When it rains, it pours, eh? Sometimes life is just like that and the only escape is a good book, even when I’m trying to transport the whole of my library in stages to the new place. The logistics are sound, it’s the actual execution that’s suffering. But enough about real life, let’s talk books.
Today is the other DAW anthology I bought at the convention along with The Dragon and the Stars. This is Ages of Wonder and I found it to be a better book on the whole. Part of this is likely because I cannot fully appreciate the subtle elements of Chinese stories (of which there are always so many) because I simply don’t have the mindset to pick up on them. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy them or take delight in the elegant imagery they convey, just that I will probably never get as much out of them as someone who is more familiar with Chinese culture and customs.
Ages of Wonder, on the other hand, is a much more Western anthology. It’s an interesting concept too, requiring authors to use less-commonly chosen eras of our history as the basis for their fantasy. Fantasy, not alternate history. The specific Ages the editors (Julie E. Czerneda and Rob St. Martin) have chosen to focus on are the Age of Antiquity, the Age of Sail, the Colonial Age, the Age of Pioneers, the Pre-Modern Age, and the Age Ahead. Now, I know I’ve read short stories and novels set in all of these time periods before. Of course, I can’t swear off the top of my head that I’ve read a fantasy set in every era listed. The Age of Pioneers and the Pre-Modern Age tend to lend themselves to steampunk, and it’s very difficult to find stories in the Age Ahead that aren’t science fiction. Some of those can read like fantasy, but at their core they are still sci-fi, such as the Dragonriders of Pern.
Speaking of the Age Ahead, the story “Mars Bound”by K.J. Gould reminded me of the old Final Fantasy movie, The Spirits Within. You may scoff because, well, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, it has nothing to do with the video game franchise, and the CGI is dated. But I found it an enjoyable watch, especially since I’ve never played any of the games, and at the time, it was pretty good CGI. “Mars Bound” is a much better story in comparison.
It is very hard to pick what stories to call out by name, because, frankly, they were all quite good. There were some things I had seen before – a private eye in a magical world? Who is himself a mage? Yeah, this is not the first one of those.
There was a story in the Age of Antiquity called “To Play the Game of Men” by Caitlin Sweet. I was very proud of myself for figuring out relatively early on that the horse telling the story was known as Bucephalas, the beloved mount of Alexander the Great. I credit the Heroes in Hell books by Janet Morris & coauthors for that one, especially given the big deal Alexander makes about finding the horse. Or what he thinks to be the horse. Or what might actually be the horse. It’s Hell, who knows? I will definitely read more of that series someday, and tell you all about it, but for now, suffice to say that it’s been a good way to learn random historical facts .
The themes of the stories range all over, including coming-of-age, seflessness & sacrifice, forgiveness, and more. In fact, this is probably the least unified anthology I’ve read in a long time. You can really only call the stories within a particular age unified, because each of the ages is so different from the others. It’s a different approach, but not a bad one. The point was, after all, to give some love to eras that aren’t nearly as popular as say…modern times. Or the medieval days.
There’s a card game from Loony Labs called Chrononauts. In it, players are time travelers from different versions of U.S. History, trying to get home. On a timeline stretching from 1865 to 1999 (or 2008 with an expansion), you’ll have three years to match properly. One will be the normal event as happened in history. The other two will be alternate versions of other events. If all three are correct at the end of your turn, you win. The two alternates you need are called “ripplepoints.” They are affected by events known as “linchpins.” Swing a linchpin, and one or more ripplepoints are affected. This means you often have players arguing over whether Hitler is alive or dead. Same for Lincoln.
My point here is that one player noticed that there were some ripplepoints that had only one character requiring them for victory, meaning that some very smart people could then figure out what other years were required for that player to win. They wrote a letter to the company suggesting that Loony Labs fill in the gaps, and even provided a sample of a new character to boot. The company liked the idea, made the character, and held a contest to fill the rest of the contigent. This resulted in the Lost Identities expansion.
Why bring this up? Because of the one guy who said “hey, this game would be better if we gave more love to these particular years.” It’s the exact same premise behind Ages of Wonder and I think that’s what makes this anthology work. Because, like Chrononauts, it evolved out of a love for history and fantasy, offering nineteen authors a chance to stretch their wings.
Some of the authors I recognized from the last DAW anthology I read. Others, like Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, needed no research before I recognized their names. One did surprise me though: Nina Kiriki Hoffman. When I was adding these stories to my database, it suggested her name before I finished typing, making it obvious that this was not the first time. I looked her up out of curiosity. Turns out her story “The Curse Tablet” is my fifth encounter with her work. She is featured in all three Firebird anthologies, and also contributed to In Celebration of Lammas Night. I suppose I should feel somewhat guilty for not recognizing her name sooner, since she’s obviously skilled.
As of this post, I have over one thousand and ninety books, and over one thousand and thirty unique short stories. I wonder if there will be a day soon when I have more short stories than books. Of course, there’s a number of books waiting to move from my parents’ basement to my new home, and none of them have been logged at all. I don’t know how many anthologies are in that lot, but only time will tell on that front.
Anthologies have not been a bad choice given the state of my life right now, but I only have one left and I’m not sure that’s what I want to read next. I’m thinking that whatever I start next should probably be a reread, if only so that I don’t need to commit too much attention to it. This then begs the question. Do I reread anthologies? Do I go for shorter books, with the understanding that I’m then committing to a lot more posts on this blog when I need all the sleep I can get? Do I pick out a longer book and endeavor to be certain it’s one I won’t get lost in if I take too long in the rereading?
I’ll probably answer those questions for myself tomorrow, as it’s getting late and I unfortunately won’t be getting to bed nearly as soon as I’d like.