Review: Fantasy-Faction edited by Marc Aplin, Jennie Ivins

fantasyfactionByline: An Anthology Celebrating the Fantasy Community
Published by: Fantasy-Faction Publishing
ASBN: B0112NF1Z2
Published: July 2015
Pages: 350
Format reviewed: eVersion
Publisher Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

This begins with a quite excellent introduction from Marc Aplin, creator of the website and forum Fantasy-Faction. He says how accidentally he fell into the speculative fiction genre – starting with Trudi Canavan (always nice to see how far an Australian author has reach) and where he went on from there. The trouble he had getting those around him interested in the same type of books (or reading at all), and how he, like so many of us, sought like-minded friends online. He had incredible fortune in how the website took off which in turn has brought excellent results, and also how this anthology itself came to be. I love that he notes that with all the entries they received for the anthology, it took them two years to read and decide, and create the book. Assisting in publishing as I am now – it really is hard, certainly not as easy as most people think (even when they probably wouldn’t ever say it’s easy)…

Aplin is the voice of us all. Those who read in order to escape, and that shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing, as if these mortal lives are awful to be in. It’s not like that at all, who doesn’t want both? Who hasn’t thought for a moment what it would be like to discover you have powers and get to do amazing things, go on an adventure, witness the incredible? Aplin’s introduction gives this anthology heart, and shows why Fantasy Faction deserves the excellent run it’s had, and hopefully, continues to have.

Killing the Magic” by Richard Morgan

This anthology isn’t just comprised of short stories, but contains articles as well. Morgan starts us off with an article on what things are killing the speculative fiction genre as a whole – things like trying to quantify each and every piece of writing, categorise it into sub-categories and tropes, and then also things such as not letting fiction be fiction and instead trying to rip apart why it could never happen like that, or how inaccurate a piece of clothing or weapon is for that particular placement.

It’s certainly something to think on. It’s probably something we’ve all been guilty of at one time or another, whether it’s getting caught up in an internet debate or sitting on a panel at a convention, there’s usually some hot topic on one time or another each year.

His closing line is to simply try and enjoy the ride, which, whether you agree or disagree with his piece, is probably something we could all take advice.

The Dream-Taker’s Apprentice” by Mark Lawrence

Emptor and his apprentice Ham travel the lands on orders from their employer, who has a particular thirst for dreams. They pay the simple folk for them with a gold coin, and each night set up a strange doorway which allows them to travel to a pool where they empty the dreams into (until then collected and carried in what seems like nothing else but a bag). They take replacement gold pieces from a coffer, then leave the strange world before anything can happen to them. Then they travel on again.

Ham was picked by Emptor for the fact the boy has never had a single dream in his life. Ham doesn’t ask many questions, but as they come across land that looks vaguely familiar, he’s told that this is where he came from, when he joined Emptor as a boy of 8. It’s here we see that they’re not the only dream takers, as they run into Ikol, who apparently patrols other parts of the land. He’s there because he has something of Ham’s, something that he took long before…

This is written with an easy and deliberate hand, with a satisfying ending. It’s really quite lovely!

The Unsung” by Jessalyn Heaton

Sisters Elvi and Astra are left in disgrace after their father leaves them, all because their mother couldn’t birth him a son. The mother falls into a depression and doesn’t leave her rooms for much, let alone her daughters. Striped of their titles and left in a remote estate which is cut off due to snow, they think their lives will be left to embroidery and not much else.

And that is how it is for quite some time, until a mysterious traveler arrives, with wounds that would only have come from a dragon. With purpose in their lives once more, the sisters decide to make a difference and do good, like their parents have not.

This is a simple tale that’s well told, sad yet mighty and with and ending that’s strong yet you wish it could have turned out differently.

Historical Research for Fantasy Writers” by Anne Lyle

Like it says in the title, Lyle talks to us about writing historical fiction, and why one would like to do such a thing, or where they get their knowledge from, in order to build a decent world, geography and history. She also talks of how these days, people are getting too savvy to believe a novel if it’s saying it’s set in a certain time, but then mentions something that clearly wasn’t possible or didn’t make sense in the context.

Lyle also goes into different levels of research, and when getting involved yourself may be necessary. It’s a great piece for writers and how anyone and everyone can always make their writing better. Recommended reading!

Honour Bound” by Jon Sprunk

Friends Lucas and Ossic have been pals since they were children, and are now grown and part of the Brotherhood, partners in arms. On a seemingly ordinary day they are monitoring the streets before they duck back to Lucas’ home to visit his mother, only to discover terrible things have happened in the inner city which is now in chaos. Deaths of highly ranked people mean they are no longer safe, being part of old money themselves.

This leaves them with a difficult decision. Flee with their lives, or stay for their honour. Lucas has already lost his father the same way and is determined to do the same, but his mother and best friend want him to survive. Perhaps there’s a third option…

This is a decent piece, as tales of honour are always interesting.

Oasis” by Edmund Wells

A man, Cloyd, is bound to a demon in exchange for finding his wife. The demon likes to feed on young children, something Cloyd struggles with, but knows he must assist or else the demon will partake in his own flesh, and his wife will be lost forever. Cloyd doesn’t bet on the next child being intelligent and full of judgement, determined that Cloyd should do the right thing.

This is another that leave you wondering what happens next, leaving the reader to create their own happy ending – or the type of ending he possibly deserves. Or also leaving it up to us to decide what in fact loyd does deserve.

Creating Better Fantasy Economies” by Kameron Hurley

This one goes especially hand in hand with Lyle’s piece, ways to ensure your writing is believable. It isn’t enough to say it’s a fantasy world and therefore anything is possible, it still takes structure and a certain level of balance to understand why the characters are doing what they’re doing and what their limitations are, as well as that of the world itself.

This piece discusses things like what else should be notable changes in a world where women are accepted as frontline fighters – like they have equality on the battlefield but no where else? Also when the whole world seemingly speaks the one language. Or when everyone can seemingly read and write. And the list goes on.

This is such an invaluable piece to read to help you branch your world building out and give it depth and weight. And it’s also fun, and alone with Lyle’s piece, is of such help to help you figure out the history of your world. And in that, shaping the future.

Misericordia” by Rene Sears

Marcus, apprentice to Maestro Abrazzo, a gifted automaton maker, answers the door one night (although he rather wouldn’t, what with all the disease and violence around), to the secretary of the Grand Duke Ferdinand. He has come to request the Maestro build the Grand Duke another device for him, though this time, it must be able to fly.

‘Impossible,’ says the maestro, and from here we are hooked. He is offered two options, reward or excommunication and exile. These are desperate times.

This is a beautiful tale, well written, scenic and sad to read. Evocative, this is one of the harder pieces to quantify as you just want to read and enjoy it, and push it at others to read without spoiling it with a few words of summary.

The House on the Old Cliffs” by Adrian Tchaikovsky

A carefully selected group of people who have specialised skills are called to assemble in an office and hear of a job offer that’s on retainer – something that’s not always common place to everyone in attendance. They have a mystery to solve, one that’s complete with a scene where you want to yell at them ‘Don’t go in there!’, as all the best horror stories go. One can only then pick who’ll be the first to die.

This is a fun tale, one that is big on describing the characters and their quirks to us, so we feel that we know the characters even though we barely get to know them and they don’t don’t say much – working at each other, rather than with each other. This is an effective tale and certainly makes me glad I’m not there with them.

Cazar el Muerto” by Myke Cole

Cesar turns up for work even after the death of his wife and young daughter, needing the distraction. Soon he’s swept up in distractions that lead to an even bigger one – and that’s really all I can say about the plot without giving too much away.

This piece is easy to visulise given the language, and effective in tone and pace. It’s horrific and sad, and very, very readable.

The Dealer” by Miah Sonnel

In this, like some of the other stories, things aren’t always like they first seem. Mr Grossman owns a gift shop on the foreshore where he sells tacky souvenirs by day. At night it’s a whole ‘nother matter. My Grossman is a dealer – demons need someone to open the portal, humans need someone to act as intermediary in the deal, and then, well, the dealer needs to be paid by someone.

He’s used to this life. One night, one that’s seemingly like any other, someone appears at his door who appears for all intents and purposes to be a young ordinary boy. But ordinary boys don’t stink of power, or have such strange eyes.

This is a fun piece, familiar with the roles the characters play and yet delightful with the words and attitude. It gets pretty hefty but at least you know who you’re cheering on. Mostly. Right?

The Preservation and Evolution of Elves” by James Barclay

Here we have another non-fiction piece on – well, as it says on the label. The evolution of Elves. So integral to typical epic fantasy though Barclay also mentions where they were first seen, in Germanic folklore. They’re often hard to deal with as they look down upon humans, but they often hold information that’s integral to survival.

Sharag’s Shank” by Daniel Beazley

Orc’s are always dangerous, let alone when they’re currently overtaken by bloodlust. When Bogrot comes across one he tempts it in with food, and from there on they’re inseparable, despite hating each other. The orc sticks with him for the food, and Bogrot, a goblin, has his own reasons for keeping Gorag close.

This is a fun tale of adventure and two unlikely companions who do manage to keep each other out of trouble. This is one of the few tales in the anthologies that isn’t led by human characters, and it’s a good inclusion to read.

The Halfwyrd’s Burden” by Richard Ford

Oban Halfwyrd makes his business in an awful, hard land. He joined the Wardens at a young age and is now getting on to be an old man, his hair turning to grey. In this tale he’s hunting, as he’s done on both man and monsters in the past, though when he catches up to his prey there is the question of who exactly is the monster here – if Oban himself is the one who has failed the innocent.

This piece has good action, and it’s always a fun time when you’re led to believe that your ‘hero’ certainly has failings of their own. This is probably one of my favourite pieces in the anthology.

Advice I’d Give My Younger Self” by Mark Charan Newton

And here we have the last non-fiction piece. It’s always an interesting question to ask writers what advice they’d give their younger selves – generally meaning before they got published, or were at least in their early years of publishing. This piece reinforces the general ideas out there – write, read widely, network… but then also goes into other areas, such as how to cope with bad reviews – something that people still need lessons in (there’s always at least one mega cringe-worthy story of a writer getting abusive each year, isn’t there?)

This is really aimed at those who are young in the game but it always good to refresh yourself, especially in times of stress when these core values may fall off the side for one reason or another.

The Autumn Mist” by Michael J. Sullivan

This one has a killer hook, a man named Jack who’s watching the clock trying to estimate when he will die.

Jack is in the geriatric wing of a hospital and has to put up with the unsympathetic and cynical, businesslike nurse Debbie. She doesn’t seem to find it at all strange that a large number of people on the flood have all been dreaming of the sea. (I suppose it’s nice she’s asked, at least.)

This piece has all the fun cynicism of getting old and having to put up with young people humouring you – as if you know nothing because you’re old, as if you haven’t had two or three times the life experiences than the young clucking around you, (though I do think the Jeopardy bit is written wrong, where’s the ‘what is …?’ part?

Getting closer to the end of the anthology, this has a fitting placement.

Overdue” by John Yeo Jr.

1985, and Jeff is unhappy. He’s waiting for a postponed meeting to start with his grandmother’s attorney, and though he isn’t overly surprised there’s been something left in her will to him, he can’t think of what it could be, and he has other things on his mind. Amusing himself by thinking of stray story ideas, he counts along the minutes he has to wait.

It turns out to be something he can’t decipher the significance of, and the attorney can’t offer any ideas either. (And something I won’t say here – mystery! Means you have to read to find out!)

The mystery is what drives this piece, which is good as poor Jeff’s brother is a twat. It’s really quite creepy, and also a very good way to leave this anthology. Especially with the reason why this piece comes after the previous, and how it ends. Really quite fitting.

~

It leads me to wonder how many anthologies I’ve read have included articles interspersed with short stories. Not many others, that’s for sure. It’s an interesting choice and certainly makes it easier to read as often I’ve needed to take a break in between short stories either to process them or give me a break (usually such emotion and/or crescendo where I almost need to have a bit of a lie down to recover!), but in these, having a bit of non-fiction discussion certainly gives that break while also making progress through the anthology.

One thing I did wish this anthology had were more stories by women. Many of the pieces were a bit samey, and the main characters were typically male also. Still, it was a good read and of quite high quality – not many places manage to pull off such talent with their first anthology.

EDIT: Marc confirms the next anthology currently has more women in it than men! This shall be very interesting to see.

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