Saturday, May 26, 2012

Arty -- Half-Human, edited by Bruce Coville

I admit that I'm not a huge fan of short stories.  Unless they're brilliantly told or written by one of my friends, I just don't care to read them.

But I have a weakness for half-human, anthro-something types.  So when I saw this at a library sale, I picked it up.

I think this may be my first anthology - if not, then it's been a looong time since I've read anything like it - but from what I gather from Percy's reviews, it was a pretty typical collection.  A few stories were reeeally good, a few were just 'meh,' and the rest were okay.

My favorite, surprisingly, was by Jane Yolen.  I say surprisingly because I've read a couple of her books and haven't been overly impressed.  But her story, 'Centaur Field,' about a baby centaur (naturally) was surprisingly good and realistic.

My other favorite was 'The Hardest, Kindest Gift' by Bruce Coville himself.  It's quite a bit more complicated than 'Centaur Field,' but it's really very, very good and the mystery unfolded itself beautifully.  I liked the unique take on the fallen angel love interest.

Also good - 'Scarecrow' by Gregory Maguire.  You might know Maguire for Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.  His story - about, naturally, a scarecrow come to life somehow - was taken from a sequel to Wicked he never published.  It's really fun to read - kind of macabre, kind of philosophical, kind of just fun in a sober sort of way.

And 'Princess Dragonblood' by Jude Mandell was cool.  There were times when the pacing went way too fast, but the idea was just awesome.  It starts out as your typical fairytale, but then Princess Eleanor grabs a sword and starts swinging and just never really stops.  (But she's not an annoyingly talented warrior babe, which is refreshing.  She just knows how to fight.)  The ending, while a bit easy, was good.

Speaking of warrior babes, Tamora Pierce has a story in here, called 'Elder Brother.'  Now, unlike 95% of the female reading population, I can't stand Tamora Pierce.  Her story, though, started out terrifically - a tree turned into a man!  A man-tree!  I LOVE trees!  A tree walking around in the form of a man?  This had to be good.  And it was for a while.  And then the tree-man - Qiom - met a young man named Fadal.

Spoiler alert, just so you know.  But I have to rant.  It's not that big of a surprise when you think about it, anyway.

Qiom has ended up in a place where women have to bundle up (a Middle-Eastern sort of city).  And Fadal is - guess what! - a woman dressed up in man's clothes to escape the oppression!

Reeeeeeeally, Pierce.  What is this, your literary signature?  I can understand her pretty much creating the clothes-switching subgenre in fantasy, but come on.  And it's not that I wouldn't have given the twist a chance, but there was no real reason for Fadal to be a woman.  Except that it got her and Qiom out of their world.  And there were so many other ways that could have happened.  It's just annoying.

Anyway.  Spoiler alert aborted.

The rest of the stories were so-so.  'Becoming,' by Nancy Springer, was an interesting take at a daughter of a Gorgon in modern-day New York.

'Linnea' by D.J. Malcolm could have had promise, but I didn't especially care whether Linnea, the MC, lived or died, which sort of hurt the execution.

'Water's Edge' by Janni Lee Simner also could have been really good - selkies!  Nobody writes about selkies!  But it was just okay, too, also due to an MC I couldn't care less for.

Tim Waggoner wrote 'Soaring,' which I really expected to like - about Icarus, a boy with wings (surprise, surprise).  It was better, but still not especially enthralling.  I just wanted to smack Bethany for being so annoying.  And the ending was a bit weak.

'How To Make A Human' by Lawrence Shimel was a depressing bit of humans-are-worthless-animals-are-awesome poetry which left me with a bad taste in my mouth stylistically as well as thematically (apparently you can just write some blocks of text and then separate them into lines and call it poetry).

So, if you're in the mood for some half-human tales, then... well, I recommend a couple stories.  But it's not a must-read by any means.

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