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Paper Cities
Ekaterina Sedia
Senses Five Press, 270 pages

Paper Cities
Ekaterina Sedia
Ekaterina Sedia was born and raised in Moscow, where her family still resides. She moved to New Jersey and teaches botany and plant ecology at a state liberal arts college and writes books. Her novel, The Secret History of Moscow, is currently available from Prime Books. Another, The Alchemy of Stone, is due in June 2008 ans she is working on The House of Discarded Dreams, to be released in 2009. She has sold stories to Analog, Baen's Universe, Fantasy Magazine, and Dark Wisdom, as well as Japanese Dreams (Prime Books) and Magic in the Mirrorstone (Mirrorstone Books) anthologies.

Ekaterina Sedia Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Mario Guslandi

As pointed out in Jess Nevins' introduction to the volume, urban fantasy -- intended as a type of fiction where cities are the setting and the supporting character of the story -- has a long-established tradition in the literature, can be traced as far back as the Arabian Nights and appears throughout the centuries in Gothic novels, Dickens' London and modern horror and SF fiction.

But the cities involved are not always real places such as New York, Rome or Tokyo. More often than not authors pursuing the avenues of urban fantasy create worlds of their own, imaginary towns and cities the inhabitants of which behave differently than us, follow unusual rules and live alien and strange lives.

However, every time a writer tries to push the genre limits, stretching his imagination to create something entirely new, the risk is that fantasy becomes the synonym of weirdness and that the story simply becomes a hollow specimen of the bizarre, lacking heart and failing to touch the inner chords of the reader's soul.

Paper Cities, an anthology assembling twenty-one stories of urban fantasy by both well-known and brand new authors, is a standing example of how fantasy can sometimes just equate eccentricity and oddness offering little else. Many of the stories included in the volume are just bizarre and quirky, the plots are often flimsy and inconsistent,and the characters flat and uninteresting. The first requirement of good fiction, namely to tell a good story and to tell it well, seems to be out of fashion.

Mind you, not everything is disappointing in Paper Cities, fortunately there are some good tales.

Cat Rambo's "The Bumblety's Marble," an elegant tale of magic set in and beneath the imaginary city of Tabat, is imbued with subtle lyricism.

Jay Lake contributes a fine, fully enjoyable piece set in the world of his The City Imperishable series ("Promises: a Tale for the City Imperishable"), which will make you want to secure a copy of all the novels in the series.

In "Sammarinda Deep" by Cat Sparks, the characters are credible and well carved, the imaginary world is quite plausible and the story is solid and well written.

Other excellent stories are Steve Berman's offbeat but fascinating "Tearjerker," a veritable feast of imagination and creativity and the colourful "Painting Haiti" by Michael Jasper, portraying the nightmares and the difficulties to survive experienced by an artist from Haiti emigrated to the USA.

Some stories are worth mentioning especially for the exquisite language and the beautiful wording which grace plots either too weak or too obscure (Anna Tambour's "The Age of Fish, Post-Flowers," a post-modern vivid urban fantasy and Catherynne M. Valente's "Palimpsest," providing further evidence of that author's enormous literary talent).

My favourite story is "Down to the Silver Spirits" by Kaaron Warren, a gorgeous piece with a "quiet horror" taste where, in order to conceive a child, some childless couples face a descent into a dead underground city.

On the whole, the fact that I've been able to select only eight stories out of twenty-one doesn't speak too well for this anthology, which remains, in my way of thinking, merely a gallant attempt that resulted in failure.

Copyright © 2008 by Mario Guslandi

Mario Guslandi lives in Milan, Italy, and is a long-time fan of dark fiction. His book reviews have appeared on a number of genre websites such as The Alien Online, Infinity Plus, Necropsy, The Agony Column and Horrorwold.

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