother by taking care of a computer simulation first. Reminiscent of those high school home-ec projects where you had to care for an egg as if it were a child, 'Mother' brings out questions about what we consider 'fit for motherhood.'
Next is Jeffrey Ford's 'Present from the Past,' about a family coping with the loss of its matriarch. Then comes 'The Door Gunner' by Michael Bishop, which ran in a recent issue of Realms of Fantasy, and which posits the idea of a deceased soldier in Viet Nam who refuses to lie down. It brings up all sorts of questions about what we mean when we say that war is hell.
Kage Baker's 'A Night on the Barbary Coast' is a typical story from Baker's 'Company' series, although this one doesn't (apparently) reveal anything about the grand mystery unfolding in that series.
Richard Lupoff's 'The American Monarchy' and Kevin J. Anderson's 'An Innocent Presumption' both look at alternate futures. In the former, the Supreme Court decided to award the 2000 presidential race to both candidates, leading to the collapse of the nation and a search for a monarch. In the latter, time travelers are faced with the question of their ability to interfere with the moral development of an alternate reality.
Howard Waldrop's 'Why Then Ile Fit You' follows the life of a retired horror film star of the mid-20th century. It acts as a good lead-in to what is the strongest story of the collection, Paul De Fillipo's 'What's Up, Tiger Lily?' In the near future, computers are as inexpensive as a sheet of paper and are as ubiquitous. The inventor of these computers, however, has lose lips, and reveals a backdoor to his girlfriend just before they split up. She then proceeds to wreak havoc with a world more thoroughly networked than the modern day. In parts comedy and adventure story, Di Fillipo's entry is ultimately a light amusement, but manages to entertain in every word and paragraph.
Geoffrey Landis's 'The Time-Travel Heart' is a revenge fantasy gone amok, when the murder victim keeps on popping up in the future to haunt the murderer. In contrast, George Zabrowski's 'Takes You Back' is another time travel story (seems to be a lot of time travel in this anthology) that examines the course of true love, which acts as a nice segue into Ian Watson's 'Separate Lives' about a future where most of society's problems have been solved by repressing sexuality after one is past one's prime years for reproduction. However, wherever the government is involved, entrepreneurs will find away around, and this story is about two illegal lovers and the ends one will go to to maintain love.
Lucius Shepard's 'After Ildiko' is the weakest inclusion, perhaps because it has nothing of the fantastic about it. An American is travelling in a drug-induced haze in South America where he uses and abuses others. And that just about sums up the story, since there's no real character development: it's more of an extended vignette, and thus disappointing.
Warren Rochelle's 'The Golden Boy' about an America balkanized into a number of repressive states where fantasy creatures are not uncommon but oppressed, acts a good transition between Shepard's non-fantastic failure and the next story, Kristine Kathryn Rusch's non-fantastic success, 'Cowboy Grace,' about a woman on the run from her own self. In less deft hands, the story would have quickly become boring at best and polemical at worst, but Rusch manages to keep the story from becoming a tirade against men and instead is an evocative look at how women can create for themselves a positive identity instead of having to create their identities in negative terms ('we're not men').
Next up is Richard Paul Russo's tale of eco-terrorism and friendship, 'Tropical Nights at the Natatorium,' and a typical Robert Reed story, 'Night of Time.' And by 'typical' I mean gripping and imaginative and just enough off-center to set the normal SF tropes on their heads.
Andy Duncan chimes in with the brief 'The Haw River Trolley,' a folktale about taking the bull by the horns.
R. Garcia y Robertson's 'Far Barbary' is about a Scotsman in the middle ages fighting for the Tartars against an Arabian tribe right out of the 1001 Nights. Like most of Garcia y Robertson's writing, the story is incredibly competent, but ultimately shallow and doesn't say much. It is like the lighter of the Golden Age fare, like cotton candy: substantial until you start to savor it and then it dissolves into a sticky sweet mess. Still, for distractions, you can't do much better.
The anthology rounds itself out with two humor pieces. First is Neil Barrett, Jr's 'Kwantum Babes' about physicist losers at a convention overrun by aliens. Then there's Joe R. Lansdale's 'Fire Dog' about one of the more bizarre jobs a man could take: literally becoming the fire dog for a fire-fighting unit.
Overall, this is one of the more enjoyable anthologies I've read in quite some time. Like good literature should, it avoids extremes: not too short, not too long; not too polemical, not too vacuous. It contains both high SF, fantasy, and the subtly fantastic, as well as strait non-genre stories. Not only is this a celebration of a small press's success, but it also serves as a wonderful introduction to the quality work Golden Gryphon has been putting out.