The New Voices of Fantasy: A diverse and worthy collection

Readers’ average rating: 

 

Reposting to include Jana’s new review.

The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter Beagle The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter Beagle The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter Beagle

This collection of nineteen fantasy short works, edited by Peter Beagle, is definitely worthwhile if you like speculative short fiction. Many of them left an impact on me, and a few are true standouts. These stories are by relatively new authors in the speculative fiction genre and are all fantasy; otherwise there’s no discernable overarching theme.

These stories have almost all been published previously over the last seven years, and several of them are Hugo or Nebula winners or nominees. While a dedicated reader of online short fiction can find many of these short works in free online magazines, it’s convenient to have them gathered together in one volume with other stories that aren’t as readily available.

A brief summary of the short stories, novelette(s) and novella in The New Voices of Fantasy and my ratings:

4 stars: “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong. A disturbing vampirish story with an Asian main character, lesbian overtones and highly evocative language. Nebula winner.

4 stars: “Selkie Stories are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar. When selkie women find their sealskin and go back to the sea, what about the children they leave behind? I appreciated that it explored a different point of view without minimizing the selkie women’s initial lack of consent. Hugo and Nebula nominee.

2.5 stars: “Tornado’s Siren” by Brooke Bolander. A tornado falls in love with a young girl, following her with devotion over the years. I don’t know, it just struck me as kind of a one-note story, with a few too many strained similes (“The sidewalks sweat like her father after a jog.”)

3 stars: “Left the Century to Sit Unmoved” by Sarah Pinsker. Every once in a while, people who dive into a pond in Shay’s small town never resurface, and their remains are never found. We never do find out why people keep disappearing, but the question Pinsker is really concerned with is, why do people still jump in?

5 stars: “A Kiss with Teeth” by Max Gladstone. Vlad the vampire is married to a human (in fact, the woman who was originally hunting him down!). They have a young son, and Vlad tries to live like a regular human, denying his darker self and powers. It all starts to break down when his son starts having problems at school, and when Vlad starts meeting regularly with his son’s teacher … who starts looking incredibly appealing as a victim. One of my favorite stories in this anthology, for its wry look at the question of what it means to be yourself.

5 stars: “Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon. When Grandma Harken’s grandson catches a jackalope woman by stealing her skin and partially burning it, it’s up to her to try to fix things. Vernon’s writing in this story is fantastic, evoking a Native American-inspired mythology and mixing in humorous but sharp observations about human nature. I’ve read this short story at least five times and adore it more each time. Nebula winner.

4 stars: “The Cartographer Wasps and Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu. A fable-type of story about intelligent wasps and bees with political overtones. Nebula and Hugo nominee.

2.5 stars: “The Practical Witch’s Guide to Acquiring Real Estate” by A. C. Wise. This is a humorous manual advising witches on the best way to get a house (buying, taming, breeding …). It’s a more complicated process than you might think! Cute, but a little weak and one-note for me. No plot.

3.75 stars: “The Tallest Doll in New York City” by Maria Dahvana Headley: One February evening in 1938, the Chrysler Building gets the romantic itch and takes off for a walk to go flirt with the Empire State Building. A sweet and warmhearted fantasia of a story; again, not a whole lot of plot.

4 stars: “The Haunting of Apollo A7LB” by Hannu Rajaniemi: A old spacesuit, haunted by the spirit of the astronaut who once owned it, takes its new (and illicit) owner for unwanted excursions. This is a deeper and more thoughtful story than I expected from the initial premise.

4 stars: “Here Be Dragons” by Chris Tarry. A couple of medieval con men, who made a good living for quite a while pretending to save villages from nonexistent dragons, are now having a difficult time settling down with the wives and kids. It’s told from the point of view of one of the men, who sees his friend’s and his own personal shortcomings, but tries to justify (or at least explain) their behavior. It’s amusing in parts, but also sobering and even appalling.

4.5 stars. “The One They Took Before” by Kelly Sandoval. Kayla feels a compulsion to check out want ads that speak of magical portals, faerie queens and mysterious disappearances. As the pattern builds up, it gradually becomes apparent why.

2 stars. “Tiger Baby” by JY Yang. Felicity has a disappointing job and an isolated life, but deep down she’s certain that she’s really a tiger, and one day will morph into her true majestic tiger self. This one didn’t quite work for me.

2.5 stars: “The Duck” by Ben Loory. Another fable type of story, this one about a duck who falls hopelessly in love with … a rock. Told in a deceptively simple fashion, it has some nice insights into friendship. Sadly, this duck just didn’t particularly rock my boat.

4 stars: “Wing” by Amal El-Mohtar. A lovely and very short story about books, and secrets, and people who truly understand you. There’s an intriguingly mysterious element in the small, thumb-sized book that the girl wears around her neck.

3.5 stars: “The Philosophers” by Adam Ehrlich Sachs. This work is comprised of three separate but thematically related stories, just a couple of pages each, about fathers and sons. They’re oddly whimsical and philosophical tales, reminiscent of stories by Jorge Luis Borges. Originally published in the New Yorker magazine.

3.5 stars: “My Time Among the Bridge Blowers” by Eugene Fischer. An explorer-scholar takes a journey to visits a remote, isolated people who have the ability to breathe air that solidifies enough for them to temporarily walk on it. This people, known as the Bridge Blowers, are very leery of visitors, since their society has been deeply damaged by colonial practices. It’s like reading a more enlightened Rudyard Kipling adventure, and what the narrator unknowingly reveals about himself and his prejudices is telling. However, I wasn’t a fan of the inconclusive ending. This is the only brand new story in this anthology.

4.5 stars: The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado. A disturbing, sexually explicit and well-written take on the old horror folk tale about the woman who always wears a ribbon around her neck. Machado weaves in urban legends and some meta aspects, where she addresses the reader directly. This is a strong and overtly feminist novelette that takes a dim view of men generally. Nebula nominee.

4 stars: The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman T. Malik. This novella begins as a folk-type tale of the old days, involving a dispossessed Pakistani princess and a jinn who lived in a eucalyptus tree, as told by a Pakistani grandfather to his grandson. It evolves into mind-bending metaphysical science fiction with cosmic implications. Nebula nominated novella.

~Tadiana Jones


The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter Beagle I’d already read a few of the stories featured in The New Voices of Fantasy before picking up my review copy, but I was genuinely looking forward to re-reading those works, since all of them were easy 4- or 5-star ratings from my perspective. Various elements of “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers,” “The Haunting of Apollo A7LB,” “Jackalope Wives,” and “The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn” have stuck with me long after their initial reading, and I’m not ashamed to say that I think “A Kiss with Teeth” is wonderfully, sweetly romantic.

When it came to the stories I hadn’t read before, the results were more of a mixed bag for me (as they seem to have been for Tadiana, as well). I’ve discovered a new favorite horror story in “The Husband Stitch,” while “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” was rich in poetry, allegory, and science. “Selkie Stories are for Losers” was charming and fresh, “The One They Took Before” hints at a fae-touched world that I’d love to see in subsequent stories, and the ending of “Tiger Baby” definitely took me by surprise. “The Practical Witch’s Guide to Acquiring Real Estate” was cute, and put me right in the mood for Halloween. “Wing” is brief, but contemplative and poetic, while “Here Be Dragons” provides an insightful portrayal of a restless father’s inability to embrace happiness.

“The Tallest Doll in New York City” is a fun bit of fluff and 1920s slang, and though there isn’t much plot, the emphasis here is on having a good time. “Tornado’s Siren” had an inventive motivation, though the language was a little over-wrought at moments. “Left the Century to Sit Unmoved” is an interesting examination of why people might jump into a pond from which they might not climb out of, but didn’t do much with its thin veneer of fantasy.  I appreciated the tweaking of a typical colonialist narrative in “My Time Among the Bridge-Blowers,” though I would have liked to see the characters and ideas explored a little more, in order to fully tap its potential. “The Philosophers” made more sense as a set of very brief linked stories than they do individually, examining the complex relationships between fathers and sons, but no particular moment of twist of phrase in these three stories really stood out and made me take notice. “The Duck” reads like a forgotten Aesop’s fable, and it’s decent, but it’s not much deeper or more challenging than “friendship is nice.”

Overall, The New Voices of Fantasy does a great job of selecting a wide range of authors within the vastness of the fantasy genre, and provides readers with some perspectives and talents that they might not otherwise encounter.

~Jana Nyman

Published in 2017. What would you do if a tornado wanted you to be its Valentine? Or if a haunted spacesuit banged on your door? When is the ideal time to turn into a tiger? Would you post a supernatural portal on Craigslist? In these nineteen stories, the enfants terribles of fantasy have arrived. The New Voices of Fantasycaptures some of the fastest-rising talents of the last five years, including Sofia Samatar, Maria Dahvana Headley, Max Gladstone, Alyssa Wong, Usman T. Malik, Brooke Bolander, E. Lily Yu, Ben Loory, Ursula Vernon, and more. Their tales were hand-picked by the legendary Peter S. Beagle (The Last Unicorn) and genre expert Jacob Weisman (The Treasury of the Fantastic). So go ahead and join the Communist revolution of the honeybees. The new kids got your back.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but recently settled in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are Bradbury, James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, and Philip Pullman.

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2 comments

  1. Fee Roberts /

    I love the cover. The Haunting of Apollo A7LB, Here Be Dragons, The One They Took Before, Wing, and The Philosophers sound really good.

    • Good choices! Those are all worth reading, and all are stories that I hadn’t read online before I got a copy of this anthology.

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