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The action of the stories of Paper Cities occurs, in some manner or another, in an urban setting. Their other aspects are as various as one could imagine. The collection opens with Forrest Aguirre’s “Andretto Walks the King’s Way,” set around a carnival and the arrival of plague. That’s followed by Hal Duncan’s characteristically bizarre and fascinating “The Tower of Morning’s Bones,” with its elements of familiar mythologies and a certain amount of nearly cyberpunk technology. The closer is Catherynne M. Valente’s “Palimpsest,” which denominates an ever-shifting city in which the vermin are made in a factory and maps appear on people’s skin. Other stories are about street kids, doomed love, the children of office workers and photocopiers, and ghosts; their settings range from the suburbs to the city of the future; and their approaches to the idea of the urban, what urbs are, and how we might interact with them as they become ever more fantastic, are wildly varied, intensely satisfying. --Regina Schroeder
Paper Cities had been sitting on my to read shelf staring at me forlornly for many months and since it was recently nominated as one of the Best Anthologies of the Year for the World Fantasy Award I thought it was high time I got to it. I always find anthologies to be a very mixed bag. I read them occasionally either because a couple of my favorite authors contribute or because I like the theme of the anthology as with Ann & Jeff VanderMeer's wonderful Steampunk also nominated this year. In general most anthologies don't have a consistent level of writing throughout, but Paper Cities goes against that theory. Nearly ever story was well done and those I didn't care for it wasn't from lack of talent but rather the aim of the story.
Paper Cities also made me rethink what I define Urban Fantasy as. In the past I would have said any story set in a modern city with traditional elements of fantasy whether it used magic, odd supernatural elements, fairies, or any other creatures of myth in some fashion. Jess Nevins's Foreword is a good start to expanding your world view of Urban Fantasy as he intimates any story set in a Metropolis whether they be cities at the dawn of time to Modern locales or into the very depths of sewers beneath them.
Instead of discussing each story I'll just point out some stand-outs for me.
Hal Duncan's The Tower of Morning Bones is the author's attempt at writing a story around the world's first city. It is amazingly lyrical and almost poetic in its style. Duncan's short stories never disappoint.
Richard Parks' Courting the Lady Scythe is one of the most unexpected stories in the bunch about a man in love with an Executioner. He stirred odd emotions in me about what getting what you want could really mean. I also think Parks could do more with the mythology he setup.
Greg van Eekhout's Ghost Market was one of the shortest tales and also one of my favorites. It is the type of story you think is going one way when it veers into a different yet satisfying direction. The unusual aspect of the main character could easily be expanded into a longer form at some point, which I would happily dip into. It is so short if I mention much it would ruin the reveal.
Cat Sparks' Sammarynda Deep is a deeply endearing revenge story with an incredibly rich mythology for such a small number of pages. Sparks left me begging for further stories in this land with its magical pool. I hope she revisits it in the future. Sparks also won the Aurealis Award for best fantasy short story for this entry.
Mark Teppo's The One That Got Away is about the intersecting of fantasy with reality as a Unicorn is seen by some in a city park. The group goes on their own Wild Hunt to prove to themselves it is real. This story acts as a cautionary tale about following fairy tales.
Vylar Kaftan's Godivy was the strangest story in the bunch and it still has me perplexed, which means it left a lasting impression. A man in love with a copier at work is trying to fend off the advances from his boss, while also trying to get his morning coffee. Strange stuff, but oddly funny.
Darin C. Bradley's They Would Only Be Roads combines a modern sense of Urban Fantasy with a good tech thriller aspect. Bradley created a character with a lot of levels with amazing ease in a wonderfully paced fashion, but this did feel like an opening salvo to a much larger tale.
David Schwartz's The Sombnambulist is the best use of the sleepwalking warrior-slave idea I've read. He managed to fit in a lot of interesting vignettes ala Indiana Jones, which made it a lot of fun as well
Sedia did a wonderful job of setting the stories in a manner that led well from one style to next and I could feel her touch in many of the tales. I give Paper Cities 8 out of 10 Hats. Sedia is set to release her third anthology Running with the Pack in late 2010 and her fourth novel The House of Discarded Dreams in May 2010 both from Prime Books. Sedia had already become an author to watch, now she has become an Editor to trust. Paper Cities has a strong possibility of winning the World Fantasy Award even against some tough competition and I'm sure we'll be seeing many of these authors around for years to come.
I have a strong liking of fantastical stories set in cities, which made me very keen to read this anthology. I'm glad I managed to pick up an early copy of it.
It's very good.
The 21 cities are all different. They range in technology level from the medieval castle of Forrest Aguirre's "Andretto Walks the King's Way" (which is a darker, more peculiar piece than any other medieval fantasy I've read) to the cyberpunk city of Darin C. Bradley's "They Would Only Be Roads" (in which charms and rites are a hacker's tools).
Some stories could be set in our world, if things were a little different. Vylar Kaftan's "Godivy" is set in the familiar office landscape, except that "the administrators [are] mating with the photocopiers and producing children born for office work." In the wars over photocopiers, the office-men forget that their mates are more than objects. A brief, moralistic tale, well-handled, and delightfully quirky.
Other cities are not of our world. Stephanie Campisi's "The Title of This Story" sees Boy come to half-sunken Skendgrot to have a religious book named, in order that his people can discuss it and that it might become more powerful. The language is dead, and impossibly complex for onomastician Regent to decipher. Campisi gives her moulding city a presence within the story, almost as strong as Boy and Regent -- who consider the significance of naming, Boy of himself and Regent of the book. It's a full story (that's a good thing). And the linguistics details are fascinating.
Hal Duncan makes the city an object of death and rebirth in "The Tower of Morning's Bones," in which the bones of old go into the tower of morning, in the city at the end of time and life: "...a tower of all the bones of morning, falling always and forever into the glorious confusion of the world" is its finishing line, and is an apt descriptor of the story as a whole. Duncan does not write simply. But he does write well; he expects a lot of the reader, but gives to one who re-reads, re-examines. Heady stuff (with the double-meaning intended).
A particularly strange city is Catherynne M. Valente's "Palimpsest": a viral city, passed among lovers who, when they sleep, walk its streets. Newcomers are quartered: four of them, who came to the city at the same time, each told that "you will go nowhere, eat no capon or dormouse, drink no oversweet port that they do not also taste, and they will visit no whore that you do not also feel beneath you, and until that ink washes from your feet ... you cannot breathe but that they breathe also." Lucia, quartered, wanders Palimpsest while passing it onto others, until she meets in our world one of the women with whom she was quartered. This is a sensual, beautiful story. (And a novel, Palimpsest, is coming out in 2009; I can't wait to read it.)
An element of the strange runs through most of the stories in this anthology, particularly so in my favourites. Not every story worked for me, but that's the way with any anthology; I think there were only 2 (out of 21) that I disliked, while I immensely enjoyed many more. Other than the ones already mentioned, stories by Jay Lake (set in the same city as his excellent novel Trial of Flowers), Ben Peek, Cat Sparks, Mark Teppo and Anna Tambour were very, very good. What makes this anthology so strong is its variety. Variety in setting, topics, prose. Among the cities modern and old, familiar and strange, cities where it rains vinegar or where an escape artist captivates the population, a suburbia where toys are threats, underwater cities or a city on people's flesh, every reader is likely to find his or her own favourites. And with the overall quality high, readers of different tastes will not be disappointed.
Honestly, I picked this book up over a year ago in a bookstore in Newark Airport because I was browsing, and what I think of as the genre of "urban fantasy" (fantasy in modern city settings, like The Dresden Files or the Remy Chandler books) was just starting to interest me at that point. Then I saw the name of an author I was just becoming familiar with, Steve Berman, in the Table of Contents and figured, "what the heck."
Finally getting around to reading the book over the past few weeks, I realized that the anthology takes the broad view of "urban fantasy." If the story is fantastical in any sense, and takes place in any kind of city, it fits into the anthology. So you get stories in modern and semi-modern settings interspersed with stories in completely fictional fantasy worlds and stories that seem like they could take place in our own past.
Of the 21 stories in the book, I would say my favorites were "Palimpsest" by Catherynne M. Valente, "Andretto Walks the King's Way" by Forrest Aguirre, "Ghost Market" by Greg van Eekhout, "Sammarynda Deep" by Cat Sparks, "Promises" by Jay Lake , "Tearjerker" by Steve Berman, and "The One That Got Away" by Mark Teppo.