dimanche 18 novembre 2007

Dark Alchemy edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois

Dark Alchemy is the new anthology of fantastic tales edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois. It is an impressive collection of stories from authors ranging from the venerable Orson Scott Card and Gene Wolf to the newly minted best sellers Eoin Colfer and Garth Nix. The editors are renowned for their editorial work in short story anthologies, Dozois notably for the annual “Year Best Science Fiction” collection.
A short story collection is frequently troubled by the unevenness of the stories particularly when it is collaborated upon by a number of different authors. I’m happy to say that Dark Alchemy does not suffer from such trouble. Simply put, this is a collection of truly rich and well written stories. The theme as its title may imply is wizardry and magic and each author has explored this theme in their own unique way. At the end of Dark Alchemy we are left with a very good idea of each of the author’s writing. And it is a real pleasure to be introduced to new and unfamiliar authors and an even greater pleasure to read a master at work.
Whenever I am asked about the relevance of fantastic stories in the real world, I always say that these stories cloaked in the realm of fantasy more than address the issues that beset the modern world. And this is amply demonstrated by the stories of this collection. Take for instance Stone Man by Nancy Kress whose young disaffected protagonist discovers his magical abilities and finds in it a way to a better life. Or Peter Beagle’s powerful Barrens Dance which tells the tale of an all consuming lust by a greedy man and the saving power of love, albeit from an unexpected source. There is the gem by Neil Gaiman (which by the way sets the book to a rocking start) where a young boy tries to do right by someone who had been wronged once upon a time. In another story (The Stranger’s Hands) the classical theme of “be careful what you wish for” is twisted in a wholly different way and demands that we ask ourselves to look carefully into what we think is good and evil. All considered, the fantastical elements of the stories all serve to highlight what confronts us today in our high technology, high definition world where blood and gore are commonplace things for view. It’s true that fantastic stories provide a measure of escape. It is so much easier when the lines between good and evil are well drawn, and the enemy is easily dispatched by magical means. But contrary to those who view fantastic stories are mere escapist fare, I think there is no escaping the full spectrum of human nature in its weakness, capacity for cruelty and redeeming powers of selflessness, bravery and even generosity. And these fantastic tales carry a full measure and unflinchingly confronts these elements in its magical milieu. What then is so escapist about such tales?

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