Last year I was remiss (too lazy) to properly cover Firebrids Soaring, the third and hopefully not final original anthology from the Firebird imprint. I can't make the same mistake again with Firebirds because I love it as much as Firebirds Soaring.
I'll start with my favorites. Flotsam by Nina Kiriki Hoffman left me wanting more, both in terms of pages worth of story and content from what was presented. Becky finds a young, seemingly homeless boy, and decides to take him home, get him cleaned up and fed. She quickly finds out that Poppy, the boy, has lost his home, parents, family; everything. I kept waiting for a poignant connection between Becky's broken family life--her parents separated after the death of their eldest child--and Poppy's but it wasn't meant to be. What was given, was an exceptional story about strangers (extraterrestrial strange in Poppy's case) and treating people as we should, and not merely acting in accordance with propriety. Flotsam was also one of the most powerful and best uses of title in a short story in all that I've come across.
The Baby in the Night Deposit Box by Megan Whalen Turner is not only a phenomenal title but an equally wonderful story. The story is as bizarre as you would imagine: a family owned local bank starts renting safety deposit boxes to its customers saying, 'Your treasure will be safe with us.' Well one family decides it's most valuable treasure is a baby... and they'll be back to pick it up in eighteen years. This one is both hilarious in it's realism and absurdity and a joy to read from start to finish.
The anthology's most odd inclusion may also have been its best in addition to one of my favorites. Max Mondrosch by Lloyd Alexander is really only pseudo-fantasy. It deals with the nightmare of unemployment and all one must go through to land a successful job: the exaggeration, outright lies, areas of interest covered. This one hit a bit close to home and it was written in 2003 added to which the story itself is historical fiction. (Perhaps phantasmagoric nightmare fiction is a better qualifier.) I'll say this: it was good enough to make me dig up other works by the author. There is a comparison to a master of short fiction here that is on the tip of my tongue, but I need a bit more before making such bold claims. (Think big and awesome and you'll be really close.)
Beauty by Sherwood Smith, Mariposa by Nancy Springer, and, to a lesser extent, Medusa by Michael Cadnum all deal with similar themes of attraction and what it means to have self-confidence in one's looks and the disparity in what we see when we look at ourselves and what other people see when they look at us. The variety among such similar stories worked really well: the first is standard secondary world fantasy, the second is contemporary if not slightly futuristic in that Michael Swanwick 'is this fantasy or sci-fi?' kinda way that I love and the third is based off the myth, only part of the story most readers won't be familiar with.
I've decided that I love Patricia A McKillip's short fiction and not so much her novels. Odd as it sounds, I feel that way about a lot of great writers. Byndley is excellent fairy tale; nothing exceptional but all the parts are done well. Little Dot by Diana Wynne Jones was the one story that I was most surprised at liking: it's about cats... A lot of cats... And a wizard... and a Sphinx. It was awesome.
I've tried--with no success--to dig up new or newish information on the Firebird imprint. It's really sad. Their mission statement was to publish excellent original fantasy and science fiction. In my mind they overachieved.