In the mid-1980s, writer/editor/artist Terri Windling founded Bordertown, a series of shared-universe books in which the faerie Realm collided with our World on the site of a major city. The result was a place where magic and technology worked sporadically or in tandem. Elves rode motorcycles in the streets. Music, art and poetry flourished. And misfits, runaways and the lost found a place where they could be themselves. Not a safe place for many, but a haven to a chosen and resourceful few.
Read more books by Bordertown contributors at Kirkus.
The Bordertown series was seminal in developing the urban fantasy subgenre, where magic existed in an environment just this side of real life, rather than in some invented, unfamiliar land. As Tim Pratt, a new contributor to the Bordertown oeuvre puts it, “When I started reading Bordertown as a teenager, it was like a switch got turned on in my head: the world I already lived in could become infused with wonder, magic and possibility. You didn't have to get swept up by a tornado or step through a wardrobe to find magic: you could find wondrous things intermingled with the reality all around you.”
After The Essential Bordertown was published in 1998, that magic appeared to have reached an end. “Everyone moved on,” says Ellen Kushner, one of the original writers for the series. “The energy had to come from Terri Windling, and she was doing other things.” But after some years had passed, Kushner “felt really strongly that it was time to let people who love urban fantasy know where it came from,” and so, with Windling’s blessing, she gathered some of the original Bordertown crew as well as a fresh generation of writers who grew up with the series. The result is Welcome to Bordertown. Her co-editor in this endeavor is bestselling author Holly Black, who first encountered the books in college and admits, “I may have told…[Kushner] I would gnaw off my own arm to submit a story to a new anthology, but the idea of actually helping to edit it kind of blew my mind.”
It was important to both editors that the new book be influenced by current events, culture and technology, while retaining familiar characters and situations from previous volumes. Kushner credits Black with suggesting, as the latter says now, “a way to have our cake and eat it too.” Quite simply, 13 years have passed in the outside World, but only 13 days have passed In Bordertown.
Intriguingly, this time shift ended up as a major theme for many of the stories taking place in the new/old Bordertown. “As storytelling device, nothing quite beats time dilation for sheer life-disrupting, story-making creative power,” new contributor Alaya Dawn Johnson says. “As soon as I heard of the premise I knew I had to make that a central part of my story.”
Naturally, newcomers to Bordertown, or “noobs,” refuse to give up their technological addictions, although smartphones may no longer work as initially intended. Tackling this issue is Cory Doctorow, who introduces Bordertown to the Internet. It may surprise some readers to discover the sf writer in this collection, but Doctorow’s a longtime fan of the series and his perspective on the influence of technology on society fits perfectly here. “For me, Bordertown was for fantasy what cyberpunk was to science fiction: while cyberpunk envisioned technology as part of the counterculture, Bordertown saw magic as countercultural too,” Doctorow says. “The street finds its own use for things—and in Bordertown, the street finds its own use for enchantment.”
Noobs are infusing Bordertown with new ideas as well as tech. “The younger folks coming through the Way 13 years later are also more politically charged,” contributing writer Christopher Barzak says. “And some of them, like the character Mouse in my story, are ready to start shaking up the status quo of race and class relationships in Bordertown.”
Since the first Bordertown books, the culture of urban fantasy has altered, too, and the stories reflect that as well. “It seemed to me,” Janni Lee Simner says, “that a teen growing up now, obsessed with a different corner of the urban fantasy landscape—one who'd dreamed of vampires or werewolves instead of elves, say—might be at a bit of a loss were Bordertown to truly return. Bordertown is the magic city, after all, yet her magic wouldn't be there, while other people's magic would be.”
But even if the landscape and the people have changed somewhat, Bordertown devotees will still find themselves at home in this volume. As Simner says, “the basic desire for some sort of magic is the same now as it was in the ’80s and ’90s…and I think the teens (and adults) yearning for magic are the same, too, even if the places those desires get explored shifts around a little over time.”