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Flights of Fantasy
edited by Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books, 309 pages

Robert Giusti
Flights of Fantasy
Mercedes Lackey
Born in 1950 in Chicago, Mercedes Lackey (née Ritchie) graduated from Purdue in 1972. After some years as an artist's model, lab assistant and security guard, she embarked on a career in computer programming. Active in writing and recording folk songs, Lackey has published close to 50 novels and collections since her first book, Arrows of the Queen, was published in 1985. She won the Lambda award for Magic's Price and the Science Fiction Book Club Book of the Year for The Elvenbane, co-authored with Andre Norton. Besides an interest in scuba diving, Mrs. Lackey is also a licensed bird rehabilitator, specializing in wild birds.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The River's Gift
SF Site Review: Owl Knight
SF Site Review: The Black Swan
SF Site Review: Owl Flight
SF Site Review: Storm Breaking
Mercedes Lackey Tribute Page
Mercedes Lackey Bio
Mercedes Lackey Tribute Page
The World of Velgarth

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Flights of Fantasy contains 10 original tales of birds of prey (plus one about crows) ranging from humorous to dark fantasy. There are tales of falconry, Native American tribal totem birds, Arthurian reincarnations, along with stubborn princesses and nasty sorcerers. There is also a novella by Mercedes Lackey which further develops one of the neglected characters of her recent novel, Black Swan.

Perhaps the best stories in Flights of Fantasy are the light-hearted ones that don't take themselves too seriously. Lawrence Watt-Evans' "Night Flight" tells of a ditzy princess' escape from the clutches of a wizard. However, escape means drinking an elixir and turning into a mouse, then making her way outside only to have an owl come between her and the counter-elixir. In "A Buzzard Named Rabinowitz" by Mike Resnick, a political cartoonist's animal-based parodies of local politicians and gangsters come back to haunt him in a most unexpected way. In "Tweaked in the Head" by Samuel C. Conway, a top secret military lab has developed a hawk with human-level intelligence. But when the project is to be terminated, its creator ponders the ethics of destroying his fast-talking, cigar-smoking creation.

Three stories fall into the totem-animal category. In "Eagle's Eye," by Jody Lynn Nye, a young Native American searches for the eagle that is to be his spiritual mate. This story nicely balances the adventure of the quest with the avian mythological aspects. On the other hand, Josepha Sherman's "A Question of Faith," while similarly a quest for an eagle totem, is ultimately much more tied in with faith and spiritual enlightenment. Diana Paxson's "The Tale of Hrafn-Bui" is a typical Norse saga of the unwanted son who returns to claim his birthright. However, this particular son has formed a bond with the crows who had congregated around his near-lifeless body.

Set in the traditional mythology of Arthurian England, "One Wing Down" by Susan Shwartz, tells of Gawain reincarnated as a hawk helping Arthur in his final showdown with Mordred. However, unlike Honoria in Mercedes Lackey's "Wide Wings," who must learn how her new hawk-body works, Gawain waking from death in a mature hawk's body has an immediate and seemingly perfect control of his body. Thank goodness Merlin set the whole thing up.

The remaining stories in Flights of Fantasy are set in a pseudo-medieval/sword and sorcery milieu. The darkest and, for me, best piece in this genre in Flights of Fantasy was "A Gathering of Bones" by Ron Collins. It is a first-person story of a young sorcerer alone after his father's death, whose presence is required at the king's palace where the princess lies dying. He will discover much of his father's dark past under the prodding of his hawk, Kiva, who is herself much more than she looks. "A Gathering of Bones" had a nice, lightly Gormenghastish streak of nastiness throughout, something the other stories lacked in their largely good vs. bad dichotomy. In S.M. Stirling's "Taking Freedom," a sorceress' melding of human and avian doesn't turn out to be the meek little thrall generated by her earlier attempts, but something she herself cannot control -- evil gets defeated by the strength and desire for freedom of good. Nancy Asire's "Owl Light," is again a basic tale of good vs. evil: A maiden priestess must maintain her faith in the peace-loving owl-goddess of her people in the face of the power-hungry priest of the land's overlords.

In Mercedes Lackey's novella, "Wide Wings," she takes up the story of one of the minor characters from her recent novel, The Black Swan. While the story is chock-full of falconry detail (to the point of didacticism at times), the plot of a falconer-princess stifled in her patriarchal society and forced to marry against her wishes, taking flight and attaining freedom through transformation into a fiercely independent bird, is just a bit too clichéd all around. Call me sexist, but stories of independent and self-reliant young women overcoming the limitations of their pseudo-medieval worlds seem to be a dime-a-dozen these days -- surely medieval princess can find other outlets for their frustrations -- case in point: the wonderfully ditzy princess of "Night Flight."

While several of the stories in Flights of Fantasy were quite entertaining, I was somewhat disappointed in there not being a single story told from the point of view of the bird(s). Where one does get a bird's point of view, it is that of a human understanding alive in a bird, rather than the mind of a bird itself. I could see the potential for far more innovative stories, were anthropomorphizing kept to a minimum, if this tack had been taken. Instead, I found merely the rehash of conventional fantasy plots with birds weaved in. Even in this regard, except for the Mercedes Lackey novella, much of the behavioural patterns and "character" of the birds were left at the level of very basic knowledge, not exploiting any least-bit obscure ability the birds might have had.

If you are a fantasy reader and bird-lover -- in particular of birds of prey -- you will likely enjoy much of the material in Flights of Fantasy. Don't expect any great insights into the avian mind or previously unexplored avenues of fantasy literature and you won't be disappointed. So if you're cooped up on a winter's night with your Ford Falcon in the shop, remember: with Flights of Fantasy you can still drive the Audubon.

Table of Contents (alphabetically by author)
Nancy Asire Owl Light
Ron Collins A Gathering of Bones
Samuel C. Conway Tweaked in the Head
Mercedes Lackey Wide Wings
Jody Lynn Nye Eagle's Eye
Diana Paxson The Tale of Hrafn-Bui
Mike Resnick A Buzzard Named Rabinowitz
Josepha Sherman A Question of Faith
Susan Shwartz One Wing Down
S.M. Stirling Taking Freedom
Lawrence Watt-EvansNight Flight

Copyright © 2000 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.

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