by Michael M Jones
For this installment of Schrödinger's Bookshelf, I thought I'd take a look at a few of the wonderful themed anthologies which
have been piling up on my desk. It's not just coincidence that all of the ones reviewed are from the same
publisher. DAW has been great about releasing an anthology just about every month to help feed the addiction of short fiction
aficionados like myself. Now, while material and tone may vary, most of them do share the same basic defining
characteristic: all of the stories collected within relate to a single theme.
[Editor's Note: Here you will find the other Schrödinger's Bookshelf columns.]
In this collection, sixteen authors tackle all things Hell-related and demonic, with stories that purport to tell it like it really is Down Below. From the humorous to the horrific, they'll give you a little taste of Hell to savor for your very own.
In Bradley Sinor's "That's What They All Say," a private investigator used to handling the unusual is tapped to deliver the ransom for a kidnapped Lucifer, but will he be tempted to welsh on the deal when he hears what is at stake? In Sarah Hoyt's "Something Worse Hereafter," a pair of lovers fight daily against a host of hungry demons, preferring the Hell they know to the worse one rumored to exist if they fail. Adam Stemple takes a look at the traditional deal with the Devil, when a home remodeling crew breaks down the wrong wall in "Burning Down The House."
Daniel M. Hoyt's "Devil in the Details" shows that even the Big Bad can be thwarted by bureaucracy and red tape, while Donald J. Bingle uses the fine print to capture the souls of the unwary in "Hell To Pay." P.N. Elrod speculates on the nature of a convention for demons, featuring her magical cat-man Myhr in "The Name of the Game."
Those are just some of the cautionary tales to be found in this volume, with other authors including Alexander Potter,
Ed Gorman, Dean Wesley Smith, David Niall Wilson, Alan Lickiss, and David Bischoff. It's a fun bunch of stories,
with a little something for everyone, and worth checking out.
Here we come to one of my favorite anthology themes: time travel. Sixteen authors tackle the ever-fascinating world of temporal cause and effect, in which their assorted protagonists attempt to change their pasts and futures for better and for worse.
Dean Wesley Smith's "The Ghost of the Garden Lounge," is an especially strong tale. In it, he revisits a bar whose jukebox occasionally allows people to travel into their own past. In this case, a couple separated by time and tragedy attempt to fix their past repeatedly, their failure growing more profound every time. Also memorable is Daniel Hoyt's "God's PDA," in which a man finds an item capable of rewriting history, or preventing Armageddon. But can he use it responsibly?
Jody Lynn Nye's "Wait Until Next Year" also looks at Armageddon as a preventable event, but how on Earth does it all relate to the World Series, angels, demons, and a mortal pawn? Loren Coleman looks at a time traveler sent on a specific mission into the past, who falls in love with his current situation, in "Present Perfect." Brenda Cooper's "Black Armbands" has a remorseful hero try to change a horrible incident in his own past, but at what cost to history?
Christina York's "Godspeed" has John Glenn making a choice concerning his own destiny, while in Annie Reed's "Reboot," a time traveler discovers a sinister secret about the program where he has worked for many years. In "Jesus H. Christ," Laura Resnick takes an irreverent look at how an ex-Mafioso convinces the Son of God to follow His destiny.
This is a good, solid collection that really takes full advantage of the titular theme to explore the possibilities. With
stories ranging from humorous to tragic, action-packed to thoughtful, there's plenty for everyone. I might be biased because
I'm a sucker for a good time travel tale, but I was quite pleased with this anthology.
For the most part, Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar universe has been a single-author playground, semi-sanctioned fanfic notwithstanding. However, every now and again, Lackey officially allows others to play in her sandbox. This is the third such collection, and once again she has put together a quality band of authors, both familiar faces and newcomers to the setting. For those who might need a refresher course, Valdemar is one of Lackey's signature settings, a land guarded by the white clad psychically-Gifted Heralds and their magical, telepathic all-white horses known as Companions. It's not easy being a Herald, as dozens of books and stories have covered, and here, sixteen authors, plus Lackey herself, return to Valdemar.
Larry Dixon leads off with "Transmutation," in which a gravely-wounded gryphon discovers his ultimate potential and destiny. Richard Lee Byers explores death and treachery in the city of Mornedealth, in "Death in Keenspur House." Brenda Cooper's "Dawn of Sorrows" looks at a young Bard whose life has been recently touched with tragedy. Rosemary Edghill's "Horse of Air" follows a Herald who, after his Companion was killed, took up the life of an undercover tinker.
In Tanya Huff's "All the Ages of Man," a Herald who feels saddled with too much responsibility at an early age must learn to distinguish between duty, discretion, and desire. Michael Longcor looks at the life of a young soldier in "War Cry," while Michael Z. Williamson studies the ethics of a mercenary troupe called upon to do horrible things against their better judgment in "Naught But Duty." And Mercedes Lackey gives us an untold tale of fan-favorite characters Tarma and Kethry in "Landscape of the Imagination," where an escort duty turns out to be a far stranger journey than they ever expected.
You can look at Crossroads in one of two different ways: as a sampler of the many different facets of the Valdemar
universe, or as a gift of love to its fans. Either way, you end up with a satisfying collection of stories that revisit
the various corners of a rich and intriguing world. With nearly twenty years of details to draw upon, there's a lot to
work with, and these authors certainly do a good job. I'm pretty sure that even a newcomer would find something to
entertain them, but if all else fails, I recommend reading Lackey's Arrows of the Queen for a proper
introduction. In general, this is a great collection, if somewhat specialized in scope.
Michael M Jones enjoys an addiction to books, for which he's glad there is no cure. He lives with his very patient wife (who doesn't complain about books taking over the house... much), eight cats, and a large plaster penguin that once tasted blood and enjoyed it. A prophecy states that when Michael finishes reading everything on his list, he'll finally die. He aims to be immortal.
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