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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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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Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

GIDEON THE NINTH

From the Locked Tomb Trilogy series , Vol. 1

This debut novel, the first of a projected trilogy, blends science fiction, fantasy, gothic chiller, and classic house-party mystery.

Gideon Nav, a foundling of mysterious antecedents, was not so much adopted as indentured by the Ninth House, a nearly extinct noble necromantic house. Trained to fight, she wants nothing more than to leave the place where everyone despises her and join the Cohort, the imperial military. But after her most recent escape attempt fails, she finally gets the opportunity to depart the planet. The heir and secret ruler of the Ninth House, the ruthless and prodigiously talented bone adept Harrowhark Nonagesimus, chooses Gideon to serve her as cavalier primary, a sworn bodyguard and aide de camp, when the undying Emperor summons Harrow to compete for a position as a Lyctor, an elite, near-immortal adviser. The decaying Canaan House on the planet of the absent Emperor holds dark secrets and deadly puzzles as well as a cheerfully enigmatic priest who provides only scant details about the nature of the competition...and at least one person dedicated to brutally slaughtering the competitors. Unsure of how to mix with the necromancers and cavaliers from the other Houses, Gideon must decide whom among them she can trust—and her doubts include her own necromancer, Harrow, whom she’s loathed since childhood. This intriguing genre stew works surprisingly well. The limited locations and narrow focus mean that the author doesn’t really have to explain how people not directly attached to a necromantic House or the military actually conduct daily life in the Empire; hopefully future installments will open up the author’s creative universe a bit more. The most interesting aspect of the novel turns out to be the prickly but intimate relationship between Gideon and Harrow, bound together by what appears at first to be simple hatred. But the challenges of Canaan House expose other layers, beginning with a peculiar but compelling mutual loyalty and continuing on to other, more complex feelings, ties, and shared fraught experiences.

Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31319-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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