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Dispatches From Smaragdine
A column by Jeff VanderMeer
January 2007

[Editor's Note: Here you will find the other Dispatches From Smaragdine columns.]

Installment #3

Smaragdine Fish Holidays
Editor Fantastique: An Interview with Ellen Datlow
Fiction Reviews: Grey by Jon Armstrong
Next Time
Contact Information

Smaragdine Fish Holidays

December in Smaragdine exposed me to several unusual holidays. Most of which revolve around the giant Logorrheic Coelacanth, an ancient freshwater fish that lives in Lake Baikal, but which labors its way like the walking catfish down to Smaragdine once every few years to spawn. The bellowing can be heard for miles and the local children make a game of going into the old-growth forests in the surrounding hills to catch them. It's a race against time, as the Logorrheic Coelacanths are headed for the river. Once there, they cannot be caught. They have an almost supernatural ability to avoid the fishermen's nets.
© Eric Schaller
A tourist's conception of the Logorrheic Coelacanth
A tourist's conception of the Logorrheic Coelacanth

I went with Big Bad Bear to see the hunt for these fish one afternoon, the sun a weak beacon behind gray skies. The city's domes and skyscrapers were a shadow at our backs and to our left the rich green hills, to our right, the river, slow and sad. It was not long before we heard the rhythmic bellowing of the fish (which is the sound of the complex interchange of water and air that allows them, using their gills as lungs, to remain on land for so long). Soon, we heard the shouts of the children chasing them, and then over the rise of the nearest hill came the fish! They were enormous and battle-scarred from their journey. They looked more like living tanks than fish. Barreling and shoving, river-ward they came, while the children with their nets swarmed over them, consigning some of them to the dinner pot.

I've really never seen anything like it, to be honest. We stood there until early dusk, watching. Once the fish made it to the water, they seemed to disappear in it -- not even the hint of a fin cutting into air. The water didn't churn with their passage. They simply became part of the water. The only change: a slight scent of lime, which the locals told me had to do with the chemical changes the fish undergo during their journey.

That night, we ate fish until we were stuffed, the bellows of those around the dinner table kin to those of the fish dashing down the hill.

As we sat around an open fire, Big Bad Bear said, "This is the life." He was as relaxed as I've seen him in a long time.

Of course, he had good reason to be happy. He'd finally cleared up his misunderstanding with the police. Which means I can finally reveal that he is Horia Ursu, a Romanian editor who ducks down to Smaragdine from time to time for reasons that are still unclear to me.

Anyway, that was one of many fish festivals celebrated in these parts, under these foreign stars. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed it, and hope your holiday season has been even half as festive.

Editor Fantastique: Ellen Datlow

Ellen Datlow I would find it hard to believe that anyone hasn't heard of Ellen Datlow by now, but if you haven't, she's the award-winning former editor of Omni and Sci Fiction, in addition to one of the editors of The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror. She has also edited a number of original anthologies. Since her latest, Salon Fantastique, is now available and she has others out in 2007, I thought it would be a good time to catch up with her and ask a few questions about her most recent projects.

Ellen Datlow How did you come up with the idea for Salon Fantastique?

Book publisher/editor John Oakes and I had wanted to work together for several years -- while he was still publisher of Four Walls, Eight Windows. But he never had the resources for an original anthology. Once he sold his company to Avalon and became publisher of Thunder's Mouth, we had lunch and talked about me editing an all original anthology for him. I knew he wasn't all that interested in horror and I felt that while working at Sci Fiction that I couldn't really do a science fiction anthology, but suggested a non-theme fantasy anthology. He was interested, I told him I'd like to collaborate with Terri Windling, he said yes, and that was that. Terri Windling came up with the title.

When you co-edit an anthology with Terri Windling, how do you split up the work? And do you both have to agree on each piece you buy?
We split up the list of whom we're going to ask and ask for a submission to be sent to both of us. We have to agree on buying each story. Occasionally, one of us may love a story and the other only likes it. In that case, we'll take the story. If one of us loathes the story though, we won't. I do most of the line editing, collect and write up the bios and afterwords (when there are afterwords). Terri writes the intro and the preface. Depending upon timing and other factors, one of the other will go over the copy edit. For SF, I think I was traveling when it came in, so Terri went over it. With [a new anthology] The Coyote Road, I'm going to get the copy edit to go over. I do the administrative work (contracts/payments).

The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Seventeenth Annual Collection

How do you avoid burn-out, in terms of reading so much short fiction?
By switching between science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and by reading submissions and switching to already published work for the horror half of Year's Best Fantasy & Horror I keep myself interested. There are so many aspects of editing that I have plenty of varied jobs to do at any given time.

How do you decide on things like story order? How much time do you spend considering these kinds of organizational issues?
Story order is pretty important -- at least the first and last story. I usually consider the order as I do the final line editing of each story for an anthology. The first story needs to be something accessible: not too dense, not too weird. Something that will "invite" the reader into the multiple worlds of the anthology. The last story should be a very strong one. Sometimes the strongest, but sometimes, I'll have a very powerful story then a "grace note" story to finish off the anthology. Other than that, I try to vary length, narrative point of view, thematic twinnings, etc. I'm always willing to listen to my in-house editor for a difference in opinion as to what should go in what order.

What do you most love about editing?
Nagging writers for their best stories and then working with them to make them even better (if necessary). Reading a brilliant story for the first time and being blown away by it. Introducing readers to wonderful writers and stories they might not otherwise read. The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Fourteenth Annual Collection

What's the part you dislike the most?
Waiting for reviews. For the The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror? Everything. I'm burned out most of the year because I'm reading for it most of the year.

Have you seen many changes in the anthology market in the past few years?
The Young Adult anthology market seems to be pretty strong. I actually am seeing publishers more willing to take chances -- SF Book Club and Barnes & Noble have been generating original anthologies.

Do you have other anthologies coming out in 2007 or 2008? What are they?
In spring 2007, I've got an issue of Subterranean Magazine coming out that I guest edited. It's got stories by M. Rickert, Terry Bisson, Rick Bowes, Anna Tambour, Lisa Tuttle, Jeffrey Ford, a collaboration by John Pelan and Joel Lane, and a novella by Lucius Shepard. Also in spring/summer The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, Terri and my YA anthology is coming out (Viking), The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror #20 in the summer, and in October, Inferno: New Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, is an all original, non-themed horror anthology coming out from Tor. In 2008, I have an all original, non-themed sf/f/h anthology coming out from Del Rey (no title yet) and Terri and I have a middle grade fairy tale villains anthology coming out from Viking (no title yet).

Fiction Reviews: Grey by Jon Armstrong

Grey In Grey, a first novel by Jon Armstrong, Michael Rivers sees only in black-and-white through one eye, at least. As the teenage heir to the RiversGroup fortune, Rivers comes from a futuristic plastic, superficial scene in which looks, fashion magazines, music choices, and parties define you. He thinks he has found his equal in Nora, who also, literally, sees the world in black-and-white due to eye surgery. But their engagement is threatened by their families' corporations. After Rivers is shot, he must uncover the ugly truth behind his family's wealth. The plot is somewhere between The Great Gatsby and Romeo and Juliet, with a mystery thrown in for good measure.

Rivers is about as interesting as a nineteen-year-old can be and his superficial world is described in meticulous and often joyous detail. But something seems flat or at least off. It might be that Armstrong is walking that uneven and perilous line between satire/social commentary and the creation of three-dimensional characters. It doesn't help that today's glitzy super-rich, celebrity world is continually satirizing itself in the reality TV world. Frankly, Rivers comes off as a tool for the most part, rather than tragic or even truly rebellious. Is this a failure of nuance in the service of character? A limitation of the idea? I'm not entirely sure, but I did find Grey an ambitious, interesting first novel despite my reservations.

As I mentioned in my last column, the publication of Grey in Smaragdine resulted in riots and book burnings. This was due to the ruling of a respected priest that Michael Rivers' black-and-white eyesight mocked the memory of Saint Trakcul, who miraculously cured the blind, but only to the extent of allowing them to see shades of gray.

Next Time

Who knows? Life's a mystery sometimes.

Contact Information

If you would like to send me things for review, or even complaints, hints, suggestions, or other feedback, please do so via email at or via my U.S. snail mail address:

Jeff VanderMeer
c/o Smaragdine Dispatches
POB 4248
Tallahassee, FL 32315

There will be a delay of about a month from receipt at the post office box to the arrival of your missive in Smaragdine, but to send direct would be folly as my stint at the hostel runs out at the end of the month and I don't know where I will be after that.

Copyright © 2007 Jeff VanderMeer

Jeff VanderMeer's reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, The New York Review of SF,, and many others. VanderMeer writes the graphic novel/comics summation for The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror (St. Martin's Press) and is a guest editor for Best American Fantasy. Monkey Brain Books published his non-fiction collection Why Should I Cut Your Throat? in 2004.

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