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Magical Beginnings Mass Market Paperback – February 4, 2003
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The companion to Wondrous Beginnings (reviewed in this issue), this anthology offers the first-published fantasy stories by 20 contemporary fantasists ranging from grand masters and mistresses to the up-and-comers. Among the foremost of the former are Andre Norton and Ursula K. LeGuin, and they are backed by a distinguished rank of experienced hands composed of Peter Beagle, Charles De Lint, Mercedes Lackey, Megan Lindholm (who is currently writing as Robin Hobb), and others. A majority of the contributors are female, and a substantial number of them were mentored by the late Marion Zimmer Bradley (alas, not represented here). Among the intriguing additional experiences these women bring to their writing are Lisanne Norman Patton's summers as a Viking reenactor. If there is a slight bias toward authors in the publisher's stable, this doesn't affect the overall quality. A book good for both recreational reading and, especially thanks to the separate story introductions, possible classroom use. Roland Green
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Top Customer Reviews
The essays are often worth reading - "Third Time Lucky", for example, was indeed accepted for publication by the third outfit to which it was submitted, and wouldn't have existed if Tanya Huff had favoured snow-skiing, for example, over ogling the men at Caribbean resorts.
Apart from the entertainment value, the essays also provide some interesting information on the writers' development, as writers in general and of these stories in particular.
Beagle, Peter S.: "My Daughter's Name Is Sarah" is narrated by her father, a professor who can only watch the 11-year-old's first crush, hoping she doesn't get hurt. Rather than F/SF, this is Beagle's first 'attempt at dealing believably with believable human beings'.
Bull, Emma: "The Rending Dark" (from SWORD AND SORCERY 1) Written partially to supply things missing from Conan stories: friendship and chatty dialogue (one of the two ladies is a Songsmith, the other can hold her own) - as well as being a lost colony world rather than magical.
de Lint, Charles: "The Fane of the Grey Rose" (from SWORDS AGAINST DARKNESS VI, later expanded to the novel THE HARP OF THE GREY ROSE) Cerin (the narrator), a 20-year-old farm labourer and self-taught harper, meets a maid in market one day he nicknames for the flower in her hair. Rather than his lover, she becomes his dearest friend. But somebody else is pursuing her down the years...
Friesner, Esther: "The Stuff of Heroes" Margaret came up with the ultimate gimmick for a romance writer (even though she's really a tech designer with delusions of literary grandeur). Unfortunately, she's hitting the brandy this evening because now that other authors can use the gimmick, her own work won't sell.
Hobb, Robin (as Lindholm, Megan): "Bones for Dulath" (from AMAZONS!) The first Ki and Vandien story, which led to the novel HARPY'S FLIGHT. (Both are swordfighters, just in different styles, rapier and broadsword.) After her partner is poisoned in a pit trap, Ki must find an antidote. The only trouble is, the antidote requires seeking the monster that *created* the trap...
Huff, Tanya: "Third Time Lucky" What if the most powerful wizard in the world were also the laziest, and only wanted to loaf at home on a tropical island? Unfortunately, although Magdalene feels no need to show off - she's had centuries to learn self-confidence - other wizards can be slow learners.
I enjoy Magdalene's casual style. A bad rider (and *atrocious* singer of bawdy songs), she's apt to grumble over the conditions of travel, as well as haggling over passage (and collecting her share of the resulting savings). Any sensible monster recognizes her, shuts up, and leaves IMMEDIATELY. The supporting cast - her demon housekeeper who rarely loses arguments in the marketplace, the villagers who find her a useful neighbour, and the rather nervous guards sent to deliver another wizard's challenge to her - are also entertaining.
Kushner, Ellen: "The Unicorn Masque" (from Windling's ELSEWHERE 1) was composed by Lazarus to please the queen - who does not know that Lazarus' patrons have created *him* to please her, for plans of their own that even he knows little of.
Lackey, Mercedes: "A Different Kind of Courage" - see FREE AMAZONS OF DARKOVER.
LeGuin, Ursula K.: "April in Paris" (from THE WIND'S TWELVE QUARTERS) A frustrated alchemist in the Spider King's reign attempts to invoke a demon, but nets a 20th century mediaeval scholar instead, each depressed over a life's work spent producing a book nobody else will ever care about - and *still* not KNOWING the truth of their subjects of study.
Norman, Lisanne: "The Jewel and the Demon" (from BATTLE MAGIC) is actually a Sholan Alliance story set on the low-tech world of Jalna. The magic system involves psychic abilities with a minimum of wand-waving, so any 'magic' tends to have a more 'scientific' explanation. As for the demon, he sees a way to cut a deal with a reasonable thief rather than the unreasonable mage he's enslaved to...
Norton, Andre: "People of the Crater" - see Norton's GARAN THE ETERNAL.
Patton, Fiona: "The Raven's Quest" - see CAMELOT FANTASTIC. Merlin's raven companion runs afoul of Nimue - but his habit of speaking only in questions saves his life only to condemn him to ask one particular question of everyone he meets.
Reichert, Mickey Zucker: The chieftain's young son has been sent to find "The Ulfjarl's Stone" to save his father's life - and prove himself.
Rusch, Kristine Kathryn: "Sing" The narrator remembers the Earth-human who came among her people years ago to study something he couldn't find words for in their language: music.
Shwartz, Susan: "The Fires of Her Vengeance" (from THE KEEPER'S PRICE) Marelie Hastur, Keeper of Arilinn, returns to her Tower after being raped by bandits (which occurs before the story opens), who left her alive in the mistaken belief that a Keeper no longer a virgin is no longer a threat. Strong points: victim's reaction to rape. Weak points: unexplained situation leading up to the ambush. Also, the story would be hard to follow outside the context of the Way of Arilinn and the strictures placed upon its practitioners (see Bradley's THE FORBIDDEN TOWER).
West, Michelle: "Birthnight" (from Greenberg's CHRISTMAS BESTIARY) How each of the firstborn and endless creatures of magic - including the dragon, the phoenix, the unicorn, and the Queen of Faerie - follow a star across a desert to seek a child that will be born of magic, and yet the end of magic's reign.
The best thing about this book would be the introductions by each author telling a bit about themselves and the story and how it came to be.
The stories, as one would expect from first published stories, are not of the world-changing variety. Perhaps the best is Peter Beagle's story, and that one isn't fantasy at all, nor science fiction.
The stories aren't bad mind you, some of them are reasonably good. The majority though are middle of the road pieces that are somewhat predictable showing the authors before they developed their voices.
This review may be coloured by the fact I had just finished both Wondrous Beginnings, and Assassin Fantastic. Both DAW anthologies also. This caused me to notice the line-up of the authors was virtually the same in this collection as in Assassin Fantastic. Thus, not really a great overview of the field, but a showcase for the current DAW workhorses(excepting a few). It would have been nice if they could have licensed short stories from authors currently under contract to other publishers for their novels. The collection would have been stronger had they gone farther afield rather than just showing off their own authors.
This was a good idea, but the roster of authors wasn't representative of the stars of the field in my opinion. Of course that does mean you may be exposed to new authors, which is always a good thing. Unfortunately, too many collections of the same authors has caused me a familiarity that has bred not yet contempt, but a bit of apathy.