Saturday, February 8, 2014

Down These Strange Streets (Urban Fantasy Short Fiction)

When I read that Down These Strange Streets edited by R. R. Martin and Gardner Duzois was a book of urban fantasy short stories, I expected something very different from what I ended up reading. I imagined gritty detectives tracking down supernatural bad guys in modern cities. And, in fact, the book does have some stories like that. But, most of the stories are hard to pin down, transcending genres. A number of them are part historical fiction, including stories that take place in Caesar's Rome, WWII Aleutians, Prohibition Era United States, Babylon in its declining years, and eighteenth century Jamaica. Almost all the stories have some element of mystery, but they are not all what I would personally describe as "fantasy." Many of the stories have good plot twists.

My favorite story was "The Difference Between a Puzzle and a Mystery" by M. L. N Hanover. Not only did it have a good plot, but it also gave me a new paradigm to think about, puzzles vs. mysteries. Briefly, an exorcist is brought into a murder investigation to prove or disprove that a suspect is possessed. The exorcist is mild mannered, to say the least. He is even a Unitarian, making him seem even more ordinary. This all sets the reader up for a a wonderful twist at the end. I am new to M. L. N Hanover, so perhaps fans will not be as surprised by the ending.

My runners up for favorites were "It's the Same Old Story" by Carrie Vaughn and "In Red, With Pearls" by Patricia Briggs. "It's the Same Old Story" was a touching story about a friendship between a mortal and a vampire that spans close to 70 years. "In Red, With Pearls" was more of what I expected from an urban fantasy, a werewolf trying to find out why a zombie tried to murder his gay partner. The intensity of the werewolf's loyalty was one of the things that made the story attractive for me.

Down These Strange Streets introduced me to some writers that I had never read before. At some point I would like to read novels by a number of them, including Hanover, Vaughn and Briggs. This book also marks the beginning of what I hope to me a year focused more on short fiction and less on novels. I want to have a better understanding of what makes a good story, and short fiction seems like a good place to start.

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