Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fire breathing lizards, A man named George, and... soup

Wings of Fire edited by Jonathan Strahan and Marianne S. Jablon is a dragon themed anthology published in 2010.  There is a very strong mix of traditional fantasy, science fiction and fantasy blended together, and contemporary stories; the latter two being more to my preference much to my surprise.

While the collection is altogether solid I found very few standout stories that would make me put the book in someone else's hands or say, "You have to buy this right now!"  Big names like Orson Scott Card, George R R Martin, and Naomi Novik don't fail to deliver in any way, merely left me with a feeling of a solid piece of fiction that I could have walked away from at any point in time.

There was nearly enough material in this five-hundred page beast for two anthologies: one with the traditional fantasy dragon stories, and a second--more unique in my opinion--with the oddball stories full of things your didn't expect.  While not feasible in today's publishing world, the current anthology philosophy seems to be 'cram as much of the theme's stories in as possible' makes for a very uneven (uneven in approach not quality of writing) collection.  This opinion may also be a reflection of my change in interest concerning the types of fantasy works I enjoy. 

I've got no patience for traditional epic fantasy these days, so it makes sense that the non-traditional dragon stories would appeal to me more.  Additionally, there were a lot of 'new to me' authors in this anthology who wrote pieces I really enjoyed.  The new discoveries are always the best part of a good collection. 

James P Blaylock, Robert Reed and Charles de Lint all offered something different.  Michael Swanwick always offers something different but I do feel that King Dragon is in every single fantasy themed anthology ever (to no fault of the author or editors).  Fairy tale stories by Gordon R Dickson, a brilliant title St. Dragon and The George, and Roger Zelazny, who delivered satire and humor into the dragon equation with, The George Business, had enough familiar material mixed with new elements to still feel fresh.  The one true standout for me was S P Somtow's Dragon's Fin Soup.  It was the one story I read and on completion said to myself, "How have I not heard of this guy before?"  There was a dragon involved so I guess that makes the story fantasy, but the quality here makes me think there are many literary publications who wouldn't mind printing Somtow's work. 

I don't think Wings of Fire is the kind of book you want to sit down and read straight through.  But if you keep it in your line of sight in your reading area, a story here and there makes for a good time.  Dragons breath fire, rampage and pillage, but for the most part Wings of Fire is pretty harmless.  

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