An anthology of fantasy with a pronounced southern flavor.
The contributors make up a good cross-section of the field, with a handful of major genre award-winners, including Gene Wolfe, John Kessel, Michael Swanwick, and Michael Bishop, as well as Duncan himself. On the whole, the quality is up to the expectations that this list of names would raise. But while the stories have in common a vaguely southern setting, along with some tendency toward the gothic in subject matter, the variety of approaches may surprise some readers. Wolfe’s “Houston, 1943” injects echoes of Peter Pan in a small boy’s nightmare; Swanwick’s “The Last Geek” brings the title character to a university as guest lecturer; and Kessel’s “Every Angel is Terrifying” gives an escaped felon as his guardian a cat that fulfills his every wish. Entries by some of the less-familiar names include Scott Edelman’s “My Life is Good,” about aliens, obsessed with Randy Newman, who force a humorless scientist to monitor the songwriter’s entire life through time travel; Bud Webster’s “Christus Destitutus,” where Jesus decides to die again in a homeless shelter; and Mark L. Van Name’s quasi-psychedelic “Boar Lake.” The anthology also includes a number of strong stories from an African-American perspective, including Honoree Fanonne Jeffers’s “A Plate of Mojo,” a dialect account of a plantation cook’s life, and Kalamu Ya Salaam’s “Alabama,” a spare and stark examination of what lynching meant, not just to the victims but to the perpetrators. And on the science fiction end of the spectrum, Jack McDevitt takes a sobering look at the effects on a small town of the abandonment of the space effort.
Judging by evidence here, the southern storytelling tradition is clearly alive and well.