I really like collections of short stories – I think they are a great way to get introduced to new authors and to see a lot of different authors’ perspectives on a shared topic. However, I’ve started to get irritated with these collections recently published that all feature a subset of the same best-selling authors the fantasy genre. It seems like such a blatant money-grab.
I love Patricia Briggs but do not care for Charlaine Harris, so instead of just publishing a book of Briggs’ stories, there is always one of hers in a collection that also includes Harris and other authors I have no interest in. And, I’m sure fans of the other authors feel that way about Briggs. So, this seems like a very calculated ploy on the part of the publisher to try to make us all buy books in which we are only interested in about a quarter or even less of the content (especially disappointing if that quarter turns out to be not all that great, either).
I fell for it and bought two such collections, but wizened up this time and went to the library, and am very glad I did. I originally intended to gather all of Patricia Brigg’s short stories that I hadn’t already read, but an Ilona Andrews story slipped in, too.
1) Naked City, with the tagline “Tales of Urban Fantasy,” has a nice theme of each story being set in a recognizable city that the author gives some attention to describing. Of the five stories I read (out of the 20 in the book), four of them featured plots that were very specifically tied to a feature of the city, which was very interesting. Oddly, though, the fifth, Melissa Marr’s “Guns for the Dead,” was actually my favorite, taking place in an Old West type environment that is kept somewhat generic purposefully for the plot reveal.
Patricia Briggs’ “Fairy Gifts,” was my second favorite, of course, with new characters for her and set in Butte, Montana, which is just so interesting to read about given the complete lack of romanticism around that city. Briggs clearly loves the area, though, and writing about immortal beings such as vampires and fairies allows her to delve into the history of the place.
2) Home Improvement: Undead Edition, with the tagline “All-new Tales of Haunted Home Repair and Surreal Estates,” also features Patricia Briggs and Melissa Marr, and theirs were the only stories I read out of the twelve. This theme didn’t work as well – perhaps it was too specific? Again, Marr’s story edged out Briggs’.
Marr’s “The Strength Inside” features a protagonist of a supernatural kind that I didn’t recognize from any of the normal Western mythologies. I’m not sure whether she was dipping into a more esoteric mythos or whether she invented it herself, but it was interesting either way. And, it is about battling Home Owners’ Associations, which is always entertaining, even if a little clichéd.
Brigg’s “Gray” features a vampire, though not one of her regular characters, buying and renovating an old condo. It has some very sympathetic characters, but isn’t anything original.
3) Angels of Darkness features Ilona Andrews, and was the most worrisome to me when checking it out. The cover looks more like paranormal romance than fantasy, and I knew that Andrews’ books walk that line more than my other favorite authors. And, I was absolutely right to be worried, though it was even worse than I feared.
You know how people criticize the story “The Beauty and the Beast” for basically being a romaticization of Stockholm Syndrome? Imagine Ilona Andrews tried to take that idea, make it super overt, but still try to keep it romantic. It is even more appalling than you are imagining right now.
At 124 pages, her “Alpha: Origins” story is more of a novella than a short story, and is set in a different universe than either her Kate Daniels series or her Edge series. It took me almost a week to finish it because I kept having to put it down because it made me feel kind of dirty, reading about this level of subjugation in a clearly romantic plot.
It reminded me of a call for submissions of fantasy romance books by a publisher that Rebecca told me about. They specified that the story had to feature an older or in some other way societally superior hero and the heroine had to be somehow in his power. It made me gag a little bit.
4) Down These Strange Streets was my favorite collection, leaning toward the noir side of urban fantasy and mystery. There were some really terrific stories, and some not-so-terrific stories, but the great thing about a collection of short stories is that after a couple of uninspired pages, I can just move on to the next story.
It did bring home the point that a good noir mystery is harder to write than people think; the author has to somehow steep the entire story in a casual grimness. A surface gloss of darkness doesn’t cut it, and is quickly recognizable when reading a series of stories by different authors all in a row.
Once again, though, Briggs’ story took second place, this time to a really engrossing story by Laurie R. King, who I had previously known only as a mystery writer. Her fantasy mystery, “Hellbender,” was subtle, realistic, and unfolded with perfect plotting, and I would love to read a full book of the same characters and universe.
Briggs’ story, “In Red, with Pearls,” was my favorite of hers that I read in this glut, and featured one of her regular but peripheral werewolf characters, Warren, and his boyfriend Kyle. The short story structure didn’t give her as much time to explore characters and relationships as I would have liked, but was still a very entertaining mystery.
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Kinsey’s very acute analysis of her preference in memoirs made me revisit my short story collection preferences, and I think it is very similar. The more collections I read, the more I respect the editors. It seems like they need to tread a very fine line, where collections should have a common theme that tie all the stories together, but not such a narrow theme that the stories seem repetitive. “Urban fantasy” is too generic; “house renovations” is much too narrow.