Paper Cities: An Anthology of Urban Fantasy

Ekaterina Sedia, Editor . Senses Five $14.95 (271p) ISBN 978-0-9796246-0-5

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Reviewed by Jeff VanderMeer

Original genre anthologies have been a mixed bag in recent years, with an overreliance on established household names at the expense of nurturing new talent. At times, too restrictive themes have tended to create a sense of sameness. Not so with urban fantasy. As Jess Nevins points out in his excellent introduction, urban fantasy is “a mode of storytelling rather than a subgenre, and as such accommodates a variety of themes and approaches.” This idea of variety, along with a willingness to publish new and established writers alike, helps explain the considerable appeal of this ambitious and entertaining anthology.

Stand-out contributions include Richard Parks's folktale-influenced “Courting the Lady Scythe,” Cat Rambo's ethereal “The Bumblety's Marble,” Jay Lake's sometimes brutal “Promises; A Tale of the City Imperishable” (set in the same milieu as his novel A Trial of Flowers ), Ben Peek's more contemporary “The Funeral, Ruined” and Anna Tambour's indefinable but brilliant “The Age of Fish, Post-Flowers.” In Tambour's story, man-eating “orms” threaten New York City, despite the presence of an iconic wall. The nameless narrator's account of her group's attempts to survive is both matter-of-fact and mysterious. Similar elements power many of the other stories: a keen underlying intelligence and an easy acceptance of fantasy, with little explanation of that element, wedded to strangely resonant images and situations.

Not every tale in the anthology is successful. Hal Duncan's “The Tower of Morning's Bones” continues his trend of excessive symbolism, summary and posturing in short fiction. Forrest Aguirre's “Andretto Walks the King's Way,” a forced march of a story illuminating different aspects of a feudal-era society, is an honest effort that never really comes to life. The editor also might have been better served excluding a couple of ill-advised short-shorts like Vylar Kaftan's workplace fantasy, “Godivy.” Yet for all of their flaws, even these stories display a high level of technical expertise and ambition.

Rounded out by very good contributions from Mark Teppo, David Schwartz, Barth Anderson, Catherynne M. Valente and Cat Sparks, Paper Cities is a delightful and absorbing read. In coming years—as the talents collected herein, including editor Sedia, become better known—this quirky anthology may take on even greater significance. (Apr.)

World Fantasy Award–winner Jeff VanderMeer's latest novel is Shriek: An Afterword (Tor, 2007).

Reviewed on: 01/28/2008
Release date: 04/01/2008
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