The Mammoth master’s third collection of silly, satiric, ridiculous, cute, pun-packed, cornball fantasy is often fun, but, well, not exactly awesome. Indefatigable anthologist Ashley (Shakespearean Whodunnits, 2001, etc.) weighs in with 32 tales here, dropping a mawkish fairy-tale farce by the comic actor John Cleese (in collaboration with Connie Booth), no doubt to rack up sales, and including an original tale by Craig Shaw Gardner in which the Devil gets a cable TV network. A horde of Charlie Chaplins threatens civilization in Garry Kilworth’s faux monster-movie screenplay, “Attack of the Charlie Chaplins.” In “Math Takes a Holiday,” Paul Di Filippo plays with mathematical paradoxes (and tweaks mathematician/SF author Rudy Rucker) as a pair of angels grant the pathetic wishes of a pathetic college math professor. After raising a few eyebrows, Cherith Baldry’s crude, hirsute “Broadway Barbarian” fits right in with a group of Runyonesque hoods. Most of the stories feature series characters, including Ron Goulart’s occult inspector Max Kearney, John Morressy’s dizzy wizard Kedrigern, and Avram Davidson’s delightful continental debauche, Dr. Eszterhazy, investigating an apparently honest fraud in “Milord Sir Smiht, The English Wizard. As demonstrated in previous collections, Ashley has a gift for finding obscure works by writers not typically associated with the genre, such as the now-forgotten humorist Porter Emerson Brown’s “The Diplodocus,” and the British Jewish fabulist Israel Zangwill.
A mixed but mostly satisfying assortment. J.K. Rowling is far from alone in the making of merry magic.