cover image The Essential Borderland

The Essential Borderland

. Tor Books, $24.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86593-1

Windling's fecund premise for the series of short-story collections and novels devoted to Bordertown (beginning with Bordertown and Borderland, both co-edited with Mark Alan Arnold, both published in 1986) involves the mingling of the mundane and the freakish that is the earmark of contemporary fantasy writing. These 13 stories share the same setting, place names and ambience. In Bordertown, teeming with runaways from both the human world and ""The Realm,"" magic and science mitigate one another in strange ways. Here, spells are no more exotic than Kleenex. A guidebook written by editors Windling and Sherman is interspersed throughout the current text and is a perfect, hilarious counterfeit of the genuine item, with sly tips to the tourist for saving money and avoiding untoward enchantments. Stylistically, the stories range from Steven Brust's highly literate and exquisitely turned riverboat saga, ""When the Bow Breaks,"" to Midori Snyder's straightforwardly sentimental coming-of-age story, ""Dragon Child."" More than a few shoot precipitously into undeserved conclusions, relying on sudden dramatic invention or some archetypal subtext insufficiently articulated, as if the authors had become habituated to Bordertown's facile spells. In Michael Korolenko's ""Arcadia,"" a magical videographer's tale, the plot is heavy-handed and the resolution platitudinously tacked on. This is the exception, however; most of these pieces, even those that are more fantastic vignette than story, satisfy. (Sept.)