Sunday, December 23, 2007

Bad-Ass Faeries (review by Tom Powers)

This week's review comes from my good friend (and the coauthor of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy: The Discerning Fan's Guide to Doctor Who), Tom Powers.

If we were to randomly approach a person on the street, say a construction worker or a no-frills politician, and ask that individual what characteristics a faerie possesses, the words “magical,” “innocent,” “childish,” and “silly” would probably come to mind. However, if this same person were then handed a copy of Bad-Ass Faeries (Marietta Publishing, 2007) to peruse, a subtle perceptional shift may occur. Immediately bearing in mind its unconventional title, this potential reader may now suppose the anthology will present faeries whose primary function is to shock and turn traditional assumptions about fantasy fiction upon their pointed ears. This supposition, of course, will be additionally shaped by the anthology’s Amy Brown cover that depicts two sexy, deadly-weapon-wielding faeries standing rather dominantly over a genuflecting faerie boy, signaling to us that bad-ass faeries are indeed a post-feminist, cross-genre approach to fantasy storytelling.

Split into five sections – “Warrior Faeries,” “Outlaw Faeries,” “Wild Faeries, “Street Faeries,” and “Faerie Noir” – Bad-Ass Faeries more or less attempts to address as many cross-genre permutations as possible in its two-hundred entertaining pages. Just imagine tough-as-nails biker faeries with hearts of gold; tongue-in-cheek, cybernetic faerie assassins; and hard-boiled faerie detectives, and you can begin to picture the ilk of faerie the various authors are delineating. If you’ve also ever imagined what it would be like to read about how faeries precisely make love or war or wanted to see them in an Old West, samurai-era Japan or ghetto setting, then this anthology will satisfy that curiosity.

If you’re afraid, more importantly, that the authors will still somehow manage to take their subject matter too seriously, look no further than author Den C. Wilson’s “Heart of Vengeance,” which presents a cynical reader surrogate in the form of Alan Wright, a professor of folklore who is about to discover that the fantasy realm is closer to reality than he has ever expected. Wright, complaining to his agent for booking him at a SF/Fantasy convention instead of one of the more “respectable” academic conferences at which he normally appears, sarcastically remarks that the convention’s organizers had him “leading a discussion on sightings of faerie people with a three hundred pound woman who writes pornographic stories about elves.” With such a joyfully self-deprecating tone, Bad-Ass Faeries thus immediately posits itself as a book that works on more than one level. So, whether you’re an obese fantasy enthusiast who’s cool enough to be lampooned or a cynic who despises flighty faeries and overweight fantasy fans but is willing to give the genre a second chance, then this anthology, once again, is the right read for you.

Being an eclectic mixture of storytelling styles and genres, Bad-Ass Faeries, nevertheless, can function as a double-edged sword, in that, depending on your individual taste, stories may satisfy or disappoint. Moreover, you may occasionally wish some stories were longer so that you could delve deeper into a certain author’s spin on a fantasy world. On the other hand, that feeling of slight frustration may just be symptomatic of fantasy writing – whose aim is to introduce readers to magical characters and worlds that gradually become even more real than the paper on which their stories are inscribed.

A satisfying anthology overall, Bad-Ass Faeries is bound to charm and amuse you with at least one of its creatively mischievous tales.

Review by Tom Powers

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Georgia Under Water

If I ever think that it might be fun to be a teenager again, Georgia Underwater by Heather Sellers will cure me of that misapprehension immediately. Granted, Georgia Jackson, the young protagonist of the majority of stories in this lovingly conceived and sensitively executed collection, has a few more issues to deal with than does the average American teenager, but her struggles with family, identity and burgeoning sexuality bear witness to the insecurities that most teens face regardless of background. And, come to think of it, to the insecurities that many adults experience as well. We want to believe that our world makes sense. We want to believe that everything will (somehow, magically, despite all evidence to the contrary) work out in the end. We want to trust in the people and institutions that hold sway over our lives, but sometimes we need to realize that we can't. Throughout Georgia Underwater, the protagonist's journey takes her one cautious step at a time toward this realization.

One of the most frustrating elements of Georgia Jackson's life is her relationship with her parents. Her father is an alcoholic, and her mother suffers from crippling bouts of paranoia. Lacking guidance of any kind, Georgia must learn to navigate the dangerous waters of adolescence on her own, and she does so with the kind of awkward grace and aplomb that only a young girl growing up in Florida can muster. She dreams about boys. She wonders what sex must be like. She wishes her parents would behave like normal adults. She wonders about sex some more. Through it all, she endears herself to the reader -- to the point where it's hard for those among us who are blessed with stable families and relatively "normal" lives to feel anything but pity for the girl. She wants so badly to belong somewhere, to fit in, to be loved (by her parents, by her brother, by boys, by anyone), to be something other than invisible, that one is hard pressed to ignore her.

Part Running with Scissors, part Catcher in the Rye, and completely engrossing, this collection of stories will charm even the most cynical reader. Set against a backdrop of highways and housing developments in the shadow of Disney World, Georgia Underwater speaks to the heart and paints the life of a lonely young girl in the vivid, glowing pink and purple detail of an Orlando sunset.

For more information on Heather Sellers and to order a copy of Georgia Underwater, visit

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Best of Philadelphia Stories

Since its debut in 2004, Philadelphia Stories magazine has been presenting the literary and artistic work of writers from (of all places!) the Philadelphia area, and this collection brings together the best of the works that appeared in the magazine in its first two years. The best comparison I can make to this collection is the 2006 film Paris Je T'Aime, which I loved. If you saw Paris Je T'Aime, you know that it's composed of a series of short films set in and around Paris; in much the same way, this collection has a distinct Philadelphia vibe and might just as easily be called Philly Je T'Aime. In fact, The Best of Philadelphia Stories reads very much like a series of love-letters to Philadelphia, told from many perspectives and through many voices.

There are many excellent works in this collection, and picking my favorite is no easy task. If pressed, I'd lean toward works like Randall Brown's "Flies: Wet, Dry and In-Between" in which a fly-fishing enthusiast must learn to bend the rules in order to escape the ties that bind. Or the oddly surreal "Field Trip" by Greg Downs in which the narrator realizes, among other things, that he's not wearing any clothing. Or Julie Odell's "Blast," a tense, darkly humorous tale of one woman's efforts at leaving the man she kind-of loves as the building in which they live teeters on the edge of destruction. Or "The Prettiest Lie," an essay by Curtis Smith (author of The Species Crown, see below) that attempts to reconcile the infinite potential of childhood with the grim realities of life in the real world.

But to pick one story or even a handful of stories from this collection is unfair; they're all wonderful, and they all speak highly of the emerging voices of the Philadelphia literary scene. Without exception, the stories in this collection sparkle with life, and the only surprise is that so few of the authors' works have appeared in other literary journals. All of this is to say that The Best of Philadelphia Stories is a "must-read" not only for fans and friends of the City of Brotherly Love, but for lovers of good literature everywhere.

The anthology can be ordered at The Philadelphia Stories Store.