Neither Here Nor There, by Cat Rambo

Dip into the many worlds of Cat Rambo in this collection of short stories, many originally published in themed anthologies, all glimpses into fantastic worlds of myth, legend, and memory.  Will you find yourself in the world of a hyper-intelligent mechanical man who runs on the energy of highly valuable phlogiston?  Or in the city of Serendib where anything is possible, trailing along in the wake of the Dark, once the most skilled assassin in all the world?  Or in another place entirely?

Whimsy connects these stories, no matter where they take the reader, even in the darkest haunts and most disturbing recesses of the human mind.  Rambo writes as though storytelling truly were a joy and a gift, reveling in the possibilities of fantasy and folklore.  Many of her stories are connected by the worlds in which they take place, such as the steampunk environment of Elspeth and Artemus, Pinkerton detectives seeking criminals in a world of werewolves, vampires, and other supernatural creatures.  In stories such as these, the everyday turns to horror; in other stories what is accepted is subverted—common points of view are turned inside out and power lies with those not usually given such luxury.

In Neither Here Nor There, Rambo shows skill in writing more mythic fantasy, distanced from the real world by both time and the pervasiveness of the fantastic, but also with more contemporary urban fantasy; such stories as “The Coffeemaker’s Passion,” “Elections at Villa Encantada,” and “So Glad We Had This Time Together” share a fascination with the mundane and prove that any story can become a fantasy story, with the right measure of imagination and skill. Rambo’s writing is reminiscent of such writers as Katherine Addison, Elizabeth Bear, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Catherynne M. Valente.

Readers looking for short bursts of high-concentration fantasy need look no further than Rambo’s newest short story collection.  Those who enjoy a wide variety of fantasy genres are sure to find their next favorite story in Neither Here Nor There.  This collection is a gift that keeps on giving, and would make a great addition to anyone’s fantasy shelf.

Advertisements

Only the Stones Survive, by Morgan Llewelyn

The
mystery of the standing stones in Ireland and the United Kingdom is one that
has fascinated people for as long as we can remember.  In Morgan Llewelyn’s newest novel, Only the Stones Survive, she has written a story that doesn’t try
to explain that mystery, but instead one that revels in that mystery, and the
way in which culture, history, and even legend can change over time.  As the history of a people is passed
down orally amidst war and cataclysmic change, only the stones survive to mark
the passing of a people.

The
novel is ostensibly about Joss, and his eventual rise to leadership of the
mysterious people called Tuatha De Danann, and their fight for survival on the
mysterious island called Ierne.  It
wavers in and out of his own first-person narration, and a that of a
third-person narrator who tells the tale of the coming of the Gaels, those of
the tribe of Milesios who ventured forth in pursuit of rumor and tales about
the strange island where the Tuatha De Danann had lived for generations.

Llewelyn’s
story captures the nostalgia that drives stories like Tolkiens, along with the
rue and regret that accompany a change to what is viewed as an idyllic or
utopian culture like the Danann’s. 
Narrative inconsistencies aside, Only
the Stones Survive
is a lovely homage to a place that has captured the
imagination of many and been the basis of numerous fantasy stories, and has the
feeling more of an epic than a novel. 
As such it is more successful as allegory than novel.

Readers
who love stories of elves and other mythic races will enjoy Llewelyn’s
interpretation of the myth.  Those
fascinated by the folklore of Ireland’s past and the mystery of the standing
stones should love this tale that blends history and hearsay.  This novel will make a cozy fireside
read this winter.

The SEA is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia, edited by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng

Steampunk
is about finding that fascinating intersection between fantasy and science
fiction, where futuristic technology not only meets, but becomes, magic—animals
fused with robotics, working airships, myths embodied in a mystical combination
of art and science.  The SEA is Ours is about bringing
together the already wide world of steampunk with the wonderfully diverse and
vivid Southeast Asian worlds imagined by authors from that region.  For anyone who is used to thinking of
steampunk a la Scott Westerfeld, Cherie Priest, or Elizabeth Bear, The SEA is Ours makes no bones about its
de-centering of Europe and the U.S., and its stories’ reliance on regional
history and myth with little introduction for the outside reader.  And it does all of this while collecting
well-written stories from a wide range of perspectives.

The
stories in this collection hail from the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia,
Vietnam, and more.  From Marilag
Angway’s “Chasing Volcanoes,” about an airship that refuels via active
volcanoes in the Philippines and takes on an unexpected cargo, to Alessa
Hinlo’s folklore-inspired tale of European encroachment into the Philippines in
“The Last Aswang,” to Olivia Ho’s noir gears and gadgets story that brings to
mind an urban Frankenstein in “Working Woman,” this collection has something
for everyone who loves steampunk or myth or both at the same time. 

In
The SEA is Ours writers take on
themes often applied to the region on their own terms, exploring fantasies of
flight, the clash of worlds, past lives, and ideas of progress.  Many of the stories use personal
relationships, particularly siblings, to explore the duality of nations
struggling to define themselves while being subject to decades, and even
centuries, of outside pressure.  In
“Between Severed Souls,” Paolo Chikiamco imagines one family’s struggle to
right the perceived wrongs of history projected onto the greater history of
Spanish imperialism in the Philippines, where technology and folklore come
together in the life of an artist who has lost his wife, and allow him to
confront the past in these many layers. 

All
stories in this collection, though, are as vibrant and varied as their sources
and the people they represent, and imagine a strong history and stronger future
for the region.  Any reader used to
United States or European-centered steampunk should definitely check out this
collection for a new take on an endlessly varied subgenre.  Readers interested in the intersection
of science fiction and folklore will definitely enjoy the stories in The SEA is Ours, while those who like to
see representation of many types of diversity will enjoy this collection’s
inclusion of not just cultural, but ability and gender diversity as well.