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Anniversaries: The Write Fantastic
edited by Ian Whates
NewCon Press, 152 pages

Anniversaries: The Write Fantastic
Ian Whates
Ian Whates lives in a comfortable home down a quiet cul-de-sac in an idyllic Cambridgeshire village, which he shares with his partner Helen and their pets. His first published stories appeared in the late 1980s, but it was not until the early 2000s that he began to pursue writing with any seriousness. In 2006 Ian launched independent publisher NewCon Press. He is currently a director of both the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) and the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA), editing Matrix, the online news and media reviews magazine, for the latter. He has also recently been voted in as Chair of the BSFA. His novel, City of Dreams and Nightmare, marks his debut in the longer form, and he also has a pair of space opera novels in preparation for Solaris.

Ian Whates Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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NewCon Press has been the source of a veritable flood of interesting new short fiction over the past few years: a few novella-length chapbooks and a variety of mostly original anthologies, these last edited by Ian Whates. So I looked forward to a new book from that combination with some interest. But also with a bit of trepidation: Anniversaries: The Write Fantastic is a selection of stories from a writers' organization, The Write Fantastic, and as such the concern that the writers, already essentially granted a slot, might fob off trunk stories or fragments or failed experiments on us. I ought not to have worried: these are all seasoned professionals, and moreover the objective of the group, in essence to promote Fantasy as its own subgenre, separate from SF, argues in favor of its members putting their best feet forward. So what we have a nice brief book, collecting a generally interesting set of stories, on the very loose theme of, as the title suggests, anniversaries.

That said, Fantasy is to a considerable extent a genre dominated by long form work, and some of these stories seem less independent stories than glosses on a larger work, or perhaps teasers. For example, Juliet E. McKenna's "Remembrance" sets up a pretty fascinating situation, the main character a young man of a good family whose talent for seeing ghosts, or "fetches," sets him on a harder path than most young men of his birth. This story features his first official task in his new role, and it's quite interesting, but sort of trivial -- clearly there is more to the protagonist's story. Likewise Sarah Ash's "Song for a Naming Day," set just after the end of a novel, in which Kiukiu's firstborn child arrives -- but she has been promised (in the novel, I assume) to the Guardian of the Jade Springs. The story sets up an intriguing situation -- presumably the matter of the novel's sequel. Worked pretty well as a teaser, I'll admit. And Freda Warrington's "Persephone's Chamber" is an atmospheric piece about a murder victim come to the title place, apparently to deal with her fear of rebirth. The story is rather static, and I confess I was bored -- but perhaps more understanding of the apparent link with Warrington's novels would have enhanced it.

Jessica Rydill's "The Anniversary" is much darker, with a Russian flavor, about ghosts who continue their affairs (to an extent) after their deaths -- in particular, here, a "shaman" and his lover, and his old enemy, his lover's brother. In "Smörgaen's Bane" Ian Whates tells of a rather rascally adventurer who is enlisted by a storyteller to help take revenge on the title dragon -- but the adventurer doesn't believe in dragons. That ought to make the job easy, right? There's nothing really new here, but I enjoyed the story. In "The Rape of the Stalactite," Liz Williams shows Alexander Pope seeking out a curious stalactite in a Somerset cave, only to learn that stalactites can have spirits something like trees have dryads.

Perhaps the two best pieces come from Kari Sperring and Chaz Brenchley. Sperring's "The Birthday of the Oligarch" is a light story about a city once ruled by the Alchemical Queen, who has died. They have tried different governments since her death, and the latest ruler, the Oligarch, seems a decent enough sort, but perhaps things are not working out. And he receives an odd fortune for his birthday, which is realized in a curious way, with the help of a Professor, and a Clock Master -- and especially the latter's daughters. It's told with color, and cleverness, and wit. Brenchley's "I Shaved Half Emperor Cyrrhenius" has an excellent central idea, and an intriguing viewpoint. The narrator is a barber, son of the Half Emperor's chosen barber. Suddenly he is summoned to shave the Half Emperor, and soon realizes that his father has been executed -- and naturally he fears the same fate for himself. Instead he is to shave his ruler -- and in so doing he realizes that his father had cut the Half Emperor, an unthinkable error. Slowly we realize why the Half Emperor is "Half," and what that means for his domain, and why the narrator's father betrayed his lord... It's not what I expected: an interesting concept, and a very nicely told tale.

Copyright © 2010 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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