Dozens upon dozens of seminal fantasy stories, some well-known and others delightfully rescued from obscurity.

THE BIG BOOK OF CLASSIC FANTASY

The VanderMeers follow up The Big Book of Science Fiction (2016) with this counterpart anthology focusing on “classic” fantasy.

Ninety stories are selected to represent the roots of genre fantasy, from the 1800s to World War II. Familiar names such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord Dunsany, Robert E. Howard, and E. Nesbit are present, but so are authors not primarily remembered in literature as fantasists—Franz Kafka, Vladimir Nabokov, Herman Melville, Willa Cather, Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. Du Bois, and others. As in the SF anthology, stories never before translated into English have been included, such as Aleksandr Grin's “The Ratcatcher,” Der Nister's “At the Border,” and others. That said, the majority of the stories come from Europe or America—the few contributions from other parts of the world seem more a dash of seasoning to avoid homogeneity than indicative of a truly diverse spread. Some stories are more recognizable as fantasy to the modern reader, some less so (Paul Scheerbart's “Dance of the Comets” barely reads as a narrative; Melville's “The Tartarus of the Maids” contains nothing fantastical that could not be read as the narrator's own pitying-but-skewed perceptions; and Nikolai Gogol's “The Nose” is a cynical fable more absurdist than fantastic). Highlights include the wry observational humor of Stella Benson's “Magic Comes to a Committee,” the meticulous creepiness of Edogawa Ranpo's “The Man Traveling With the Brocade Portrait,” and G.K. Chesterton's unsettling “The Angry Street: A Bad Dream.” Like its SF counterpart, this dense and exhaustive collection would serve as an admirable survey course for the genre—though some stories feel included out of just such a didactic sensibility.

Dozens upon dozens of seminal fantasy stories, some well-known and others delightfully rescued from obscurity.

Pub Date: July 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-43556-3

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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DUNE

This future space fantasy might start an underground craze.

It feeds on the shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Martian series), Aeschylus, Christ and J.R. Tolkien. The novel has a closed system of internal cross-references, and features a glossary, maps and appendices dealing with future religions and ecology. Dune itself is a desert planet where a certain spice liquor is mined in the sands; the spice is a supremely addictive narcotic and control of its distribution means control of the universe. This at a future time when the human race has reached a point of intellectual stagnation. What is needed is a Messiah. That's our hero, called variously Paul, then Muad'Dib (the One Who Points the Way), then Kwisatz Haderach (the space-time Messiah). Paul, who is a member of the House of Atreides (!), suddenly blooms in his middle teens with an ability to read the future and the reader too will be fascinated with the outcome of this projection.

With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and it should interest advanced sci-fi devotees.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1965

ISBN: 0441013597

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Chilton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1965

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Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

READY PLAYER ONE

Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles. 

The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three. Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.

Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-88743-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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