An awful rainbow,
hung beside the bloated sun,
a prismatic spray.
I'm not really a short story guy. I say that, but then there is all this evidence to contradict that statement-- Jorge Luis Borges, Howard Phillip Lovecraft, Robert Ervin Howard, to name just a handful. Still, anthologies aren't really my thing, by & large; it is a format that just takes me forever to get through. Just when you start to get swept up in a story...it is over! & I can see how that appeals to some readers, but for me the novel is the thing. That said, when you have a short story collection of authors who are writing in the setting of Jack Vance's "Dying Earth" genre, it is too good to pass up, especially when a nice chunk of the authors are people whose books you have enjoyed. Jack Vance-- you know Jack Vance, right? He was a big part of the inspiration behind Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun? His rules of magic are the foundation of pre-Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons spellcasting system? He's sort of a big deal, yeah. & this anthology-- it is huge, weighing in at 670 pages-- actually lives up to the legacy. Very pleasantly surprised! None of the stories were bad, & some were outright great. Butterfly farming with "Grolion of Almery" in Matthew Hughes' short, the equal parts buffoonery & horror of Terry Dowling's "The Copsy Door," the Solomon Kane-like intensity of Liz Williams' "Caulk the Witch-chaser." The golden witch Lith keeps coming up again & again, most notably in Mike Resnick's "Inescapable" & Phyllis Eisenstein's "The Last Golden Thread." There is plenty of wordplay, another hallmark of the Vancian tradition-- Elizabeth Hand's "Malakendra" is a nice tip of the hat to Clive Staples Lewis' Space Trilogy, & Tanith Lee wisely throws subtlety out the window with the Fabler "Canja Veck." Which, speaking of anagrams, it might be worth noting that Dungeons & Dragons lich-god is called "Vecna" in homage to "Vance."
The bigger names are hidden at the back. Dan Simmons' "The Guiding Nose of Ulfänt Banderōz" is possibly my favorite story in the collection-- I like Derwe Coreme quite a lot (she appears in Lucius Shepard's revenge tale, "Sylgarmo's Proclamation," as well) & I found that even though the characters were almost the opposite of Jack Vance's usual protagonists, the tale still hung as a "Dying Earth" story. You know, I was worried that nobility of purpose might ruin everything, in the wake of Vance's signature idiot-savant Cugel (who cast his shadow over many a story in here). Partly it helps that Simmons can be weird, & has a way with words & letters-- witness KirdirK, the hybrid "part mutant sandestin from the 14th Aeon, part full formed-daihak in the order of Undra Hadra," or Derwe's order of myrmazon's with armor that leaves one breast bare. & oh the art! The interior art by Tom Kidd is wonderful, but the lineup of characters in "The Guiding Nose of Ulfänt Banderōz" is the pièce de résistance. Charmingly, Simmons has littered connections to his Hyperion Cantos throughout-- from a casual Shrike mention & a general worry of lanternmouths, to the more obvious flying carpet-- Dan Simmons loves flying carpets-- & ultimately & perfectly with a poem by an unknown poet-- which is of course, Keats. Because of course it is. George R. R. Martin's story, "A Night at the Tarn House," isn't as overtly connected to A Song of Ice & Fire, but it does display Martin's characteristic love of inns, eels & villains. Oh, & faceshifting assassins. It ends with Neil Gaiman's "An Invocation of Incuriosity," which is...well, if you can imagine what Neil Gaiman would write about, it would be this. A rather bold piece of writing, if you treat the source with kid gloves, but if you approach it in the spirit that Jack Vance would, it work. It reminds me of his Doctor Who episode, "The Doctor's Wife," in a lot of ways. It was a fitting endcap.