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Anniversaries: The Write Fantastic

01/02/2011. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy Anniversaries: The Write Fantastic in the USA - or Buy Anniversaries: The Write Fantastic in the UK

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pub: New Con Press. 149 page small enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-907069-17-8).

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The Write Fantastic is a group set up by fantasy writers to promote fantasy fiction and to celebrate its fifth anniversary they have issued this collection. After a brief summing up by Stan Nicholls of the long history of fantasy fiction and the shorter history of the group there are eight stories by assorted authors.

In 'Remembrance' by Juliet E. McKenna, Eion of Jedfal, third son in a noble family, is being given initial training as a magician. Lurking in a graveyard on the feast of Midwinter, he must subdue a Fetch, a spirit that comes back on the anniversary of its death empowered by the terrible grief of someone still living and a spark of magic within them. Eion's eldest brother is the heir and the second one is in the military. Third son's of noble families usually became vicars in real life so I guess this is the fantasy equivalent. Not all third son's become magicians however, they have to have some aptitude for it. Eion has but his test is pretty challenging. A clever story, neatly delivered. In real life fiction, the background is already there and the reader knows it. One of the big challenges of short fantasy and Science Fiction stories set in strange worlds is to convey both story and background in a short space. Juliet E. McKenna does it well.

A barber is called upon to shave the Emperor in 'I Shaved Half Of Emperor Cyrrhenius'. He is marched past his father, who is slowly dying in agony, having cut the great one, and ordered to finish the shave. Chaz Brenchley has surely written the best barber story of the 21st century with a great title, a beautiful fantasy premise, real drama and a surprise ending. Detectives, soldiers and reporters are staple fictional protagonists but barbers have had their moments, too. The notes on authors at the back indicate that Brenchley is something of a prodigy. He's been making his living as a writer since the age of eighteen, is prolific and has won numerous prizes. I will certainly look up more of his stuff. This is the advantage of anthologies: you get a quick taste of new writers without forking out big sums for a novel you can't finish.

Sarah Ash is perhaps hoping to get the reader to fork out for her longer works with ‘Song For A Naming Day’ which features Kiukiu and Gavril, characters from ‘Children Of The Serpent Gate’, a novel. In that book, it seems that Kiukiu made a deal to give away her first born to the Keeper of the Serpent Gate who saved her life or something. The story was okay but I did find the style a bit ‘Woman’s Own’ or maybe Mills and Boon - sort of domestic/romantic fiction. ‘Persephone’s Chamber’ by Freda Warrington was all right, too, but again nothing to write home about. Persephone has a chamber and lost souls come there, usually lovelorn and broken-hearted, to recover.

I enjoyed hugely ‘The Birthday Of The Oligarch’ by Kari Sperring. The citizens of Quimera, who seem to take a relaxed view of rulers as long as they are not too troublesome, were once reigned over by a queen but she stopped, surprisingly. After some political experimentation, they ended up with an Oligarch, a quiet, tidy clerical worker who is due a parade for his birthday. There are characters here that might be by Mervyn Peake, such as a Professor of Philentropic Studies and a Clock Master with wax daughters. There is an omniscient narrator with a dry wit, like Dickens or Anthony Trollope. A novel written in the omniscient style wouldn’t get published now - unless it was literary, don’t you know - as genre moderns must all write from the fixed point of view of one character, at least for a chapter at a time, so that the reader can identify with the poor mite and feel more deeply. Happily, writers have a bit more leeway in short stories. I, for one, miss the droll, god-like narrator who sees all, knows all and finds it all faintly amusing.

‘The Anniversary’ by Jessica Rydill tells of dead shamans and their love, homo and heterosexual, for a brother and a sister are both mad for Yuda. Well delivered but not really my cup of tea. ‘Smöergaens Bane: A Tale Of The Fallen Hero’ by Ian Whates is a witty spoof on two subsets of the genre, Tolkien's high fantasy and Robert E. Howard's sword and sorcery. It has a gigantic dragon, sly thieves and a pragmatic mercenary hero who narrates the story. Very enjoyable.

Finally, in 1739, the poet Alexander Pope unwisely took a stalactite from Wookey Hole to decorate a grotto in his home. At least he did according to 'The Rape Of The Stalactite' by Liz Williams. The author lives in Glastonbury and Oi cums from the wess country moiself so Oi enjoyed the local references to Cheddar and the like. The story pulls off no real surprises but the first person narration by Pope himself in a self-deprecating style made this a clever and enjoyable piece. The way to tell stalactites from stalagmites, by the way, is to remember that tights come down.

Obviously, what presses my buttons, floats my boat, rattles my cage and makes my neurons tingle won't do the same for every reader but this is a pretty varied collection and I would think there is something for everyone. Several excellent works lie herein and there's certainly nothing very bad. Therefore, I am proud to promote it on SFCrowsnest and do my bit to keep these talented men and women writing fantastic.

Eamonn Murphy

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