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16 September 2011

TAILS OF WONDER AND IMAGINATION edited by Ellen Datlow.
Trade paperback, Night Shade Books, 2010. A reprint anthology of 40 stories about felines. 464 pages.
Reviewed by Lyn McConchie.

To put this review in perspective. I grade theme anthologies in two ways. There are the stories, how many of them that, for that single story alone, I count my money well spent? Most theme anthologies will have 2-4 stories of that quality in a total of 15-20 stories. And the other way is where, while no single story quite reaches that level, all are good enough and blend into such a harmoniously chosen whole, that I still feel my money was well spent.
Tails falls into category one very solidly. Of the forty tales, I noted fifteen for which each alone would have sold me the book. That puts it into the excellently edited quality too. Editing an anthology is an art not a science. The very best anthologies are those that have a large number of wonderful tales, but which also have a sort of internal flow that leads you from tale to tale unable to put the book down. Such perfection is vanishingly rare, and I can think of only a handful of anthologies purchased over my 55 years of reading that would fall into that list – the S&S of MZB’s, most of Andre’s, and one or two from back in the 1950-60s.
“Tails” doesn’t quite make that level. I found that the stories didn’t seem to be more than 40 very good works on a theme. But I can say that I found no story that was not very well written, no story that did not have an interesting plot and intriguing characters. There were stories that I didn’t like, but that was personal preference rather than any lack in the writer and other readers will probably prefer different works.
The list of writers is a fine one, ranging from the very well-known, like Charles de Lint, Carole Nelson Douglas, Lucy Sussex, Peter S. Beagle, Nancy Springer and Neil Gaiman et al, to the lesser known who have still produced great stories. The lengths of the works too are well varied, making it easy to find something to read quickly, or a longer read when you have the time.
Of the stories that seized me by the throat as I read, I would mention A. R. Morlan’s “No Heaven Will Not Ever Heaven Be,” and Dennis Danvers’ “Healing Benjamin.” Both stories brought me to tears – yes, I’m a sentimentalist – from the sheer poignancy of the writing.
There are a number of horror or dark fantasy tales in the anthology. Some are really horrific like Graham Joyce’s “Candida”. The story of a man who finds himself in Candida, where he must stay, losing time in patches and wandering the streets drunken and unfed until he can strike a deal that will allow him to leave. Nancy Etchemendy’s “Cat in Glass’, an unpleasant psychological story of mental delusion and torment. And George R.R. Martin’s story “Guardians” where humans on a planet they have settled are informed by an outsider that they have been murdering sentient beings. That was one of the “Tuf” stories and while it is distressing, I like that series and found it a fine read.
The stories have come from such a wide range of sources that it is unlikely any reader will have seen more than a few of them before. (I’d previously read three.) The price of this anthology too – perhaps because it is an anthology of reprints – is surprisingly low. The trade paperback I received from a friend is listed as $15.95US, and to those reading this review I can say that it’s honestly worth the money.

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