Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling are the two greatest short fiction editors of fantasy and horror of our time. Their annual collections of the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror provided us, for 16 straight years, with the best short genre and slipstream fiction from all sources. Their anthologies have defined cutting edge fantasy.
Salon Fantastique is more uneven than most of Datlow and Windling’s collections. This themeless anthology, containing stories intended, as the introduction states, “to evoke the liberating, creative spirit of a literary salon,” contains some very fine stories. It also, oddly enough, contains some very bad stories.
Delia Sherman‘s “La Fee Verte” opens the book with a fairy story set in the mid-nineteenth century, a time of great political turmoil in France. Victorine is a high-class whore, and so is her lover, La Fee Verte. La Fee Verte is a sort of Cassandra for the 1800s, seeing all and telling her tales, seducing her customers with her voice and driving them away in the same fashion. Victorine loses La Fee Verte to a novelist, who is delighted with her visions of a vehicle actually landing on the moon — a novelist who reminds one of Jules Verne and his From Earth to the Moon. Although Victorine goes on to one protector after another, none of them has her heart; only La Fee Verte can make that claim. And over the years, Victorine catches glimpses of La Fee Verte, always telling truths, often truths her listeners don’t want to hear. The passing of the years, the building of history, are as absinthe dreams in this lovely tale.
Jeffrey Ford is one of the best short story writers in the genre these days. His tale here, “The Night Whiskey,” is strikingly imaginative. The viewpoint character is a “drunk harvester” who does his job only one night a year, when a thick black brandy known as Night Whiskey is consumed by seven lottery winners. What the Night Whiskey does, and its consequences for those in the small rural town where it is made from death berries, make a wondrous story.
Peter S. Beagle‘s “Chandail,” set in the INNKEEPER’S WORLD universe, is a sophisticated story of sea creatures that possess their own peculiar gift of hallucination and impose it on humans, who, to their sorrow, will not escape the memory easily. “Concealment Shoes” by Marly Youmans has some marvelous imagery, including one description of a cat having won a chase that I’ll think of whenever I watch my own cat go after specks of light. Christopher Barzak‘s “The Guardian of the Egg” is deliciously strange, promising a new, clean, bright world with nature restored to her strength and vigor in a way not seen in our suburbs in our lifetimes.
Of all the Paul Di Filippo short stories I’ve read, “Femaville 29” is my favorite, telling a story of a major natural catastrophe and its aftermath and, in a way, the rising of a new Atlantis from a tsunami. Gavin Grant‘s “Yours, Etc.” is a sad parable of a marriage in which communication has all but died. David Prill‘s “The Mask of ’67” promises to join Prill’s cult novels as a cult story; you really can’t go home again, not as the same person you were when you left. Catherynne M. Valente‘s “A Gray and Soundless Tide” revisits the legend of the selkie, a melancholy story of loneliness and loss.
Some stories are experiments gone awry. Gregory Maguire‘s “Nottamun Town” is a confusing mess, and Greer Gilman‘s “Down the Wall” never quite manages to tell a story. A few others simply don’t rise to the high level established by the majority of the tales, and suffer by the comparison. Most anthologies have a few stories that don’t quite make the grade, and Salon Fantastique as a whole doesn’t overly suffer from the lesser tales.
Datlow and Windling’s new anthology is a must for any serious fantasy reader. That it is available only in trade paperback is a bit of a mystery: if ever an anthology deserved hard covers, it’s this one. But that does make it especially accessible to the reader who buys too many books and can use a break in the price on this one, or the reader who rarely buys books because they’re too expensive. Salon Fantastique is one you’ll want on your shelf, to return to again and again. The good stories in it are that good.