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This Urban Fantasy Hits a Melancholy Tone

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The Urban Fantasy Anthology
Edited by Peter S. Beagle and Joe R. Landsdale
Published by Tachyon Publications
August 15, 2011
Trade Paperback, 431 pages

The Urban Fantasy Anthology is a collection of short stories edited by Peter S. Beagle and Joe R. Lansdale. The collection is divided into three different categories; Mythic Fiction, Paranormal Romance, and Noir Fantasy. Each of the categories begins with an introduction giving some reason for this group of stories to be together or how this category is described. Some of the authors are well known to science fiction fans.

Possibly the best known is Neil Gaiman. His contribution, “The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories, is a look at L.A. from the outside. A British screen writer comes to meet with the movie studio heads who have bought the rights to his new book and want him to write the screenplay. You feel the protagonists fall as he tries to deliver to the movie executives what they seem to be asking for. It has a slow descent into his own hole with little windows of light offered by an elderly hotel employee with whom he shares an interest in the ornamental carp that reside in a fish pool at the hotel.

I was expecting more fantasy, supernatural, elements to each story. Most of these are fairly realistic with some element of fantasy somewhere in them. Then there are others that are fantasy from the start. “Boobs” was disturbing from beginning to end. Not for the reasons that the title might lead you to believe. “Boobs” refers to the protagonist’s own loathing of her developing body and the hated nickname a school bully gave her. The girl discovers she’s a werewolf.  She also discovers a taste for eating dogs. That part surprised and kind of horrified me. I’m not used to reading about that sort of thing and didn’t enjoy it. There is graphic violence and it ends with an uneasy feeling about the safety of a baby boy.

A couple of my other favorites are “A Haunted House of Her Own” by Kelley Armstrong and “Companions to the Moon” by Charles de Lint. These are very different, but as I said, all of these stories are different from each other.

“A Haunted House of Her Own” has a smug beginning and a devious end. It opens with Tanya, a driven young woman determined to open a successful haunted bed and breakfast. And so begins the odd part of the story. How many people set out to buy a haunted house and then promote it as such? But she’s a savvy business woman and with her husband Nathan by her side they’d turn this Victorian house into a great bed and breakfast. I don’t want to give a way the story but it doesn’t turn out like she planned.

“Companions to the Moon” is a woman centric story. As I think about it many of these stories are. Mary, suspicious that her live-in boyfriend is cheating on her, decides to follow him detective style and get to the bottom of what’s going on. Of course what she learns is the furthest from her imaginings but she does find the truth whether it’s what she wanted or not.

I prefer stories with rich language and fanciful worlds that I can immerse myself in. These stories are modern landscapes with most of the stories having some element of fantasy around the edges. I was hoping for new worlds, with fantastical stories of fantasy that whisk me away.  Some of these stories just don’t interest me. The are all well written, each with a unique voice. Of course, some appeal to me more than others. That’s one advantage of a collection of short stories; there is bound to be some that you can relate to and that grab your interest.

If I were to describe the tone of the book as a whole in one word, it would be melancholy.  Each of the stories has an element of sadness. None of them is a light or happy romp. They all have a sense of something bad in the world or something longed for that can’t be attained. It’s kind of a downer. If you like that, this is probably your cup of tea. I know people that enjoy listening to sad, depressing music and reading depressing tales. I expect there are many who would thoroughly enjoy the tone of these stories.

I’ve enjoyed books in which my protagonist went through great trials and peril but the overall tone was hopeful. These don’t have that sense that in the end good will prevail. They are dark tales of things gone wrong that in most cases will not come out well in the end. And for most of these stories it feels like the end is somewhere beyond the last sentence. It’s left to the reader to fill in the ultimate ending. That is perhaps the best thing of all. Like a dream that you wake up from and then your conscious mind then is allowed to find a suitable ending for, one that doesn’t leave you feeling morose for the rest of the day. Each of these stories is well crafted, chosen for their tone and subject. The stories feel that they belong together even with such different topics and voices. It becomes a fairly harmonious flow of varying tales with a similar emotional tone.

Maia Ades

Maia Ades resented the demanding schedule of first grade, as it interfered with her afternoon TV schedule. Now she watches TV for "research" and in order to write show reviews. She is currently involved in independent film production, and enjoys creating fine art.

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