are, according to their blog profile, “a group of pro and semi-pro writers in Minneapolis & St. Paul, MN, with over 20 novels and 100 short stories published, collectively. The Wyrdsmiths blog on writing, publishing, and genre, particularly Science Fiction and Fantasy.”
I found the group’s website because two of my favourite authors (out of, admittedly, a longish list of favourite authors), Eleanor Arnason and Lyda Morehouse, are members of Wyrdsmiths. And once I knew the this writers' collective had published both a chapbook and a full anthology of short stories by its members, and that each of these collections contained stories by both Arnason and Morehouse, well, I simply had to get them. Tales from the Black Dog: A Wyrdsmiths Chapbook
(ed.) William G. HenryNew Wyrd: A Wyrdsmiths Anthology
(ed.) William G. Henry
(There's a link on the website to order New Wyrd
; email firstname.lastname@example.org to order Tales from the Black Dog
Both collections were a real delight for me. It was one of those exciting moments when you buy an anthology because you know there are one or two stories in it from authors whose work you expect to enjoy, and find out that every single piece speaks to you on some level.
The two books arrived at the same time, and I read them both one after the other, so instead of discussing the stories in the two collections separately, I’m combining both in one – because I assure you, you will want to read them both. Works from Tales from the Black Dog
are indicated with TFBD, and those from New Wyrd
with NW. Both contain a mixture of stand-alone short stories (even though these may be part of a series, or set in a universe shared with other works by that author) and excerpts from larger works in progress or seeking publication.
The Short Stories
“The Ballad of the Pterodactyl Rose
” (TFBD), by H. Courrages LeBlanc
This is a light, lyrically written, and very funny space pirate story. Just perfect for every girl or boy who ever wanted to be a pirate, and since that describes me to the core, I loved it.
“How Many Horses” (NW), by H. Courrages LeBlanc
A more serious and thoughtful piece, this story, like most fairy tales, this examines some universal truths – in this case, truths about power, corruption, and the human heart – in the guise of a simple story of magic. LeBlanc has a real gift for the language and rhythms of ritual story-telling, which is displayed very effectively and very differently in the two stories in these collections.
“Tutivillus” (TFBD), by Lyda Morehouse
One of the things that I love about Morehouse’s work is that she tackles issues ingrained in our culture by centuries of religious tradition, head-on. Often science fiction writers tend to shy away from issues arising from the real history of human spirituality and religion, while fantasy writers tend to approach these issues from the side, creating new religions that may showcase similar ideas, but lack the punch of the names and symbols we all grew up with. This stories takes all the traditional imagery of demons, sin and salvation, and gives us an evocative, moving characterisation of redemption in a way that completely inhabits and at the same time transcends traditional Christian/Catholic themes. I cried at the end. Literally.
“Jawbone of An Ass” (NW), by Lyda Morehouse
Morehouse describes this story as “a modern retelling of the story of Samson’s first wife, who slowly comes to realise the horror of knowing that she, through no fault of her own, is on the wrong side of the wrath of angels.” The history of religion is full of praise for heroes doing God’s will – but aren’t those who oppose them doing God’s will as well? Who weeps for them? This story also seems to be at a deeper level, about what religious conflicts look like from the inside, to those who believe that they really are doing the will of a god, and who believe in the necessity of martyrs, the manipulation of people into their divinely appointed roles, the impossibility of negotiation or compromise, that leads to the unending escalation on all sides.
“Shatter” (TFBD), by Kelly McCullough
This is a very strong story of grieving, guilt and personal responsibility. At the same time, it is a wonderful and original take on the standard urban fantasy where unearthly creatures lurk in alleyways and shopping malls: if the Fae are the creatures of hills and forests, why would you expect find them in cities – and once you realise that you wouldn’t, then what kind of power would you find instead? McCullogh notes that this is a story set in a universe he is returning to, and I can hardly wait to see the development of this new urban mythology.
“The Basilisk Hunter” (NW), by Kelly McCullough
This is the truly funny sequel to McCullough’s “When Jabberwocks Attack” (available online as part of the Wyrdsmiths contributions to International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day) about an unfortunate young classics student who falls under the spell of wizard turned entertainment impresario Merlin (yes, that Merlin. In his The Sword and the Stone
incarnation, more or less).
“Spirit Stone” (TFBD), by Naomi Kritzer
This story, set among a semi-nomadic desert folk in a post-Mage Wars setting, where unknown and possibly dangerous objects from times long past lie in wait for the unwary, is a powerful parable about the nature and uses of power. At the same time, it raises questions about the assumptions that we may have about how best to provide freedom to those we believe to be in need of our help. Enjoyable as a simple fantasy, but with thought-provoking depths.
“Masks” (NW), by Naomi Kritzer
Set in the world of her earlier novels, Fires of the Faithful
and Turning the Storm
(which I have not yet read but now feel I must rapidly acquire and consume), this is a story about a young man who discovers the depths of betrayal that can be reached when it is necessary for otherwise decent people conceal and even deny what and who they really are in order to fit in to their society and perform their calling in life.
“Maelstrom” (TFBD), by Sean M. Murphy
The first in a proposed series of works to be set in the same universe under the name The Mendarin Evolution, this is a stand-alone “origins” story that definitely leaves one wanting to know where it goes from here. Looking at a not uncommon science fiction premise – some kind of alien influence or symbiosis that heightened humans’ mental abilities to the point where there is a kind of networking, linking or even uniting of all affected minds, the story explores some of the not-always-considered implications and consequences of the situation. Murphy’s notes about the story indicate that he will be continuing to investigate what this kind of change means in terms of the development, even the evolution, of his characters, and I’m very much looking forward to finding out where he’s taking them.
“Cloverleaf One” (NW), by Sean M. Murphy
This is a relatively light and humorous piece, though with some harrowing moments and some very interesting overtones. Set in a situation that’s all too familiar to the academics among us – the incomprehensible, unfathomable and seemingly ridiculous if not outright impossible demands of one’s thesis supervisor – this is tale of a apprentice, er, graduate student about to discover the existence of a modern alchemical brotherhood and the secrets known only to its initiates. It presents the ancient tradition of magical mastery known only to the workers of such crafts as smithing or masonry in a modern and science-fictional setting, and makes us think twice about whether there is more than one reason why things are made the way they are.
“Mammoths of the Great Plains” (TFBD), by Eleanor Arnason
Although intended as part of a larger work, this piece stands alone, so I’m including it as one of the short stories rather than one of the excerpts. This is rich work, with so many interwoven strands: respect for nature, preservation of ancient wisdoms, the need for living in harmony, the utter necessity of sensible ecological planning and conservation, the importance of storytelling as a means of conveying truths. Arnason is, to me, in much the same class of writers as Ursula K. LeGuin – her works resonate on so many levels of thought, the personal, the political, the historical, the ecological in the broadest sense, as well as being wonderful entertainments in their own right.
“Big Black Mama and Tentacle Man” (NW), Eleanor Arnason
This is just hilarious. Feminist to the core, it’s the best antidote ever created for a surfeit of hentai and overwhelming male privilege. Oh, it’s got all that other stuff I mentioned above in it, too, but you have to read carefully or you might laugh so hard you miss it the first time. Spend a few minutes savouring the introductory section before you get into the fun and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
It’s harder to give a thumbnail review of an excerpt from a larger work, because you don’t always get much more than a glimpse of some key characters and themes – even though, naturally, the author is going to pick a selection that she or he hopes will both showcase and intrigue. I do know that of the three books excerpted in the collections, I’m going to want to read all of them.
From The Commission
by Willian G. Henry
“Laila Ahara” (TFBD)
Here we are given a brief introduction to a potentially interesting heroine as a young girl, with a look at what one anticipates will be one of the formative periods of her youth..
“Bird of Fire” (NW)
an introduction to another female character, who appears to have had significant dealings with the Lalia Ahara’s father, and a look at an adolescent or young adult Laila herself, from that character’s viewpoint.
The writing and characterisations in both these excerpts are good. These excerpts sell the characters more than they sell the story, in that I still have little sense of what is going on or where these characters might be headed. Even so, I’m very interested in finding that out and I hope that it’s somewhere I want to follow them to.
From Kyria Zulie
by Rosalind Nelson
“A Candle For the Dead” (TFBD)
This gives the reader an introduction to what would appear to be the main character of the novel, a warrior/soldier/guard of honour named Iltani. We learn something about who she is, the kind of society she lives in, and one of the issues that drives her – remorse or guilt, or perhaps fear of a haunting by the dead. There are indications of a strongly developed religious system in the novel, which is something I always find interesting. Plus, as I said, woman warrior.
“A Game of Beasts” (NW)
Another brief and intriguing glimpse of the novel’s heroine, Iltani, and of her quest and the world she lives in. Political intrigue seems to be coming into the mix, which is also something I enjoy in an sf novel. I hope someone hurries up and publishes this.
From Dust and Steel
by Douglas Hulick
“An Inconvenient Corpse” (NW)
This looks to be an interesting fantasy with an ambiguous hero – think of a mob enforcer, but in one of the classic fantasy environments of deserts and tradetowns. I’d swear that if I turned the corner and looked down the next street over from the one where this novel’s action is happening, someone like the Grey Mouser or maybe Terazin the thief would by up to his or her neck in something not quite on the right side of the law. And that’s a kind of universe I like to read about.