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The Essential Bordertown:
A Traveller's Guide to the Edge of Faerie

edited by Terri Windling and Delia Sherman
Tor Books, 383 pages

Art: Jim Carroll
The Essential Bordertown
Terri Windling
Terri Windling is a five-time World Fantasy Award winner, a consulting fantasy editor at Tor, the author of The Wood Wife (winner of the Mythopoeic Award) and other fiction, and writes a popular folklore column for Realms of Fantasy magazine.

Terri Windling Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Delia Sherman
If any of Delia Sherman's work should be remembered, it should be for The Porcelain Dove, a novel of intoxicating beauty. She has contributed short fiction to such anthologies as Bending the Landscape and Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears.

ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Robert Francis

The Essential Bordertown is the seventh book in the Borderland Series, and the third or fourth collection of short stories in the group. In Bordertown, magic works, sometimes. Technology works, sometimes. Any vaguely ritualistic activity, like cooking, has predictable results, sometimes. People behave the way you'd expect, sometimes. And the stories that are told about this place are great, sometimes. Actually, there are many good stories in this book, and in the series as a whole. How can the likes of Charles de Lint, Ellen Kushner, Steven Brust, Midori Snyder, Felicity Savage, and Patricia McKillip fail to produce good stories with such an unconstrained palate to work with? There are also new voices in the crowd, like Donnárd Sturgis who show good potential. The Essential Bordertown is not the strongest work in the series, but certainly not one to skip if you enjoy fantasy short stories.

Borderland, and the city of Bordertown, make up a kind of cultural DMZ between our mundane world and the Realm of Faerie. Most of the stories in this series at least touch, if not center on, the cultural clashes between elves and humans, or the small group of folk trying to forge a new synthetic culture from both. The action in The Essential Bordertown centres on a section of Bordertown called Soho, which is overrun by runaway teens who've come to Bordertown from the World searching for elves, unicorns, hobbits, or a better place than the one they left. One of the best, and hardest, things about this book is that it at least tries to be realistic about the "teenage wasteland" experience. Most of the teens and children don't have an easy time of it, which is a true telling, but it also gives most of the stories a very dark tone.

The premise of this series is that one day, in the not too distant future, the Realm of Faerie suddenly intrudes into our world next to a modern city. Although most of the Realm remains protected from curious humans by the Border, which supposedly no human can cross, travelers from Faerie enter our world with relative ease. Most of the elves are not exactly forthcoming with their reasons for leaving the Realm, which any and all swear is a glittering and glorious place full of wonders too good for humans. However, it appears that most leave for fairly mundane reasons -- a chance to walk on the wild side, to see how the other species lives, to listen to rock and roll. Some leave because they've been exiled, and up until now Faerie had nowhere to put their malcontents. One gets the impression that the elves no more wanted their Realm to suddenly butt into suburbia than the humans wanted their toaster ovens to stop working, and are for the most part making the best of things. From a human perspective, the close proximity of the Realm to Bordertown and its environs results in some magical spill-over.

The elves in these stories are not your Keebler variety. They are more of the Celtic mold -- taller on average than humans, ageless, reserved among outsiders, and possessing really bad attitudes. These elves refer to themselves as Truebloods, and many elves consider humans to be a few more notches down the social and evolutionary ladder than any self-respecting sentient being should be. This, of course, does not sit well with most humans. As it plays out in Soho, human teens, the younger elves, and halflings have formed species-based gangs, each with their own turf. This provides the backdrop for many of the culture-clash stories in this book and the Series.

The stories in this book are paired with excerpts from the "Traveller's Guide" referred to in the book's title, and each Guide excerpt serves to introduce the theme of the following story, but not always as you'd expect. While many of the Travellers Guide excerpts provide good lead-ins and non-intrusive background for stories, a few of them are so overdone in their attempt to sound like a guidebook written for teens that they really fall flat. The "interrupted narrative" appearing between stories was also done in the Borderlands book Life on the Border, where Ellen Kushner created a series of letters written by a Bordertown teen as segues between stories. This worked very well, because Kushner's character had a realistic tone.

The Essential Bordertown is a worthwhile read, especially for the fans of the authors included within it. If you like these stories, or if you think the premise sounds promising, then I highly recommend the rest of the series as I found the earlier Borderland short story collections to be stronger than those in The Essential Bordertown.

The Borderland Series novels are also very good, and the interplay between Shetterly's short story "Nevernever" and his Borderland novels Elsewhere and Nevernever is fantastic. Be prepared to have your perceptions of Shetterley's characters and their motivations molded so expertly that you end up with a completely new and different understanding of each previous story by the time you finish the next one. It's as good, if not better, than the similar job he did with the non-Borderland novels Cats Have No Lord and The Tangled Lands.

Copyright © 1998 by Robert Francis

Robert Francis is by profession a geologist, and, perhaps due to some hidden need for symmetry, spends his spare time looking at the stars. He is married, has a son, and is proud that the entire family would rather read anything remotely resembling literature than watch Jerry Springer.

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