Today I finished the rest of Across the Wall. As previously mentioned, this is a collection of various short fiction by Garth Nix. Some of it is very short indeed – one tale is only four pages long. Others are far more involved. They also range from heartbreaking to hilarious. I really should read more by Garth Nix than just his anthologies and Old Kingdom books, because the man is clearly talented.
My first exposure to Nix was in the anthology A Wolf at the Door, a collection of retold fairy tales. That story was “Hansel’s Eyes”, which is republished here in Across the Wall. I didn’t think much of it at the time, not even when I later picked up the Abhorsen trilogy. Not until I held Across the Wall, in fact, at which point I said “Oh, I recognize this story!” (This happens to me a lot with anthologies, as you may have noticed. That is why I created a separate database for the stories themselves, so next time I recognize a tale, I can figure out which collection I read it in previously without running around the house flipping through books.)
The stories themselves range from my age to having been written for this collection, and from kind-of sci-fi to kind-of western and much much much fantasy. There’s even two Arthurian tales, which is not actually that surprising. Every author, at least in fantasy, seems to tackle the myth at some point. It’s always interesting to see new perspectives and interpretations though. There’s even a Choose Your Own Adventure story – and it’s the total opposite of Venice. Part of the instructions involve getting drunk.
Across the Wall is a great anthology primarily because of Garth Nix’s skill as a writer. I guess collections by a single author do tend to be stronger overall, if only because I’m unlikely to buy such a book if it’s not an author I already like. This also makes it hard to compare to similar anthologies. Sure, I have a ton by Lackey and a number by Huff, Norton, and even McCaffrey, but each of them has a distinctive writing style and tone. Collections by a single author are showcases, and tend not to exist if there isn’t a demand in the first place.
I suppose the best judge is how well I remember all of the stories, and that I can recall a majority of them without consulting the table of contents or other listing. After all, if the tales are no good, I won’t remember much of anything about the book.
For example, earlier this year I reread all of my Dear America books for the first time in…I don’t even know. Maybe a decade or more. I could only recall bits of most of them. As it turned out, I only kept books that I had remembered something from, because the rest were not as good, not as memorable, and not as interesting. Things like the slave girl who secretly knows how to read, the Jewish girl who loves the theater, or the visual of the title of one – The Winter of Red Snow, because the Continental Army didn’t have enough shoes for the soldiers of the Revolutionary War.
Lack of memory, on the other hand, is what can destroy a book. There was a point where I, at my father’s urging, started reading The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. I think I was in the third chapter of the third book when I realized I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I didn’t know who was who, who was where, or anything at all. I was just reading words on a page and no deeper meaning was held by that text. Or Terry Brooks’ Shannara series – that one I do remember leaned heavily on tropes, to the point where it didn’t matter who was who or who was where because I didn’t care. Everything was done up as epic fantasy but it had no substance. I actually read six of those books before giving up. I think that puts me ahead of my dad, because he owned more than six of those books.
No, I don’t care that they’re trying to make a Shannara TV series into the next Game of Thrones. It was crap when I read it and I have no interest in watching more crap. Plus that part where I almost always prefer the book to the movie.