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The Secret History of Fantasy

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Step right up and buy your ticket to the impossible marvels of the Barnum Museum. Take a highly caffeinated ride through the Empire of Ice Cream. If you dare, hunt feral archetypes deep within a haunted English forest. Or conquer the New World with a band of geographically-challenged Norsemen. Tired of the same old fantasy? Here are the stories you’ve never imag Step right up and buy your ticket to the impossible marvels of the Barnum Museum. Take a highly caffeinated ride through the Empire of Ice Cream. If you dare, hunt feral archetypes deep within a haunted English forest. Or conquer the New World with a band of geographically-challenged Norsemen. Tired of the same old fantasy? Here are the stories you’ve never imagined possible. Nineteen extraordinary writers offer much-needed antidotes to clichéd tales of sword and sorcery. Combining the best of the old and new, these instant classics will inspire even the most jaded of readers. Beloved author and anthologist Peter S. Beagle reveals the secret: fantasy is back and it’s better than ever. Contents: Introduction by Peter S. Beagle “Ancestor Money” by Maureen F. McHugh “Scarecrow” by Gregory Maguire “Lady of the Skulls” by Patricia A. McKillip “We Are Norsemen” by T. C. Boyle “The Barnum Museum” by Steven Millhauser “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut” by Stephen King “Bears Discover Fire” by Terry Bisson “Bones” by Francesca Lia Block “Snow, Glass, Apples” by Neil Gaiman “Fruit and Words” by Aimee Bender “The Empire of Ice Cream” by Jeffrey Ford “The Edge of the World” by Michael Swanwick “Super Goat Man” Jonathan Lethem “John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner” by Susanna Clarke “The Book of Martha” by Octavia E. Butler “The Vita Æterna Mirror Company” by Yann Martel “Sleight of Hand” by Peter S. Beagle “Mythago Wood” by Robert Holdstock “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson “The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists” by Ursula K. Le Guin “The Making of the American Fantasy Genre” by David Hartwell


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Step right up and buy your ticket to the impossible marvels of the Barnum Museum. Take a highly caffeinated ride through the Empire of Ice Cream. If you dare, hunt feral archetypes deep within a haunted English forest. Or conquer the New World with a band of geographically-challenged Norsemen. Tired of the same old fantasy? Here are the stories you’ve never imag Step right up and buy your ticket to the impossible marvels of the Barnum Museum. Take a highly caffeinated ride through the Empire of Ice Cream. If you dare, hunt feral archetypes deep within a haunted English forest. Or conquer the New World with a band of geographically-challenged Norsemen. Tired of the same old fantasy? Here are the stories you’ve never imagined possible. Nineteen extraordinary writers offer much-needed antidotes to clichéd tales of sword and sorcery. Combining the best of the old and new, these instant classics will inspire even the most jaded of readers. Beloved author and anthologist Peter S. Beagle reveals the secret: fantasy is back and it’s better than ever. Contents: Introduction by Peter S. Beagle “Ancestor Money” by Maureen F. McHugh “Scarecrow” by Gregory Maguire “Lady of the Skulls” by Patricia A. McKillip “We Are Norsemen” by T. C. Boyle “The Barnum Museum” by Steven Millhauser “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut” by Stephen King “Bears Discover Fire” by Terry Bisson “Bones” by Francesca Lia Block “Snow, Glass, Apples” by Neil Gaiman “Fruit and Words” by Aimee Bender “The Empire of Ice Cream” by Jeffrey Ford “The Edge of the World” by Michael Swanwick “Super Goat Man” Jonathan Lethem “John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner” by Susanna Clarke “The Book of Martha” by Octavia E. Butler “The Vita Æterna Mirror Company” by Yann Martel “Sleight of Hand” by Peter S. Beagle “Mythago Wood” by Robert Holdstock “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson “The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists” by Ursula K. Le Guin “The Making of the American Fantasy Genre” by David Hartwell

30 review for The Secret History of Fantasy

  1. 4 out of 5

    carol.

    Amazing fantasy stories that break the stereotype of what "fantasy" is. Contains an interesting discussion of the topic by Ursula Le Guin, which provided me with insight on the development of the "fantasy" field and subsequent dividing of genre fiction. Enjoyed "Ancestor Money" by Maureen McHugh. Admired the cleverness of Gregory Maguire's "Scarecrow," yet another take on the "Wizard of Oz" with some existential philosophy. Patricia McKillip was vaguely haunting in "Lady of the Skulls." I admire Amazing fantasy stories that break the stereotype of what "fantasy" is. Contains an interesting discussion of the topic by Ursula Le Guin, which provided me with insight on the development of the "fantasy" field and subsequent dividing of genre fiction. Enjoyed "Ancestor Money" by Maureen McHugh. Admired the cleverness of Gregory Maguire's "Scarecrow," yet another take on the "Wizard of Oz" with some existential philosophy. Patricia McKillip was vaguely haunting in "Lady of the Skulls." I admired "We are Norsemen" by T.C. Boyle and Neil Gaiman's "Snow, Glass, Apples," but it was an uncomfortable story. Steven Millhauser's "The Barnum Museum" was one of my favorites, with very lyrical prose. Steven King's "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" was clever and wistful. Terry Bisson's "Bears Discover Fire" was an unusual take on modern urban fantasy. Aimee Bender's "Fruit and Words" had an imaginative basis, but was uncomfortable. Jeffrey Ford's "The Empire of Ice Cream" had an astounding concept of alternate reality with a twist ending. Sad more than horrorful. I enjoyed Micheal Swanwick's "The Edge of the World" a great deal, and will look for more from him, likewise Kij Johnson's "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss." Peter Beagle's contribution was lyrical, beautiful, and wistful. I could live without Yann Martel's "The Vita Aeterna Mirror Company" just because it's format was so off-putting. Johnathan Lethem's "Super Goat Man" took far too much space for its concept, and left me with an uncomfortable taste in my mouth. But the majority of contributions were very original and beautifully written.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Linda Robinson

    Peter Beagle's introduction tells us that once upon a time all literature was fantasy. Ancient peoples sitting around the campfire had to explain what made the sun come up, and before nodding off, everyone probably joined in praying for it to do the same tomorrow. There was fantasy, and then there was literature and literary critics, and academia, and thus genrefication. Fantasy writing was consigned to children's literature. I was surprised to discover in the essay by David Hartwell at the back Peter Beagle's introduction tells us that once upon a time all literature was fantasy. Ancient peoples sitting around the campfire had to explain what made the sun come up, and before nodding off, everyone probably joined in praying for it to do the same tomorrow. There was fantasy, and then there was literature and literary critics, and academia, and thus genrefication. Fantasy writing was consigned to children's literature. I was surprised to discover in the essay by David Hartwell at the back that fantasy readers were mostly male, mostly teens. Ursula K. Le Guin in her essay was surprised when someone recommended she read a new book about a wizard school; a thing "that had never been done before", while she listened as the author of A Wizard of Earthsea, which has a wizard school in it and has been in print since 1969. Fantasy fiction has been unfashionable until recent decades. It is still not fashionable enough to be mass market popular, but it has its devotees. I could not understand why fantasy is lumped with scifi, but now I know thanks to the essays in this book. I enjoyed reading this book, and have favorite stories. Mythago Wood I'd already read, and reviewed here. The book lost a star because there are 21 stories/essays, and only 8 women writers. The short by Susanna Clarke reminded me to look and hope for a new book by her. I'll also find other writing by the women – Aimee Bender, Francesca Lia Block, Patricia McKillip, Maureen McHugh. I already love Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Keerthi Purushothaman

    Even though this book aims to expand what fantasy could mean, it is also quite possibly the best introduction to the genre! Recommended for both snooty old fans and younglings. I also think that the short story form, leaving no space for two hundred new names, makes it more accessible without the additional 'burden' of learning too much of the rules of the new worlds being built.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    This is another anthology I picked up on the recommendation of Charlie Jane Anders. Up to the Michael Swanwick story, I found all these stories at least vaguely familiar, which suggests I've read this collection before (at least that far). I may have stopped after the Swanwick because I disliked it. Although not every story in this volume was to my taste - something that's unlikely to happen unless I edit an anthology myself - there were still some fine ones. The basic premise of the This is another anthology I picked up on the recommendation of Charlie Jane Anders. Up to the Michael Swanwick story, I found all these stories at least vaguely familiar, which suggests I've read this collection before (at least that far). I may have stopped after the Swanwick because I disliked it. Although not every story in this volume was to my taste - something that's unlikely to happen unless I edit an anthology myself - there were still some fine ones. The basic premise of the Secret History anthologies (there's also a science fiction one, The Secret History of Science Fiction, which I haven't read) is that there's a type of writing that got missed or buried because other things were more popular, more commercial, or dodged the spec-fic labelling. Certainly that's the thrust of Peter S. Beagle's introduction, and the two other non-fiction pieces by Ursula K. Le Guin (herself one of SFF's strongest arguments for being counted as serious literature) and editor David G. Hartwell. In the case of fantasy, this type of writing is somewhere between fairy tale and magical realism, or so the selections in this volume suggest. Mainstream commercial fantasy, despite its frequent derivation from Tolkien, lacks his deep background in traditional story, and often ends up with an explicable world that happens to have magic as part of the explanation. These stories don't. Things just happen that aren't explained. At the fairy-tale end of the spectrum, that's often the jumping-off point for the story, somebody having to deal with this unexplained magical thing. At the magical-realism end are at least a couple of stories that suggest that it makes very little difference, that people will just continue as they would have anyway, working around the magical thing as best they can. Those are generalisations, and it's difficult to generalise about this collection without immediately thinking of exceptions. It's diverse and wide-ranging. Let's go piece by piece. Peter S. Beagle's introduction talks about how works and writers that we now place in the "fantasy" ghetto used to just be literature, even up to the early 1960s, when his own books were seriously discussed in the New York Times. He blames commercial Tolkienesque fantasy, starting with Terry Brooks' Shannara, for a shift in perception that put fantasy in a category where it wasn't taken seriously from the late 1970s. It's a theme that Hartwell takes up and expands on in his later piece. Maureen F. McHugh's story "Ancestor Money" depicts a woman in an afterlife which is similar to her earthly life in 1920s Kentucky, but less complicated. Her routine is disturbed when her granddaughter, for reasons which are never completely clear, makes an ancestor offering for her in Hong Kong. She has to travel to the Hong Kong afterlife to collect it. I'm not familiar with the details of the Chinese conception of the afterlife, so I'll assume that McHugh gets it right. For some reason, the Chinese afterlife is pretty much the way the Chinese think it is, but the afterlife for the main character, who's Baptist, is completely different from what she expects. The point of the story, if there is one, seems to be that nothing matters, which isn't a satisfactory ending to me. "Scarecrow" by Gregory Maguire is set in his re-envisioned version of Oz (it may even be part of Wicked; I didn't read very far in that book because it was too dark and cynical for my taste, but this story isn't). It explores ideas of what we know and how we know it, how we make decisions, what is the good. The Scarecrow is, of course, the philosopher of Oz. "Lady of the Skulls" by Patricia A. McKillip is the kind of beautifully-told, slightly disturbing tale I expect from that author. The question behind the story is "What is most valuable?" T.C. Boyle's "We are Norsemen" didn't seem, to me, to have much point except to perpetuate stereotypes of Vikings (including horned helmets and senseless violence). I wasn't a fan. Steven Millhauser's "The Barnum Museum" is a beautiful piece about the sense of wonder, itself at the heart of SFF. It has only one named character, and only briefly, but she, like everything else described in this piece, is there to evoke a place and a mood, not to participate in a story. It is possible to write an effective short fiction piece that isn't a story, though it's more difficult than most people who attempt it think, and this is a fine example of doing it well. "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" by Stephen King is much more a story, though the narrator is not the protagonist (speaking of things that are difficult to pull off effectively). It reminded me of Nnedi Okorafor's "Kabu-Kabu", or, for that matter, of the hellrides in Roger Zelazny's Amber series in its conceit of a woman obsessed with shortcuts who finds one through... other places. It sits near the intersection of an old-style weird tale, urban fantasy and magical realism, and is beautifully told. "Bears Discover Fire" by Terry Bisson is a story I've seen in a couple of different collections. It's in the magical-realist camp by virtue of the fact that something odd happens (the title tells you what), and it's more or less incorporated into people's everyday lives without a great deal of surprise. Well written, but not a particularly strong plotline, in common with most other stories in this volume. "Bones" by Francesca Lia Block is explicitly based on a fairytale (Bluebeard) but given a strong and clearly spelled-out twist. It isn't, to my mind, particularly fantastic; there's no counterfactual, it's only the reference to the fairy tale that gives it any claim to be in an anthology of fantasy, and its tone is more psychological horror. "Snow, Glass, Apples" by Neil Gaiman is the usual Gaiman, which is to say beautifully written, something that nobody else could think of and yet which makes perfect sense, and disturbing in a way that, for some reason I don't fully understand, I don't mind. I usually dislike disturbing stories, but Gaiman tells his with such a depth of humanity (or something) that I'm usually glad I've read them even though they give me the grues. Here his chain of association seems to have started with Snow White and gone: "What other fantasy creature has very pale skin, black hair, and rises from a coffin?" It's an inversion of the well-known fairy story, in which the traditional antagonist becomes the protagonist and vice versa (as with Wicked and, in a different way, Maleficent). "Fruit and Words" by Aimee Bender is definitely on the magical-realist side, with the roadside stall selling both fruit and also words made out of what they represent. It's a playing with an idea more than it is a story. Jeffrey Ford's "The Empire of Ice Cream" is more storylike, though still magical-realist. A musician with synesthesia discovers he can see a girl, an artist, when he eats coffee-flavoured ice cream, which as a child he's forbidden to do for health-related reasons. When he grows up and drinks coffee for the first time, they're able to interact. Not only is the premise inexplicable, the ending is, too, but that's part of the brilliance. It doesn't have to make logical sense; that's why it's in this book. As I mentioned, Michael Swanwick's "The Edge of the World" didn't appeal to me. A vast abyss exists in an unnamed Middle Eastern emirate, currently the site of a US military base, but in the past held by Napoleon, the Russians and others. The alienated, bored children of military personnel go to see it, and despite the fact that this is a genuine site of wonder and magic, with a history including real dragons and demons, this makes no positive difference to their dreary lives. The emirate's decaying factories dump chemical waste over the Edge. This is the kind of pessimistic, world-weary fiction that I particularly dislike. I haven't read any other Swanwick since reading The Iron Dragon's Daughter many years ago, and this story reminds me why. Jonathan Lethem's "Super Goat Man" is similarly, if less persistently, dreary and pointless. In a world with superheroes, human stupidity and pettiness go along pretty much as usual. I read "John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner" as part of Susanna Clark's collection, The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories. I enjoyed it then, and I enjoyed it on a reread. It has a lot of the flavour of a traditional British folktale, but with more humour. And what story isn't improved by a pig? Octavia E. Butler's "The Book of Martha" is, I suppose, a kind of puzzle story. The puzzle is this: if God came to you and gave you the power to make one change to improve the lot of humanity, what would you choose? It made me think of the conclusion to Sherry Tepper's Gibbons Decline and Fall, except that here the protagonist makes the choice before the end of the story. We don't get to see the results, only to see speculation about what they might be. It's a long time since I read Octavia Butler, and this story reminds me why she's so highly regarded. "The Vita Aeterna Mirror Company" by Yann Martel is, underneath the spec-fic element of a mirror-making machine that runs partly on words, a meditation on how we don't value old people's stories. It's beautifully done. "Sleight of Hand" by Peter S. Beagle is another "what if you could" story, in this case, "what if you could go back and change one event in the past?" It involves a magician, is more storylike than most of these pieces, and, of course, given that it's by Beagle, it's beautifully written and moving. "Mythago Wood" by Robert Holdstock is another piece that reminds me of the old-style weird tales, particularly because of its setting in an ancestral house near an ancient woodland. It reminds us that the legends of our most ancient ancestors are not kindly ones. "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss" by Kij Johnson is in the inexplicable-thing-in-the-otherwise-normal-world group. In this case, it's a troupe of monkeys which are part of an act, and which vanish from a bathtub as the climax of that act. I much prefer the way Kij Johnson plays it to the way that, say, Michael Swanwick plays it: that an encounter with the inexplicable improves our lives, that that may even be what it's there for. The piece has a gentle, lovely humour and is a great choice to close the collection. But wait! There are two appendices. "The Critics, the Monsters and the Fantasists" by Ursula Le Guin plays, in its title, with the title of Tolkien's essay "The Monsters and the Critics". Like Tolkien, she takes literary critics to task for not understanding the roots of what they're writing about. She points out at the beginning that when Harry Potter emerged into public consciousness there was a lot of noise about how unprecedented and original it was, which simply wasn't true (she herself had written a magical school in the 1960s, and there wasn't much else unprecedented about it either). Rather, the critics had been ignoring fantasy so assiduously that they had managed to become completely ignorant of it. She makes some wonderful points about the limitations of literary fiction (which takes it as read that "the proper study of mankind is man" and anthropocentrically excludes the Other), and how nobody will ever understand fantasy by attempting to treat it in the same way as lit fic, or as allegory, or as politics, or as symbolism. It's about opening up the imagination, in her view. A kind of closing down of imagination is part of the theme of the other essay, David G. Hartwell's "The Making of the American Fantasy Genre". Hartwell, an experienced editor, traces the 19th-century banishment of the fantastic to children's literature, the early-20th-century yoking to science fiction, the mid-century magazines - mostly running what we now think of as "urban fantasy" rather than secondary-world fantasy, and mostly for a male audience - the breakout publication of The Lord of the Rings (and T.H. White's Once and Future King, originally released as general fiction since there wasn't a fantasy book category) in the 1950s, and the "genrefication" of fantasy in the 1970s. His argument is that for fantasy to become successful on a large scale it had to become a predictable, reproducible commodity; to sell what had long been children's literature or short-form fiction to adults as novels, you had to have a formula. He suggests that it was, essentially, a revival of the utopian Plantation Novel of the old South, "nostalgic, conservative, pastoral, and optimistic... life is rich and good, the lower classes are happy in their place and sing a lot, and evil resides in the technological North". While the literary novel was plunging inwards, into the inner lives of characters who, outwardly, do almost nothing, the fantasy novel externalised and concretised struggle in stories that were all about character action in a morally unambiguous universe. That certainly doesn't describe the stories in this volume, hence the "secret history" label. I agree that it would be a great loss if genre fantasy was the whole of the literature of the fantastic. I don't think it's necessary for fantasy to take on the alienation and cynicism, and the lack of plot, of literary fiction, though. Somewhere, there's a balance where beautifully written, moving stories have a beginning, middle and end and where the fantastic transforms the ordinary. Some of these stories hit that balance point, and some don't.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lissibith

    The Secret History of Fantasy is a 19-story collection of what I'm given to understand is unusual or different fantasy, along with a couple nonfiction essays about the genre as a whole (and of course, the forward by Peter Beagle). Taken as a whole, it was a varied and sometimes fascinating read, though as in any short story collection, there were a few that just flat didn't work for me. To start things off - I finally found a Gaiman story that I liked! It's like a miracle! His "Snow, Glass, Appl The Secret History of Fantasy is a 19-story collection of what I'm given to understand is unusual or different fantasy, along with a couple nonfiction essays about the genre as a whole (and of course, the forward by Peter Beagle). Taken as a whole, it was a varied and sometimes fascinating read, though as in any short story collection, there were a few that just flat didn't work for me. To start things off - I finally found a Gaiman story that I liked! It's like a miracle! His "Snow, Glass, Apples" is, as one might surmise from the title, a new take on the old story of Snow White, with a lovely, creepy and disturbing inversion on the story. Reading it left me unsettled in a really good way, but I imagine that for some people it might be a little too unsettling. Not for Gaiman fans though - this is stylistically pretty much in his bailiwick. Another of my favorites was (surprise surprise) Octavia Butler's "The Book of Martha" in which a woman is given the opportunity of a lifetime - of all lifetimes - by god. I think this story had the most complete, most real character to me. Martha acted how I could see myself acting, presented with this impossible situation. A lot of the stories I enjoyed a lot but they didn't hit the level of these two - Ancestor Money by Maureen F. MgHugh was a lovely character piece; Lady of Skulls (Patricia McKillip) and John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner (Susanna Clarke) both had that sort of fairy-tale feel I love; 26 Monkeys, Also The Abyss by Kij Johnson was a delight to read prose-wise and actually made the "it's magic" explanation work; Gregory Maguire's Scarecrow was another fun inversion; and Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock had a wonderfully ponderous mythology that reminded me, oddly, of The Perilous Gard (one of my favorite books). Also, two of the stories in this I love but I'd read before, in the Stephen King and Peter Beagle stories. Both are really great, showcasing some of what makes each of these writers among my favorites ever. Beyond this, I don't want to talk too much about individual stories, because while all of them were enjoyable, none of the rest really grabbed me. Some it was the writing style, and some just the story itself. In two cases, I'm not actually sure what the "fantasy" angle was meant to be at all. But this was a really good, really strong collection and if you like your fantasy a bit unusual there will be something in here for you.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Ozment

    One of the best reprint short story collections I have read. Introductory material by the exemplary editor (and fabulous writer) Peter S. Beagle and essays by Ursual K. Le Guin and David Hartwell provide persuasive defenses of fantasy's place in serious literature (and specifically fantasy that is not of the commodified Tolkien-imitation quest variety), but the real proof comes from the stories themselves. "The Barnum Museum" by Steven Millhauser really spells out why we love fantasy; why we rea One of the best reprint short story collections I have read. Introductory material by the exemplary editor (and fabulous writer) Peter S. Beagle and essays by Ursual K. Le Guin and David Hartwell provide persuasive defenses of fantasy's place in serious literature (and specifically fantasy that is not of the commodified Tolkien-imitation quest variety), but the real proof comes from the stories themselves. "The Barnum Museum" by Steven Millhauser really spells out why we love fantasy; why we read it and write it and spend a goodly part of our lives in it; the reasons we need it, are sometimes disillusioned or dissatisfied with it while other times feel it to be somehow more important than the “real” world; how fantasy does not just provide Escape from the pains and shocks and disappointments of the world but also permeates that same world with enchantment and reinvests it with importance: Millhauser has compressed all of this into one short story. In fifteen pages, in this travelogue of a fictitious museum, he has expressed virtually all I could ever say about fantasy: every appeal, promotion, celebration, criticism, question, doubt, affirmation, whoop of joy, breath of wonder, gasp of terror, sigh of longing, wail of sorrow, childlike laugh of frivolity, assertion of value, oath of fealty that I might make is encapsulated in this short, simple text and all its echoing depths. Like the ever-changing halls and rooms of the Barnum Museum, it is bigger on the inside and holds all that fantasy does for us and to us, so artfully expressing why our lives would be diminished without it. Somehow he says it all. Other gems include "The Lady of the Skulls" by Patricia A. McKillip, "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" by Stephen King, "Super Goat Man" by Jonathan Lethem, "Sleight of Hand" by Beagle, "Mythago Wood" by Robert Holdstock (which he expanded into a trilogy of books), and the remarkably moving "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss" by Kij Johnson. Neil Gaiman, Jeffrey Ford, Yann Martel, Susana Clarke, Octavia E. Butler, Terry Bisson, and Aimee Bender also are represented by wonderful stories, and there is really not a clunker in the collection. Many of these stories I would like to revisit, and like all good literature, they will reward multiple readings.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Laurence Burke

    This anthology of short stories, edited by Peter S. Beagle (best known as the author of "The Last Unicorn"), includes the introductory essay by Beagle and concluding essays buy Ursula K. Le Guin and David G. Hartwell that address the historical development of genre fiction - and especially the fantasy genre - and that development's role in narrowing the expectations of the average reader about what kind of story gets labeled "fantasy." All three, to varying extents, rail against the publisher-dr This anthology of short stories, edited by Peter S. Beagle (best known as the author of "The Last Unicorn"), includes the introductory essay by Beagle and concluding essays buy Ursula K. Le Guin and David G. Hartwell that address the historical development of genre fiction - and especially the fantasy genre - and that development's role in narrowing the expectations of the average reader about what kind of story gets labeled "fantasy." All three, to varying extents, rail against the publisher-driven approach to sales that has resulted in what they see as a certain "cookie-cutter" sameness to fantasy stories because those are easier for the publishers to sell. Consequently, the stories selected for this anthology are NOT your typical "fantasy" story. These tales do incorporate the fantastic, and most of the authors are well-known for their contributions to the fantasy genre. But these are stories first, using just enough fantastical elements to set the scene or drive the story forward. None of them relies on any of the traditional "shorthand" of fantasy (kingdoms, knights, witches, wizards, enchantments) to do any of the heavy lifting of either narrative or description. These types of stories - fantasy, but not the fantasy you expect - are the "secret" part of the title. As for the "history" of the title, it is fairly recent history. Though one story was originally published in 1977 and there are three from the 1980s, most of the selections have copyrights between 1990 and 2009. This is not a problem except in that, from the title, I was expecting to read more stories from the 1960s if not earlier. Of course, since Beagle, in his introduction, gives 1977 as the date when people began to think of "fantasy" and "literature" in separate categories, it makes sense that the stories in this collection all come after that date. None of these authors, in these stories, allow themselves to lower the bar of quality in their storytelling simply because they are writing fantasy - an assumption the literary world seems to have made since 1977, if not earlier. Clearly, none of these authors consider "fantasy" and "literature" to be separate and incompatible categories.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    I truly enjoyed this collection of fantasy stories that Beagle out together, mostly because it stayed away from the "epic" or "sword and sorcery" sub-genre that seems to dominate the genre as a whole and serves as a stereotype for fantasy geeks. Some of the stories I didn't care for as much, but there weren't any I completely hated, and some of them I loved. The standouts: "The Lady of Skulls" by Patricia McKillip: This story is as close the anthology gets to sword and sorcery. A fa I truly enjoyed this collection of fantasy stories that Beagle out together, mostly because it stayed away from the "epic" or "sword and sorcery" sub-genre that seems to dominate the genre as a whole and serves as a stereotype for fantasy geeks. Some of the stories I didn't care for as much, but there weren't any I completely hated, and some of them I loved. The standouts: "The Lady of Skulls" by Patricia McKillip: This story is as close the anthology gets to sword and sorcery. A fable-like tale of knights who must correctly choose the most valuable item in a tower holding the greatest treasures in the world or die when they leave. Told through the POV of the tower's inhabitant: the Lady of the Skulls. "Snow, Glass, Apples" by Neil Gaiman: A re-telling of Snow White from the POV of the queen/stepmother who might not actually be evil. With elements of vampirism and necrophilia, this rendition would make the Brothers Grimm proud. "The Empire of Ice Cream" by Jeffery Ford: This was my favorite of the collection. It's protagonist is William, a boy with synesthesia, who composes music based on the colors associated with the notes. He discovers he can see a girl named Anna when he eats coffee ice cream and struggles with the strange relationship that develops. Great twist in the end! Besides the stories, Peter S. Beagle and David G. Hartwell supply some essays about the history of the genre which I enjoyed. Ursula LeGuinn also supplied an essay, but hers was a defense of the genre that rambled a bit too much for my taste. Overall a definite read for any fantasy reader, or someone who wants to read something non-realistic for a change.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    This is an impressive collection of fantasy short stories, most of them from the last two decades. I enjoyed most of them unreservedly. There are also two excellent essays at the back about the history of fantasy and its relationship to the literary canon. I didn't like the way that the book was packaged, with the tag line of "fantasy is back" - there has been a continuous tradition of thoughtful, well-written fantasy in the twentieth century; it's just been overlooked and then overshadowed by b This is an impressive collection of fantasy short stories, most of them from the last two decades. I enjoyed most of them unreservedly. There are also two excellent essays at the back about the history of fantasy and its relationship to the literary canon. I didn't like the way that the book was packaged, with the tag line of "fantasy is back" - there has been a continuous tradition of thoughtful, well-written fantasy in the twentieth century; it's just been overlooked and then overshadowed by bad sword & sorcery paperbacks. I'm also wondering when fantasy set in invented worlds will join the quasi-canon of literary fantasy - everyone praises Tolkien and Le Guin, then proceeds to include mostly urban and historical fantasy in their short story collections. Peter Beagle did good at including women writers, less good at representing non-white or non-class-privileged experiences. Favorite stories: probably Stephen King's "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut," Terry Bisson's "Bears Discover Fire" (totally as good as the hype), Jeffrey Ford's "The Empire of Ice Cream," Kij Johnson's "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss." And I'd already read and loved the Susanna Clarke short story.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Monica Davis

    If you'd like to sample a variety of fantasy genre writings, this is the book for you; a collection of short stories by nineteen well-known authors in the fantasy genre. Some hits, some misses...a few incredible gems worthy of 5 stars; but I rated the book four stars based on the sum of all parts. The standouts for me: The Vita Aeterna Mirror Company by Yann Martel (author of Life of Pi) is extraordinary; brilliantly crafted. Sleight of Hand by Peter S. Beagle (author of The Last Unicorn) instills a se If you'd like to sample a variety of fantasy genre writings, this is the book for you; a collection of short stories by nineteen well-known authors in the fantasy genre. Some hits, some misses...a few incredible gems worthy of 5 stars; but I rated the book four stars based on the sum of all parts. The standouts for me: The Vita Aeterna Mirror Company by Yann Martel (author of Life of Pi) is extraordinary; brilliantly crafted. Sleight of Hand by Peter S. Beagle (author of The Last Unicorn) instills a sense of wonder. Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock is the first part of his full novel by the same name. (I will now pick up the complete version to finish the remainder of this well-written and deeply imaginative tale.)

  11. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Every story in this collection had something of value, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading each one. My favorites, for their wit, wonder, and vividness, were: 1. Scarecrow, by Gregory Maguire - how the scarecrow got hooked up with dorothy 2. The Barnum Museum, by Steven Millhauser - where the museum is the protagonist 3. Snow, Glass, Apples, by Neil Gaiman - a dark retelling of Snow White 4. 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss, by Kij Johnson - a magica Every story in this collection had something of value, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading each one. My favorites, for their wit, wonder, and vividness, were: 1. Scarecrow, by Gregory Maguire - how the scarecrow got hooked up with dorothy 2. The Barnum Museum, by Steven Millhauser - where the museum is the protagonist 3. Snow, Glass, Apples, by Neil Gaiman - a dark retelling of Snow White 4. 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss, by Kij Johnson - a magical tale of mysterious wonder and moving on ...and LeGuin's essay, The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists, which is just plain true and inspirational. Enjoy.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Peggy

    Although I understand the frustration of writers tired of being marginalized, it's difficult to talk about without sounding whiny. Ursula LeGuin manages; Beagle, not so much. But none of that takes away from the fact that this is a stellar anthology whose lineup of participating authors should open a few eyes regarding “fantasy literature.” Particular favorites include Steven Millhauser's “The Barnum Museum,” “The Empire of Ice Cream” by Jeffrey Ford, Octavia E. Butler's “The Book of Martha,” an Although I understand the frustration of writers tired of being marginalized, it's difficult to talk about without sounding whiny. Ursula LeGuin manages; Beagle, not so much. But none of that takes away from the fact that this is a stellar anthology whose lineup of participating authors should open a few eyes regarding “fantasy literature.” Particular favorites include Steven Millhauser's “The Barnum Museum,” “The Empire of Ice Cream” by Jeffrey Ford, Octavia E. Butler's “The Book of Martha,” and “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson.

  13. 4 out of 5

    A.E. Marling

    I met Peter Beagle on his illustrious screening tour of the Last Unicorn, and I bought this book on a whim. The quality and variety of stories delighted me. The Lady of Skulls by Patricia A. McKillip told of a woman trapped in a cursed tower. Snow, Glass, Apples is the darkest story I've read by Neil Gaiman and the best. It retells the story of Snow White from the evil stepmother's point of view.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Brenda

    There were some good stories here, and some I just completely skipped over because they weren't interesting to me at all. Overall a pretty good collection of short fantasy stories. (Keep in mind I'm not really a fan of short stories)

  15. 4 out of 5

    E

    I enjoyed this anthology a lot. One story I did not enjoy too much, but many I really appreciated and a couple I deeply enjoyed. Would recommend, and don't skip the essays in the back - they are also pretty great.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    I've been looking for non-formulaic fantasy works semi-systematically for a year or so now, and this seemed like a promising avenue to scout the field. I've enjoyed stuff by Peter Beagle, Neil Gaiman, Octavia Butler, Ursula LeGuin, and Susanna Clarke quite a bit, so I hoped to find some comparable writers in this anthology. Like most short story collections, this one was hit and miss. Nothing had quite the power or originality I was hoping for. A couple of them were executed with a sense of psyc I've been looking for non-formulaic fantasy works semi-systematically for a year or so now, and this seemed like a promising avenue to scout the field. I've enjoyed stuff by Peter Beagle, Neil Gaiman, Octavia Butler, Ursula LeGuin, and Susanna Clarke quite a bit, so I hoped to find some comparable writers in this anthology. Like most short story collections, this one was hit and miss. Nothing had quite the power or originality I was hoping for. A couple of them were executed with a sense of psychology and inner life that most genre fantasy quite lacks (Jeffrey Ford's Empire of Ice Cream especially, but also Lethem's Super Goat Man, Bisson's Bears Discover Fire, and Swanwick's Edge of the World). The stories were nice enough, then, but in the context of the framing concept and essays, they were kind of a letdown. LeGuin's essay is a fantasy fan jerk off, praising us for keeping our inner child alive, holding up our heads while stuffy, misguided academics and professional critics ignore, berate, and deride our beloved classics. This jars a bit with the theme of the rest of the book, especially the very good essay that follows it. David Hartwell reviews the history of the fantasy genre better than I've been able to find online, centerpiecing his publishing industry insider perspective on the rise of formulaic multi-volume Tolkien cash-ins. (Apparently Lester Del Rey literally had a formula for these: "a male central character who triumphed over evil -- usually associated with technical knowledge of some variety -- by innate virtue, with the help of an elder tutor or tutelary spirit.") Hartwell attributes to this publishing insight "a wave of trash writing" - which is exactly the thing that caused professional critics to, not wholly unfairly, turn their backs on the genre as a serious contributor to contemporary literature. In her essay, LeGuin contrasts fantasy with "Realist" fiction, which focuses obsessively on the "inner lives of its characters." Fantasy, in her view, makes the internal workings of a mind literal, exploring some of the same psychologies through a more symbolic or explicitly format. But ironically, the stories Beagle chose for this volume are precisely those fantasy contributions that focus most on the inner lives of their characters. In fact, very few of these stories even approach the cues and tropes that are typically used to define the genre. They are more magical realist, or perhaps "urban fantasy" at best. And unfortunately that makes them feel like Beagle was scraping the bottom of the barrel, grasping at the edges of the genre, to come up with enough material to fill his volume. The editorial selections thus seem at odds with the message of the framing essays, agreeing with the critical establishment that one must avoid the trappings of high fantasy, the medieval setting, the heroism, the warfare, the monsters, even the magic, to write a fantasy story that's worth reading. Nonetheless, Hartwell's essay was worthwhile to me, and I enjoyed the majority of the stories a fair amount. Certainly worth the time, though I'm not sure I'll be seeking out more by any of these authors soon.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rhed Morgan

    This is a very good collection of fantasy short stories. There are authors I've read (Stephen King, Susanna Clarke, Neil Gaiman), authors I've heard of (Ursula Le Guin, Aimee Bender), and authors I've never heard of (Steven Millhauser, Robert Holdstock, Kij Johnson). I have to say, Peter Beagle won me over in his introduction when he told a story about Sword of Shannara. He was asked for a jacket quote, and he was only a few chapters in when he called up the person who'd asked him and This is a very good collection of fantasy short stories. There are authors I've read (Stephen King, Susanna Clarke, Neil Gaiman), authors I've heard of (Ursula Le Guin, Aimee Bender), and authors I've never heard of (Steven Millhauser, Robert Holdstock, Kij Johnson). I have to say, Peter Beagle won me over in his introduction when he told a story about Sword of Shannara. He was asked for a jacket quote, and he was only a few chapters in when he called up the person who'd asked him and told her, basically, that the book was shit. In his words, "not only a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings, but a tenth-rate rip-off at that." I practically cheered. I hated that book, and I edited that book until I realized that I couldn't go through the whole book with a red pen. And that's why I've never read the Shannara books. I've felt something like an oddball because so many people love those books and I'm sitting here thinking, "It was shitty." At least now I know I'm not the only one to think so. ^^ One of the stories that sticks in my mind was Aimee Benders, called "Fruit and Words." A woman is leaving Las Vegas after an aborted attempt to get married, and she has an incredible craving for a mango. She happens across a fruit stand in the middle of the desert called Fruit and Words. She goes in, finds incredible mangoes, and finds out what the words part of the store name means. The woman who owns the store makes words out of objects. For example, she made the word NUT from nuts; PILLOW was made from pillows. The story takes a creepy turn when the main character agrees to look at the liquid and gas words. Another one, by Terry Bisson, is called "Bears Discover Fire." And it's pretty much as it sounds. Bears discover fire and they start gathering in the medians of freeways to sit around the fire. People react differently to this discovery. Stephen King's story was about weak places in reality where our reality fuses with another reality. Neil Gaiman told the Snow White story from the queen's perspective--and made Snow White a vampire-like creature. Jeffrey Ford wrote about synesthesia and how someone with synesthesia sees the world. Ursula La Guin contributes an essay about fantasy called "The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists." She explains how people, when they overlook entire genres, miss out on good stuff. For example, so many people thought Harry Potter was unique--boy goes to school and learns magic. However (and this is something I learned from the essay), there's a subgenre of British fiction that's "school fiction." David G. Hartwell wrote the essay "The Making of the American Fantasy Genre," which I haven't finished yet, but so far he's talking about how fantasy started out as children's fiction and how a lot of good fantasy gets scooped into science fiction or children's lit. A very very good book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rita Varian

    This is a strong batch. It's hard for me to pick a few favorites to describe; that would take brains & subtlety and I've just got anger so I'm going to bounce off Ursula LeGuin's critical essay near the end. It was first published in 2007. Now I don't know when term "Magical Realism" came into play, but you may have heard me mention how much I hate it (just the category; I tend to like the books that are assigned to it). So in "The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists", LeGui This is a strong batch. It's hard for me to pick a few favorites to describe; that would take brains & subtlety and I've just got anger so I'm going to bounce off Ursula LeGuin's critical essay near the end. It was first published in 2007. Now I don't know when term "Magical Realism" came into play, but you may have heard me mention how much I hate it (just the category; I tend to like the books that are assigned to it). So in "The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists", LeGuin is arguing against the literary world's dismissal of the genres in favor of realistic fiction, and the dismissal of fantasy as being especially childish (even some science fiction types crap on fantasy for being "less realistic"). Here are a couple of quotes: "What fantasy often does that the realistic novel generally cannot do is include the non-human as essential." "In reinventing the world of intense, unreproducible, local knowledge seemingly by a denial or evasion of current reality, fantasists are perhaps trying assert and explore a larger reality than we now allow ourselves. They are trying to restore the sense - to regain the knowledge - that there is somewhere else, anywhere else, where other people may live another kind of life." I don't know what Ursula LeGuin thinks of the term "Magical Realism", but I can only see it as insulting. We already have "Urban Fantasy" if you're not looking for a pre-industrial setting. We have "Sword & Sorcery" if you're looking for he-man type action, and a few terms that imply an alternative. Want something more literary and character focused, less Game of Thrones, why not call it "Humanist Fantasy" or something along those lines? "Magical Realism" says to me, "There's magic, but I promise you're not just wasting your time with escapist nonsense". Here's one more: "The literature of imagination, even when tragic, is reassuring, not necessarily in the sense of offering nostalgic comfort, but because it offers a world large enough to contain alternatives and therefore offers hope". So here's to "Magical Realism", two words that do their best to crush my hope before I even open the f___ing book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    Favorite stories from this collection: Ancestor Money by Maureen F. McHugh What happens when you die? How do your descendants remember you? What if? This story is fun, slightly irreverent, and thought provoking. Lots of buildup, quick descent, sticks with you. Lady of the Skulls by Patricia McKillip What is love? What is treasure? What is worth it? This story is almost saccharine and a bit preachy, but a cute attempt to create something unexpected. The Barnum Favorite stories from this collection: Ancestor Money by Maureen F. McHugh What happens when you die? How do your descendants remember you? What if? This story is fun, slightly irreverent, and thought provoking. Lots of buildup, quick descent, sticks with you. Lady of the Skulls by Patricia McKillip What is love? What is treasure? What is worth it? This story is almost saccharine and a bit preachy, but a cute attempt to create something unexpected. The Barnum Museum by Steven Millhauser A great demonstration of a setting as the main driver of a story. Mrs. Todd's Shortcut by Stephen King The author proves his skill as a storyteller, this is a wonderful modern fairy tale. Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman Another master storyteller, turning a familiar fairy tale upside down. The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford What if the voices in our heads are actually the real ones? John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner by Susanna Clarke I need to go back and re-read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. This clever little story reminds me of the wonderful humor in that book. It's a charming look at power vs. confidence. The Vita Aeterna Mirror Company by Yann Martel The setting of the text is irritating and there's a preachy moral about not writing off our elders disguised in the story, but I was fascinated by the concept, which felt quite original to me. Sleight of Hand by Peter S. Beagle Heart-wrenching as short stories can be, left me wanting more stories about this wonderful magician character. 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss by Kij Johnson This is the second short story by Kij Johnson that I have enjoyed, the first being "The Man Who Bridge The Mist", which enchanted me with the setting and emotion, even though the story was vaguely predictable. "26 Monkeys..." is cute and fulfilling.

  20. 5 out of 5

    **✿❀ Maki ❀✿**

    I've absolutely got to save a link to Ursula Le Guin's essay from this book. I don't want to lose the words when I've got to grudgingly return this book to the library. I'd originally grabbed this for the short stories by Patricia McKillip, Susanna Clarke, and Neil Gaiman, only to realize - slightly disappointed - that I'd already read those particular short stories. ( I've absolutely got to save a link to Ursula Le Guin's essay from this book. I don't want to lose the words when I've got to grudgingly return this book to the library. I'd originally grabbed this for the short stories by Patricia McKillip, Susanna Clarke, and Neil Gaiman, only to realize - slightly disappointed - that I'd already read those particular short stories. (Lady of the Skulls, "John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner", and Snow, Glass, Apples respectively.) But, I don't mind rereading those. Their authors are on my list of favorites for a reason. There was a story by Gregory Maguire that I hadn't read yet, "Scarecrow", which was a lovely, more traditional look at the land of Oz. I'm hunting down books by Steven Millhauser and Robert Holdstock, thanks to their stories - "The Barnum Museum" (which hits that same sweet spot for me that The Night Circus did) and "Mythago Wood" (which has wonderful imagery of primeval forests).

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alice

    It's always tricky, rating anthologies. The stories always vary wildly in enjoyment level, tone, reread value, writing style, and a number of other factors. If I enjoyed one story on a five-star level, and another one on a two-star, do I average them out? Do I go with how I felt about most of the stories? In the end, I'm trying to look at this as a whole, and I have to admit, Ursula LeGuin's essay at the end about how to look at fantasy and its role versus "literary" writing, goes a l It's always tricky, rating anthologies. The stories always vary wildly in enjoyment level, tone, reread value, writing style, and a number of other factors. If I enjoyed one story on a five-star level, and another one on a two-star, do I average them out? Do I go with how I felt about most of the stories? In the end, I'm trying to look at this as a whole, and I have to admit, Ursula LeGuin's essay at the end about how to look at fantasy and its role versus "literary" writing, goes a long way to tying it all together. It hadn't felt like there was a theme to all of the stories as I'd been going along, but the essay makes one appear, and creates a satisfying conclusion to what otherwise would have me shrug and forget half the stories. There are some outstanding stories in this. There are some disturbing ones that will stay with me for a while, yet. There are some lackluster ones, that took too many pages for nothing to happen. But, overall, it was worth the read, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for fantasy authors to read. This book will give you a good idea of whose voice you want to continue reading. I, for one, will definitely pick up something by Kij Johnson, whose story was bizarre and sweet, and Octavia Butler's works are going higher up on my reading list.

  22. 4 out of 5

    malrubius

    Pretty good stuff. I wanted to give this four stars except most of the best stories I had already read elsewhere, which means, I think, that it's not very "secret," at least not to me. Anyhow, some standout stories: I haven't read much Steven King but his "Mrs Todd's Shortcut" (which I hadn't read before even though it was apparently written in 1984) was probably my favorite of the bunch. I have master's in literature, so I'm not supposed to read Steven King (sarc), but he sure knows how to crea Pretty good stuff. I wanted to give this four stars except most of the best stories I had already read elsewhere, which means, I think, that it's not very "secret," at least not to me. Anyhow, some standout stories: I haven't read much Steven King but his "Mrs Todd's Shortcut" (which I hadn't read before even though it was apparently written in 1984) was probably my favorite of the bunch. I have master's in literature, so I'm not supposed to read Steven King (sarc), but he sure knows how to create characters, develop a sense of wonder, and pump up the intensity. My other favorites were "The Empire of Ice Cream" by Jeffrey Ford, "Bears Discover Fire" by Terry Bisson, and "Mythago Wood" by Robert Holdstock, all of which I had read before, "Mythago" in novel form. Another standout is "Super Goat Man" by Jonathan Lethem. The writing is excellent, even though I found the ending very disappointing. The only real clunkers (for me) were Octavia Butler's preachy, religious, trite, "The Book of Martha" and Yann Martel's unreadable, post-modern wannabe "The Vita Aeturna Mirror Company." Overall, look at the table of contents; if you haven't read most of the stories, then this is worth reading. Also, the excellent introduction by Beagle, which offers a scathing disparagement of Tolkien copycat fantasy, is very interesting and appropriate.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Etola

    A very solid anthology of fantasy stories. A couple of them were familiar to me from other anthologies or fantasy fiction magazines, and it was nice to have an opportunity to reread them. My favorites in the collection were Peter S. Beagle's poignant "Sleight of Hand," Steven King's technically clunky but psychologically effective "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut," and Susanna Clark's hilarious folk tale-style "John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner." I'm not sure how 'secret' this side A very solid anthology of fantasy stories. A couple of them were familiar to me from other anthologies or fantasy fiction magazines, and it was nice to have an opportunity to reread them. My favorites in the collection were Peter S. Beagle's poignant "Sleight of Hand," Steven King's technically clunky but psychologically effective "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut," and Susanna Clark's hilarious folk tale-style "John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner." I'm not sure how 'secret' this side of fantasy is, because in my experience, fantastic short fiction has always been varied and experimental (or at least, as long as I have been reading it since the mid-90s or so), so the unusual stories in this book probably won't surprise any long-time readers of fantastic short fiction. It might definitely surprise genre newbies, or those only familiar with sword-and-sorcery fantasy novels. Still, it's a good solid collection, which includes three great essays that shed light on the history of the genre.

  24. 4 out of 5

    John Orman

    Supposedly the "secret" is that fantasy is back, better than ever. Upon viewing the recent phenomena of books and movies about Star Wars, Superman, Batman, Avengers, Lord of the Rings, Hobbit, and Harry Potter, I would agree! This engaging compilation of cutting-edge, non-traditional fantasy includes works by Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Octavia Butler, but also many other lesser-known but very talented authors. Besides the stories, I really enjoyed the recent essays by Da Supposedly the "secret" is that fantasy is back, better than ever. Upon viewing the recent phenomena of books and movies about Star Wars, Superman, Batman, Avengers, Lord of the Rings, Hobbit, and Harry Potter, I would agree! This engaging compilation of cutting-edge, non-traditional fantasy includes works by Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Octavia Butler, but also many other lesser-known but very talented authors. Besides the stories, I really enjoyed the recent essays by David Hartwell, "The Making of the American Fantasy Genre," and Ursula Le Guin, "The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists." Le Guin concludes her essay with this insightful remark: "The literature of fantasy, even when tragic, is reassuring, not necessarily in the sense of offering nostalgic comfort, but because it offers a world large enough to contain alternatives and therefore offers hope. ... Imagination ... that's where the roadmap is. Exact, intricate, inexplicable, and indispensable."

  25. 4 out of 5

    Feda

    I found the stories contained in this book to be hit or miss, ranging from great down to having to skip a story part-way through out of boredom. I got stuck early on and struggled to continue reading but I am glad that I eventually did so, because the later stories get better. It was not the type of a book that you can’t put down and you just have to keep reading no matter how late it gets. I found that I needed a break after reading some of the stories but some of the ones I liked definitely ma I found the stories contained in this book to be hit or miss, ranging from great down to having to skip a story part-way through out of boredom. I got stuck early on and struggled to continue reading but I am glad that I eventually did so, because the later stories get better. It was not the type of a book that you can’t put down and you just have to keep reading no matter how late it gets. I found that I needed a break after reading some of the stories but some of the ones I liked definitely made it worth it. My favorite story, hands down, was “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson. A story that I found beautifully strange and original. Other memorable stories were: • Scarecrow • John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner • The Empire of Ice Cream • Bears Discover Fire I didn’t care much for “We are Norsemen”, and I just had to skip “The Barnum Museum” after reading some of it. I received this book from a Goodreads giveaway.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I really enjoyed this collection of fantastical short stories. One that really stood out to me was "The Empire of Ice Cream" by Jeffrey Ford. Without giving away too much of the plot (which would ruin it), this was such an imaginative and creative idea for a story. The writing was somewhat difficult to get used to - those always turn out to be my favorite - yet it drew you in as you kept reading. I did have to skip some of "The Barnum Museum", as I found it disjointed and didn't really understan I really enjoyed this collection of fantastical short stories. One that really stood out to me was "The Empire of Ice Cream" by Jeffrey Ford. Without giving away too much of the plot (which would ruin it), this was such an imaginative and creative idea for a story. The writing was somewhat difficult to get used to - those always turn out to be my favorite - yet it drew you in as you kept reading. I did have to skip some of "The Barnum Museum", as I found it disjointed and didn't really understand it. The rest of the stories were pretty good, for the Susanna Clarke one it kind of helps if you've read her Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell book - it adds an extra layer to the story. The collection as a whole is imaginative, and I found myself contemplating the stories days after I read it. I recommend it to fans of fantasy.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Magdelanye

    Well selected,for the most part excellently written,short stories by a variety of authors,both well known and obscure. I especially enjoyed The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford, who observes 'that everyone, at a point somewhere below consciousness,experiences the coinciding of sensory association,yet in most cases it is filtered out and only a single sense is given predominence in one's waking world...'only "one of the 5 portals through which reality invades us" p151

  28. 4 out of 5

    laurenpie

    Wonderful fantasy purist's anthology - No magic, melodrama or SciFi, simply realism Loved it!! Quite refreshing for a change!! Especially loved the sweet and wonder-inspiring "MRS. TODD'S SHORTCUT" by Stephen King, and the incredibly clever "SNOW, GLASS, APPLES" by Neil Gaiman. Also sweet and wonderful were "BEARS DISCOVER FIRE" by Terry Bisson, "THE VITA AETERNA MIRROR COMPANY" by Yann Martel, and "THE BARNUM MUSEUM" by Steven Millhauser. T. C. Boyle was very entertaining Wonderful fantasy purist's anthology - No magic, melodrama or SciFi, simply realism Loved it!! Quite refreshing for a change!! Especially loved the sweet and wonder-inspiring "MRS. TODD'S SHORTCUT" by Stephen King, and the incredibly clever "SNOW, GLASS, APPLES" by Neil Gaiman. Also sweet and wonderful were "BEARS DISCOVER FIRE" by Terry Bisson, "THE VITA AETERNA MIRROR COMPANY" by Yann Martel, and "THE BARNUM MUSEUM" by Steven Millhauser. T. C. Boyle was very entertaining with his combination of self-satire and finesse in "WE ARE NORSEMEN." Includes a few very interesting essays on the genre, particularly Peter S Beagle's. There are only a few darker fantasy offerings (not my cup of tea). Overall a wonderful read.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Paper Droids

    Edited by Peter S. Beagle, with short stories by some of your favourite fantasy authors! The Secret History of Fantasy is an anthology of short stories by some of the best fantasy writers in the business, including Stephen King, Gregory Maguire, Yann Martel, Ursula K. Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, and Beagle himself. In his introduction, Beagle presents this anthology as a light in the dark, dull void that the fantasy genre has become. He references Tolkien and The Lord of the Ring Edited by Peter S. Beagle, with short stories by some of your favourite fantasy authors! The Secret History of Fantasy is an anthology of short stories by some of the best fantasy writers in the business, including Stephen King, Gregory Maguire, Yann Martel, Ursula K. Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, and Beagle himself. In his introduction, Beagle presents this anthology as a light in the dark, dull void that the fantasy genre has become. He references Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings numerous times, commenting “Despite the decades-long deluge of imitations of his work that I’m always grateful Tolkien didn’t live to see, there are still representatives of an older, eclectic fantasy tradition to be found within reach”. Complete Review: http://www.paperdroids.com/2012/10/06...

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kinsey_m

    It is always difficult to rate an anthology, and even more so in this case, as it contains excellent stories (the edge of the world, the empire of ice cream, ), interesting stories (26 monkeys also the abyss, the mythago wood, bears discover fire, super goat man), several average-unmemorable ones (even from authors who have written muuuuuuuuuuch better short stories) and even, in the case of Octavia Butler, a short story that I had to force myself to finish because it was grating on my nerves(I It is always difficult to rate an anthology, and even more so in this case, as it contains excellent stories (the edge of the world, the empire of ice cream, ), interesting stories (26 monkeys also the abyss, the mythago wood, bears discover fire, super goat man), several average-unmemorable ones (even from authors who have written muuuuuuuuuuch better short stories) and even, in the case of Octavia Butler, a short story that I had to force myself to finish because it was grating on my nerves(I mean, how pretentious can you get?). Although I'm grateful for having discovered some interesting authors through this anthology, I don't consider it to be the ultimate fantasy anthology that it tries to be.

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