This was a strong collection of stories, though one definitely aimed at a young adult audience. The introductions to the collection (and to each of thThis was a strong collection of stories, though one definitely aimed at a young adult audience. The introductions to the collection (and to each of the authors) could have used some help, as they might as well have simply been a listed bibliography, but the authors selected ranged pretty widely across the SF and Fantasy map and very few of the selections were true clunkers.
For me, the highlights were two stories by authors I had never read before: "The Ruby Incomparable," by Kage Baker, was a funny, wise little gem of a story, a perfect example of what fantasy short stories should be: just a glimpse, though a fantastic setting, of a truth about human nature. On the strength of this story I will be picking up some of her novels. "Barrens Dance," by Peter S. Beagle (who I have always intended to read but have never gotten around to) was a beautiful, melancholy love story on multiple levels and will probably stay with me some time.
Some of my favorite authors' selections were a little disappointing to me: Patricia McKillip (who is always worthwhile simply for the quality of her prose) is not as strong at the short story length as she is at novel length, and that showed in her story, though from another author I might have been impressed with her coming-of-age tale; and Orson Scott Card's novella which closed the volume had me involved and invested until the end, when he rushed through a climax that was MUCH too large for the story's length. The novella apparently is set in the world of his next novel, and I expect the novel will be much more satisfying.
"The Witch's Headstone" by Neil Gaiman, was intriguing enough that I am moderately interested in the YA novel set in the same world (The Graveyard Book); "Winter's Wife" by Elizabeth Hand had some haunting moments, "The Stranger's Hands" by Tad Williams would have been impressively thought-provoking if he didn't spell out the issue he was trying to convey (but it is a YA collection, so maybe that is allowable); "The Manticore Spell" was sweet but forgettable; I was thoroughly enjoying "The Magikkers" by Terry Dowling until I finished it, when it immediately prompted a "but why?".
Two stories were resonant in a way unusual for this collection: both "A Diorama of the Infernal Regions, or The Devil's Ninth Question" by Andy Duncan and "The Magic Animal" by Gene Wolfe were clearly stories about something important, and I spent some time pondering them, but they left me kind of cold and just a little confused as to what, exactly, their message was.
But there were surprisingly few stories I really disliked. "Holly and Iron" by Garth Nix was simply too large a story for novella-length, and I spent the entire time being annoyed at its heroine; "A Fowl Tale" by Eoin Colfer seemed a total waste of space -- it wasn't funny, as it was meant to be, and absolutely nothing happened in it; "Zinder" by Tanith Lee was an ugly tale with absolutely no plot or conflict to resolve, it was just a picture of ugliness. But that's only 1/9 of the stories (53 out of 400 pages) so on the whole, I can recommend this collection to any fan of magic-oriented fantasy....more