Myth and Magic: Queer Fairy Tales, edited by Radclyffe

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Editor’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – December 16, 2014

Summary: Myth, magic, and monsters—the stuff of childhood dreams (or nightmares) and adult fantasies.

Delve into these classic fairy tales retold with a queer twist and surrender to the world of seductive spells and dark temptations.

Thoughts: I’m not sure whether to call this my usual kind of reading fare or not. On one hand, it’s got a heavy romantic slant, sometimes outright porny, which usually isn’t what I’m looking for in a book and indeed tend to stay away from. On other other hand, it does mix two other elements that I’m very interested in: fairy tale retellings, and a non-heteronormative focus. I figured if nothing else, it was worth giving it a read, so I could broaden my horizons and see more characters who weren’t always straight-by-default.

I wasn’t disappointed. Some of the stories in here were damn good, and I wished a few times that romance was more to my taste because there are a few authors whose writing style and skill with words make me want to see more of what they can do. And it was great to see gay characters get some time in the spotlight, because, as I’ve become so aware of relative recently, this isn’t something that happens spectacularly often. So when it does happen, especially when it intersects with another of my interests, I want to show support and spread the word.

And there are some amazing stories to be found in Myth and Magic, too. A Hero in Hot Pink Boots didn’t go the way I expected, but it was still a good story and an interesting take on Alice in Wonderland in a modern setting. With street brawls and confidence boosters. Bad Girls riffed on the Disney versions of a couple of fairy tales, the sanitized versions most of us know from our childhoods, and made me chuckle a few times at the references. Goldie and the Three Bears was a retelling of, well, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, only with a noir feel and the setting of grimy streets and a pick-up bar.

But my favourite story of all was The Snow King, a retelling of The Snow Queen with a gay male couple instead of siblings, and while there was some dubious consent going on there, it was still a beautifully-written story that I could read a few times in a row and not get tired of.

Most of the stories had a fantasy setting, befitting the original versions of the stories they were retelling, but others were more modern. Some, like Riding Red, seemed to blend the two in strange ways, and I wasn’t quite sure of the setting even though the story itself was otherwise clear. I was surprised that I enjoyed the ones with modern settings as much as I did, given my preference for fantasy. I think that’s a testament to the authors and their skill, really, since any author that can make you enjoy stepping outside of your comfort zone clearly has some talent to speak of.

I’m sure some people are surprised to see me rate this collection so highly, given my general dislike for heavy romantic themes. Honestly, if I brought that into play, this book probably would have only been 3 stars. It may have featured some good stories, but in general, they’re not stories that are typically to my taste. But for me to rate the book down because of that would be akin to me buying something from a bakery and then demanding my money back because I’ve never liked bread. I’m not going to fault the book for being something I know isn’t my cup of tea. I knew that when I started reading it. So in trying to be objective, I’m also trying to ignore that part of myself and focus on the quality of the stories, and the stories that were told, rather than the genre they’re told in.

Though while some stories were good, some were less so, and it often came down to characters doing things that made no sense. In Heartless, a character rescues her girlfriend from the Snow Queen and randomly knows that stabbing the Snow Queen with a rose will not only destroy her power but give her the heart she’s lacking. It seemed utterly random and nonsensical, one of those quick ways of ending a story when you have no idea how it’s actually supposed to end. Some stories, such as my favourite The Snow King, featured dubious consent along the lines of, “No, really, you should sleep with me because it’s for the greater good and will save your partner.” Or things that seem right out of a porno, like two people meeting and immediately falling into bed because… a magic harp’s song was making them horny, I think, thought that really wasn’t explained very well in the text, and I’m reading between the lines to even get that far with an explanation.

What you get out of this really depends on what you go in expecting. If you’re looking for some quick stories with gay protagonists and some hot porn-in-prose, then absolutely, this is a book worth checking out. If you’re looking for darker fairy tale retellings, or something with a greater emphasis on story rather than love and sex, then you won’t really find that in Myth and Magic. I prefer the latter to the former, but again, I knew that wasn’t what I was going to get right from the outset, and I’m rating this on what it was rather than what I knew it wasn’t. It’s not a book for everyone. But I suspect those who enjoy romance and a little hot action in their stories will find this collection quite enjoyable.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Black Swan, White Raven, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

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Datlow’s website | Windling’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – September 30, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Once again, World Fantasy Award–winning editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling prove that fairy tales don’t have to be for little children and that happily ever after doesn’t necessarily mean forever. Black Swan, White Raven is Datlow and Windling’s fourth collection of once-familiar and much-beloved bedtime stories reimagined by some of the finest fantasists currently plying their literary trade—acclaimed writers like Jane Yolen, John Crowley, Michael Cadnum, and Joyce Carol Oates, who give new lives and new meanings to the plights of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rapunzel, and more.

Hansel and Gretel make several appearances here, not the least being at their trial for the murder of a supposedly helpless old woman. The shocking real reason for Snow White’s desperate flight from her home is revealed in “The True Story,” and the steadfast tin soldier, made flesh and blood, pays a terrible price for his love and devotion.

The twenty-one stories and poems in this collection run the gamut from triumphant to troubling to utterly outrageous, like Don Webb’s brilliant merging of numerous tales into one wild, hallucinogenic trip in his “Three Dwarves and 2000 Maniacs.” All in all, the reimagined fairy tales and fables in Datlow and Windling’s literary offering mine the fantastical yarns we loved as children for new and darker gold.

Thoughts: Fairy tales are interesting, both in their original form and the more sanitized happy versions we tend to grow up with today, and the differences between them. They resonate with so many people, no matter which form they’re in. From cautionary tales to hopeful visions of one’s future, there’s a place for fairy tales in our lives.

Which is why this collection is such a great one. It’s the sort of thing that can appeal to so many, not just fans of genre fiction. Though that is their primary appeal, since the overwhelming majority of the stories feature a sci-fi or fantasy bent, some read more like historical fiction or contemporary fiction, so there’s a range in here that’s fitting with the range of authors.

As with just about any anthology I read, though, some stories and some presentations hit harder with me than others. Particular favourites in this collection were Michael Blumlein’s Snow in Dirt (a sci-fi story involving a man who finds a strange comatose woman buried in his yard, then proceeds to revive and live with her), Esther M Friesner’s No Bigger Than My Thumb (a very twisted story of revenge), Gary Kilworth’s The Trial of Hansel and Gretel (exactly what it sounds like, portrayed as a medieval courtroom drama), Anne Bishop’s Rapunzel (a take on the classic story in which adversity builds character and everybody is more deeply flawed than you expect), Midori Snyder’s The Reverend’s Wife (a hilarious tale of ignorance and infidelity)… Okay, I’m starting to realise that there are more favourites in this collection that I first thought. Maybe it would be easier to say that there were really only 2 stories that I didn’t enjoy as much as the others rather than list all the ones I did like. And the ones that I didn’t find so appealing weren’t indicative of the quality of the story or the writing so much as they were just stories that didn’t really click with me. This happens a lot when I read anthologies with a mix of authors; inevitably there’s something that doesn’t appeal as much as the rest. Can’t win ’em all.

I understand that this isn’t the first collection in the series, and that there are plenty of other dark retellings of fairy tales edited by Datlow and Windling that I can look for now, and believe me, if this collection is indicative of the others, I’m going to have a damn good time reading through them. If you’re looking for a trip into a disturbing twist on the stories you grew up with (assuming you didn’t grow up with the Grimm versions, that is; they’re disturbing enough on their own), then I highly recommend Black Swan, White Raven. You’ve got a star collection of authors contributing here, and it really shows in the fantastic diversity of content and style. This is one to stay on my bookshelves for years to come!

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Alice in Tumblr-Land, by Tim Manley

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Author’s website
Publication date – November 5, 2013

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) The Ugly Duckling still feels gross compared to everyone else, but now she’s got Instagram, and there’s this one filter that makes her look awesome. Cinderella swaps her glass slippers for Crocs. The Tortoise and the Hare Facebook stalk each other. Goldilocks goes gluten free. And Peter Pan finally has to grow up and get a job, or at least start paying rent.
 
Here are more than one hundred fairy tales, illustrated and re-imagined for today. Instead of fairy godmothers, there’s Siri. And rather than big bad wolves, there are creepy dudes on OkCupid. In our brave new world of social networking, YouTube, and texting, fairy tales can once again lead us to “happily ever after”—and have us laughing all the way.

Thoughts: Fairy tales for the modern generation, the Millennials who go nuts with social networking, get embroiled in discussions of gender politics, and who understand that angst over whether someone really likes the thing they Like on Facebook is a thing. Welcome to Alice in Tumblr-Land.

The book features some modern retellings of fairy tales, and I’m not sure if it the fact that all the fairy tale characters (and the associated illustrations) were drawn from Disney’s adaptations of fairy tales was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek attempt at humour or an honest misunderstanding that, for example, the little mermaid wasn’t actually named Ariel in the original story, and that Mulan isn’t technically a fairy tale as we think of them.

The stories are told in short quick bursts, an appeal to the sound-bite generation, constantly jumping from story to story like someone changing TV channels. Break off one story, jump to another, rinse and repeat. This allowed for more of the humour to come through and kept everything quick and punchy, but it meant that the reader is holding over a dozen simultaneous plots in their mind all at once, and can’t just follow one particular story without having the others in the way.

This is a book to chuckle at, to read quickly and then put aside knowing that it enriched your life for the time you were reading it but that was all. Possibly another commentary on the Millennial generation; everything must be sleek and quick and gone almost as soon as it arrived. You roll your eyes at Peter Pan’s Internet addiction, you laugh at Pinocchio’s promises (the Pinocchio stories are usually a single sentence telling a classic lie, and that’s all there needs to be), you nod your head at Mulan’s gender transition and Robin Hood’s social activism, you root for Arthur’s crush on Lancelot, and you wince at the painfully accurate political commentary of the Three Little Pigs. For those who don’t know any world but this one, for those who live in this moment and no other, these are the fairy tales for the new generation, the messages the same as they ever were even in the stories’ new forms. The audience appeal may be pretty limited and the entertainment may be transient, but it’s a quick read and worth the chuckles it gives.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)