Book name: The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy
Editor: Ellen Datlow
Publisher: Del Rey
Format: ebook, print
Genre: Science fiction, fantasy
Publication Date: 2008
Star Rating: 4/5
This short-story anthology is subtitled ‘Sixteen Original Works by Speculative Fiction’s Finest Voices’, which sets the bar pretty high. As I took it down off the shelf, I was intrigued to see whether it would deliver.
Some stories just draw you in with their title, and it that was precisely the case with ‘All Washed Up While Looking For a Better World’ by Carol Emshwiller. Whimsical tone isn’t always something that we associated with speculative fiction, although it can be used to great effect.
I like whimsical stories, so I was immediately lured in.
The premise of ‘All Washed Up’ is that the narrator has wished to be washed up on a desert island. When their wish is granted, however, they are still almost right where they started. However, they have changed so much that the people who stumble across them cannot recognise them as human.
It was an interesting concept. We define ourselves not just in terms of how we feel about ourselves, but also very much in terms of how others see us, so this story was perceptive and thought provoking.
‘The Goosle’ by Margot Lanagan caught my attention because it was described as being a ‘vicious follow-up to a well-known fairy tale’. Whenever I see a teaser like this, I cannot wait to turn the page and discover which tale it is.
In this case, ‘The Goosle’ starts where ‘Hansel and Gretel’ left off. Frankly, I’ve always found ‘Hansel and Gretel’ to be one of the most disturbing of all fairy tales; and that’s up against some pretty stiff competition.
The thing I liked most about ‘The Goosle’ was the way that it brought all the senses to life, although given the subject matter involves cannibalism that is another reason to be profoundly disturbed by this story.
The other story I particularly appreciated for its boldness was ‘Shira’ by Lavie Tidhar. Anyone who grew up in Israel and now lives in Vanuatu has clearly had a pretty interesting life, so I was keen to read his tale. ‘Shira’ uses counter-factualism to posit a world in which the Holocaust as we know it did not occur, but instead something that is referred to as ‘The Small Holocaust’ took place.
I’m still not sure how I feel about that suggestion. If fewer lives were lost in this alternate world, that can only be a good thing. On the other hand, as the story itself says, how can a holocaust be small? How can even one loss of life not lead to change? In ‘Shira’ Israel does not exist. The introduction warns that the story is provocative, and it is.
I like challenging writing; isn’t that what speculative fiction is all about? Yet somehow, I just didn’t feel ready for this story. Every personal response is valid, and other readers may feel very differently. ‘Shira’ was undeniably well written, and perhaps painful stories are the ones we most need to hear.
The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy was a great anthology. The stories were well chosen and there was plenty of variety. It is fair to say that these are largely established voices within speculative fiction, such as Anna Tambour and Elizabeth Bear.
One of the new voices here is Laird Barron, who of course has gone on to establish himself as writer in the 14 years since this anthology was published.
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