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Heiresses of Russ 2015, edited by Jean Roberta and Steve Berman, collects some of the best "lesbian-flavoured" speculative short fiction from 2014. I've been reading these anthologies for several years now, and enjoying them for their woman-centred stories and queer imaginings.

While it's often true that there is some unevenness in a collection of short fiction, I found the stories in this year's anthology to be pretty much all of notable quality. But even in such a collection, there were some truly stand-out pieces for me, among them Ruthanna Emrys' "Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land," Ken Liu's "Knotting Grass, Holding Ring," and Susan Jane Bigelow's "Sarah's Child."

*This anthology contains 14 short stories, 10 written by women, 3 written by men and one written by a genderqueer person.

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Tempest: All New Tales of Valdemar, edited by Mercedes Lackey, is yet another in what has become a long series of anthologies of stories set in Velgarth, the world of Valdemar and Heralds and mind-speaking spirits who look like white horses and magic-casting gryphons and other marvels.

It's a fairly strong anthology, with contributors from seasoned veterans like Fiona Patton, Brenda Cooper, Rosemary Edghill and Lackey herself, and relative newcomers. Several of the contributors have offered stories which focus on characters they have created and written about before in these anthologies, including Elizabeth Vaughan's stories about widowed ladyHolder Cera, and Patton's tales of the Dann brothers and their adventures as part of Haven's Watch.

Good light reading for anyone looking for a quick Valdemar fix.

*This anthology contains 22 stories, 17 of which were written by women, two of which were written by men, two of which were co-written by both a woman and a man, and one by an author who chose not to be identified by gender.

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Sword and Sorceress 30, edited by Elisabeth Waters, is the most recent in the long series of women-centred fantasy anthologies started by Marion Zimmer Bradley in 1984.

I've been reading this series, on and off, since it first began. While I've missed a few volumes, I haven't missed many. And regretfully, it seems to me that there has been somewhat of a slow decline in the quality of some of the short stories on offer in these anthologies in recent years. Or perhaps I'm simply demanding more of my short fiction. Anthologies are often uneven, with some excellent stories, and dome that do not appeal quite so much.

However, I found a number of the short stories in this volume to be a bit lightweight, and though reading them was fun, they were lacking in punch or impact. I read them, but I didn't find myself caring deeply.

Exceptions to this include the following stories, which did, at least for me, deliver the expected reading experience.

Robin Wayne Bailey's The Sea Witches, about a woman and her daughter who must confront an ancient threat from the sea.

Liar's Tournament by Pauline J. Alama, in which a wandering knight and her sorceress companion face on illicit sorcery at a tournament.

The Piper's Wife by new writer Susan Murrie Macdonald, a tale about a pregnant scribe who saves the day with somewhat unorthodox tactics.

In Four Paws to Light My Way, by veteran author Deborah J. Ross, a blind warrior and her canine companion join with a princess cursed to turn anyone who sees her face to stone to face a warlock bent on destroying the kingdom. I think this was my favourite story.

In Catherine Soto's Jewels on the Sand, a caravan master who is more than she seems investigates a murder.

All in all, an average quality anthology with a few gems, but still worth reading because it centres stories of women in sword and sorcery fantasy, and that's something we still need a lot more of.

*This anthology contains 15 stories, six of which are written by men, seven of which are written by women, one of which is co-written by a man and a woman, and one of which is written by an author whose gender is not known.

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What delight! An entire anthology devoted to modern reimaginings of those glorious old school planetary romances, set on that long-lost imaginary planet of fetid swamps and humid jungles, of thickly overcast skies dripping hot rains, of slimy and slithery things that flourish in the warm, damp dimness, of scaled and webbed amphibious denizens of vast blood-hot oceans, and the ruins of ancient decadent civilisations overrun by thick, lush vegetation - the Venus of my youth, destroyed forever by the flyby of Mariner 2. Yes, I'm talking about George R. R. Martin and Garner Dozois' collaborative editorial effort, Old Venus.

It's a wonderful homage to the great pulp writers of planetary adventure, from Edgar Rice Burroughs and Otis Adelbert Kline to Leigh Brackett and C. L. Moore, a collection of stories with all the fast-paced action, adventure, and even at times terror of the originals, but infused with a modern, often post-colonial awareness. In many of these stories, lurking in the shadows behind the hard-boiled adventurer's narrative lies an acknowledgement of damage done by the bold colonising Earthmen, the exploitation of Venusian wealth and peoples, the question of who is the monster - the indigenous, adapted life form, or the alien writing the story. And in some, there is awareness of the hubris of the explorer, the belief that the indigenous peoples can not be as knowledgeable, even of the nature and history of their own world, as the ones who "discover" them. This is planetary romance, all grown up.

While all the stories have something to recommend them, I particularly enjoyed "Bones of Air, Bones of Stone," by Stephen Leigh, "Ruins," by Eleanor Arnason, "The Sunset of Time," by Michael Cassutt, "Pale Blue Memories," by Tobias S. Buckell, and "The Heart's Filthy Lesson," by Elizabeth Bear.

* This anthology contains 16 stories, 13 of which are written by men, and three of which are written by women

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Another year, another Darkover anthology. This year's edition arrived at a most opportune moment, when I was sick with a truly vicious cold and much in need of comfort reading.

Realms of Darkover is exactly what one should, by now, expect - a collection of short stories set in the familiar world created by Marion Zimmer Bradley, with all sorts of variations on the themes of first contact and the coming of the Terrans, how to cope with laran, the workings of renunciates and Guild Houses, a scattering of chieris and perhaps some of the other non-human races found on Darkover, and a few stories that break out into other areas.

I enjoyed all of the tales in this volume, particularly Diana L. Paxson's "Housebound," and Barb Caffrey's "Fiona, Court Clerk in Training," both of which feature protagonists seen in earlier collections.

Light fun reading.

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I've been eagerly awaiting the publication of Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel Delany, edited by Nisi Shawl and Bill Campbell, since I first heard it was in the pipeline, for a very personal reason. Delany was one of the first authors - not just of science fiction, but of any genre - who wrote books that crawled inside my brain and stayed there. There are others - Suzette Haden Elgin and Naomi Mitchison among them - but I can honestly say that simply reading Babel-17 was such a world-altering event for me that, had I never encountered it, I might be a very different person today.

In short, Samuel Delany and his work are very important to me.

Contributions to this volume include fiction and non-fiction, and they are tributes, reflections of how Delany has influenced other writers rather than attempts to recreate Delany's aesthetic. As Kim Stanley Robinson says in his Introduction:

These tributes mostly don’t try to imitate Delany’s style, which is good, as it is a very personal style, one that has morphed through the years in complex ways. Imitation could only result in pastiche or parody, forms of limited interest, although a good parody can be fun, and I’ve seen some pretty good ones of Delany’s work elsewhere. A “Bad Delany” contest would be at least as funny as the famous “Bad Hemingway” and “Bad Faulkner” contests. But a better tribute, as the writers gathered here seem to agree, results from considering not style but substance. Delany’s subject matter, his mode or method, involves a characteristic mix of the analytical and the emotional, the realistic and the utopian. By exploring this delanyesque space (and I think delanyesque has become an adjective, like ballardian or orwellian or kafkaesque), the stories and essays here make the best kind of tribute. They perhaps help to make the Delanyspace a new genre or subgenre. However that works, it’s certain that Delany’s work has effected a radical reorientation of every genre he has written in. Time and other writers will tell the sequel as to what that means for science fiction, fantasy, sword and sorcery, pornography, memoir, and criticism. Here we get hints of what that will be like.

There are no weak contributions in this collection, only strong, and stronger. Among those that hit hardest for me:

- Chesya Burke's powerful, heart-breaking short story "For Sale: Fantasy Coffins (Abobua Need Not Apply)"

- Walidah Imarisha's essay on the importance of imagining black futures, "Walking Science Fiction: Samuel Delany and Visionary Futures"

- "Be Three" by Jewelle Gomez, a parable about forbidden relationships and the desperate need to find some way for love to survive

- Junot Diaz' "Nilda," a bleak story about the existential despair of the marginalised, the unvoiced pain of personal loss and the self-destructive roles we are pushed into by social forces beyond our control

- "River Clap Your Hands" by Sheree Renée Thomas is a powerful story about loss - loss of heritage and lineage, loss of home and comfort, loss of future hopes - and about going forward to find a new life in spite of it.

- "Jamaica Ginger" by Nalo Hopkinson and Nisi Shawl, a steampunk tale of a young woman who finds her way out of a seemingly dead-end situation.

*This anthology contains 14 contributions by women out of 34 pieces (including the Introduction).

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I've been having a rather rotten time these past weeks, and so it was with some pleasure that I was able to get my electronic hands on a copy of Crucible: All-New Tales of Valdemar, Mercedes Lackey's newest anthology of short stories set in Velgarth, the world where the Heralds of Valdemar and the Hawkbrothers and Shin'a'in and other such peoples live.

It's always enjoyable for me to revisit these places - there is, as I have often said, something about the universe Lackey created here that pushes my simple pleasure buttons.

As usual, Lackey's contribution "Vexed Vixen," was one of the ones I enjoyed the most. Others that stood out for me were Fiona Patton's "Before a River Runs through It," Jennifer Brozek's "Feathers in Need," Stephanie D. Shaver's "The Highjorune Masque," Elizabeth A. Vaughan's "Unresolved Consequences," and Dayle A. Dermatis' "Never Alone." But all of the stories were, in their own way, fun. Lackey knows what she wants in these anthologies, and she gets it from her contributors.

*Of the 18 short stories in this anthology, 15 were written by women, two by men, and one was a collaboration between a man and a woman.

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Future Eves: Great Science Fiction About Women by Women, edited by Jean Marie Stine, is an anthology of "Golden Age" science fiction stories written by women, reminding us that despite the attempts of some to frame science fiction as something 'ineluctably masculine,' women have been part of science fiction from the beginning. As Stine comments in her Introduction,
This anthology showcases nine classic tales by female science fiction writers, penned between 1926 (the publication of the first science fiction magazine) and 1960 (the dawn of modern SF), each featuring its own, unique future Eve. Although it is generally assumed that no – or few – women were writing science fiction during this period, research reveals a strikingly different picture. Recently a review was conducted of every issue of every SF magazine published from the debut first science fiction magazine in 1926 (Amazing Stories) and the modern age in SF magazine publishing in 1959 (when Imagination, the last pulp-influenced periodical went broke and the more literary, purse-sized magazines typical today became dominant). An unsuspected one hundred women contributed stories to their pages during those three and a half decades. Some researchers estimate the true number may well be twice that, as doubtless many women – believing, perhaps rightly, that their work would find readier acceptance – concealed their gender behind androgynous names, the anonymity of initials or beneath male pseudonyms.
The first of the stories is "The Conquest of Gola" by Leslie F. Stone (Wonder Stories, April 1931). A variation on the "battle of the sexes" theme, the story recounts the victory of invaders from the "planet of men" over a matriarchal society - and how the women fight back.

Margaretta W. Rea's "Delilah" (Amazing Stories, January 1933) is more of a psychological mystery than a science fiction or fantasy tale, about a painter who believes someone else is completing his paintings, and the clever fiancée who figures out the truth.

In Hazel Heald's "Man of Stone" (Wonder Stories, October 1932), two men set out to discover the truth behind a friend's story of finding amazingly detailed statues in a cave in the Adirondacks. A dark fantasy with links to the Cthulhu Mythos stories authored by Lovecraft and others. (It should be noted that Lovecraft edited and on occasion revised the work of members of this group of writes, Heald among them, and this story is sometimes credited to both authors - but it doesn't read like Lovecraft.)

In "Days of Darkness" by Evelyn Goldstein (Fantastic Stories, January 1960), a woman who has put others first for most of her life is saved by her self-sacrifice, but at a cost she may not be able to bear.

Marcia Kamien's "Alien Invasion" (Universe Science Fiction, March 1954) features a woman who must decide whether to bear and raise an unwanted child to save some small part of a dying world.

"Miss Millie's Rose" by Joy Leche (Fantastic Universe, May 1959) is a story about a most unusual miniature rose tree and its effects on the woman who owns it.

"The Goddess Planet Delight" by Betsy Curtis (Planet Stories, May 1953) features a travelling galactic salesman who finds himself on a planet where bureaucracy has been taken to a high art - and where goddesses really exist.

In "Cocktails at Eight" by Beth Elliot (Fantastic Universe, March 1959), a frazzled Martian housewife prepares for an important cocktail party while her twin boys get into all kinds of trouble. Very much the 50s middle class American Dream transplanted into an interplanetary future.

"The Last Day" by Helen Clarkson (Satellite Science Fiction, April 1958) is a sad and evocative story about the last survivor of a nuclear holocaust.

All in all, an interesting mix of short stories, some more memorable than others. The highlight for me was the last story in the book, Clarkson's "The Last Day," but I also found "Miss Millie's Rose" to be quite a strong offering.

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I read The Big Baen Book of Monsters, edited by Hank Davis, because it contains the Hugo-nominated story "A Single Samurai" by Steven Diamond. It was part of the Hugo voters package, and as both the premise and the table of contents looked interesting, I decided to read the entire anthology. After all, monsters have always been a big part of science fiction, especially during the years of the pulps. We can speculate on just what these horrifying creatures represent, from the Communist Menace to an angry planet taking back control - but the frisson of fear, the element of awe, that we experience in reading such tales can be great fun, as long as we're safe at home when we read about them.

The opening story was one by Arthur C. Clarke that was new to me, "The Shining Ones," in which a deepsea engineer encounters something unexpected and vast - and deadly. Good, but what else does one expect from Clarke?

In Howard Waldrop's "All About Strange Monsters of the Recent Past," the Earth is overwhelmed by all the monsters from every '50s sci-fi film (Martian invaders, giant lizards and grasshoppers and everything else that was ever put on film in that decade, and one of the few remaining humans heads to New Mexico for a showdown from one of the first films of the genre, Them! Fun reading.

"The Monster-God of Mamurth" by Edmond Hamilton, in which some travellers in North Africa find a dying archaeologist who has discovered an ancient city, an invisible temple and a horrifying monster-god. Nicely Lovecraftesque.

"Talent," by Robert Bloch, is the story of a very odd child with a remarkable talent for mimicry and an obsession with watching and imitating the villains from the movies. A showcase for Bloch's remarkable talent for horror.

David Drake's "The End of the Hunt" could best be described as a far future "Leiningen Versus the Ants" - with a genetically engineered symbiote as Leiningen facing off against some extremely mutated ants. An interesting idea, but the telling is a bit disjointed.

Anthony Melville Rud's "Ooze," first published in 1923, is a tale set in a "sinister" southern Alabama swamp, home to "darkys" and "queer, half-wild" Cajans who are notable for distilling and selling illicit "shinny." Setting aside as best one can the casual racism of the time, the next bit that made me a tad uncomfortable was learning that the protagonist is raising the daughter of deceased friends Lee and Peggy - having had a crush on Peggy, he now hopes the four-year-old Elsie will come to love him as more than a foster father. Oh well, on to the story. The protagonist has come to Alabama to find out whether, as is believed, Lee's scientist father John, who had been conducting research in the swamp, went mad and killed his son and daughter-in-law. As one would expect from the title and the set-up, the answer is no, it wasn't dear old dad, but rather a scientific experiment he'd been cooking up back in the swamp. The story is very much in the same vein as Lovecraft's work, though perhaps a bit less florid, but lacks the intensity and focus of the best of Lovecraft.

Robert E. Howard's "Valley of the Worm" begins with an unfortunate paean to the glory of the blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan race, into which the narrator has been born throughout thousands of incarnations - one of which being the iron-thewed warrior Niord whose doings the story celebrates. Niord's nomadic tribe of Nordheimers has wandered far, ending up in a jungle, where they meet savage Picts, capturing in battle a warrior named Grom who is described as "grinning broadly and showing tusk-like teeth, his beady eyes glittering from under the tangled black mane that fell over his low forehead. His limbs were almost apelike in their thickness." After that, the Nordheimers and Picts live peaceably, until a group of young Nordheimers decide to settle in a valley feared by the Picts. You can probably tell the story yourself from here. A classic Howard story, with mighty sword-wielding heroes, a ghastly monster, and all the subtlety of a Mack truck.

In Wen Spencer's "Whoever Fights Monsters," a mild-mannered insurance adjustor deals with some very strange damage claims, two laconic government agents obsessed with food, and a lake monster hunting for its stolen eggs. A monster story with a light touch.

In Steven Utley's "Deviations from a Theme," we encounter a species of god-like creatures from outside the time-space continuum as we know it, whose favoured pastime is creating universes. But when a teacher allows an inept student of the art to practice on their own creation, the consequences are quote deadly.

"The Eggs from Lake Tanganyika" by Curt Siodmak is one of those cautionary tales about Western natural scientists who think they know better than the inhabitants of the area they are studying. In this case, an entomologist brings home four gigantic eggs that terrified his African hosts. Hatching ensues, but the ending is too facile to work effectively.

And what collection of monster tales would be complete without something from one of the early masters of monstrous horror, H. P. Lovecraft? "The Dunwich Horror" unfolds in its elliptical, italicized and adjective-laden manner, building up to the final revelation concerning the children of Lavinia Whateley.

In Sarah A. Hoyt's "From Out the Fire," a squad of mage-soldiers take on the threat of 50-foot fire snails that could trigger the Yellowstone caldera to erupt. Some nice twists and turns.

"Beauty and the Beast," by Golden Age master Henry Kuttner, begins with the crash landing on Earth of a spaceship sent out just a few months before to explore Venus. The man who finds the wreck also finds its pilot dead, with notes on the ruins of an ancient Venusian civilisation, some seeds, and a great jewel-like egg. Naturally, our protagonist plants the seeds and hatches the egg - but which is the beauty and which the beast?

William Hope Hodgson's "The Island of the Ud" is a rip-roaring seaman's tale about ship captains and treasure hunting and wild devil women and sea monsters, by one of the early masters of modern fantasy.

Steven Diamond's "A Single Samurai was something of a disappointment. An interesting idea - a mountain-sized kaiju awakens and begins to destroy the countryside, and one samurai tries to stop it - but rather blandly executed, and with a climax that stretches one's suspension of belief.

In "Planet of Dread," a novelette by classic sf pulp writer Murray Leinster, a group of fugitives battle giant insects and internal conflicts on a planet where terrafoming went seriously wrong. Good pulpy fun.

Philip Wylie's "Letter to the Thessalonians" is actually an excerpt from a novel, but stands alone because it is a short story written by the main character. In this tale, a thousand-mile high giant sets down on earth, its feet in the Atlantic Ocean, its head well above the atmosphere. As sea levels rise, and panic spreads, Wylie deftly satirises all the standard responses of humans to crisis.

In Wardon Allan Curtis' " The Monster of Lake Lametrie," published in 1899, a scientist and his companion explore the area around a remote lake in the mountains of Wyoming, where they encounter an elasmosaurus, and very peculiar things happen.

The cast of Hank Davis' "The Giant Cat of Sumatra" includes several members of the ancient Egyptian pantheon including two immortal cat-goddesses who can assume human form, Sherlock Holmes, and of course, the Giant Rat of Sumatra. It's a fun read.

In "Greenface" by James H. Schmitz, a strange green gelatinous creature terrorises the guests at a fishing camp, growing larger as time passes.

The final story in the anthology is "Tokyo Raider" by Larry Correia. In an alternate Earth, where people have powers that enable them to manipulate forces such as fire, ice and gravity, an American soldier-mage uses his powers to control a giant Japanese-made robot in an attack on an enormous city-destroying Russian demon that seems remarkably like Godzilla.

All in all some great stories, some decent stories, a few disappointments - about par for any anthology - and lots of very cool monsters.

* This anthology contains 21 stories, two of which are identifiable as being written by women.

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The Music of Darkover, edited by Elisabeth Waters and Leslie Fish, is a rather special anthology - in addition to the stories - some new, but with three reprinted from earlier volumes in the series because of the role that music plays in them - it collects the songs that Bradley herself wrote for the Darkovan series, the original (mostly Scottish Gaelic) songs Bradley based them on, "traditional" Darkovan songs written by others, and various filksongs with a Darkovan theme. Elisabeth Waters says in her Introduction:
... this anthology started with a song: “The Horsetamer’s Daughter,” written by Leslie Fish in 1983. It was hardly her first filk song; I owned a copy of her record (and I’m talking about an LP here) Folk Songs For Folk Who Ain’t Even Been Yet, which was released in 1976.

Leslie, in addition to being a gifted songwriter, also writes fiction, so eventually she wrote the story behind the song. When Deborah J. Ross and I started working on STARS OF DARKOVER, the new Darkover anthology scheduled for June 2014, Leslie sent us “Tower of Horses.” The problem is that it is over 30,000 words long and would take up more than a third of the anthology, so I came up with the idea of slipping an extra anthology into the schedule a year early.
Fish's novella, "Tower of Horses" comes first in the anthology, and it is a good one. Set a generation after the destruction of the Tower of Hali, it is the tale of a young woman with the Hastur gift born into a family of horse-trainers. Fish presents the Ages of Chaos as a time when the ordinary working classes suffered greatly from the arrogance and excesses of the Comyn and the deadly laran weapons used in their endless wars. Free of overlordship for years after the fall of Hali, when the Comyn and their laranzus and leronis return, the people resist, and even though she has no matrix and no training, Cath is able to form a Keeper's circle with horses rather than humans, in order to protect her people, her land, and her beloved wild horses.

India Edghill's story "Right to Choose" is a variation on the story of Melora Aillard from The Shattered Chain - in this tale, the Renunciates hired to free a kidnapped Comyn woman from a Dry-Towner discover that the young woman is no victim, but a willing bride, who eloped with her lover and freely chose his chains. The story is complemented by the lyrics of a song written by Edghill's sister Rosemary Edghill, which has as its refrain:
But all who breathe are chained
For power, love, or wealth
By laran, breeding, family
By others or by self.
Vera Nazarian's "Danila's Song" is a reprint from the eighth Darkover anthology, Renunciates of Darkover (1991). It is the story of psychological healing following trauma, triggered by a song. While some things bothered me - reference to a male Keeper in a time when the Terrans have just arrived on Darkover, and a debate over whether a person can inherit two donas, or laran abilities - I enjoyed the story, although I found that I wanted to know much more about the eponymous Danila than the few bits of information Nazarian gives us.

Raul S. Reyes' "The Starstone and the Mirror Ball" begins with a whimsical premise - after unknown centuries, Terrans still love disco. When a young Ridenow explores the Thendara disco scene, the lights and music trigger threshold sickness, and the development of an unusual and feared form of laran.

In Michael Spence's "Music of the Spheres, set - at least in the beginning - in the era of the Hundred Kingdoms, a quartet of retired Tower technicians take to writing and performing music, with unexpectedly transcendent results.

"Poetic Licence" by Mercedes Lackey is another reprint, having first been published in the twelfth Darkover anthology, Snows of Darkover (1994). Set in the time of Varzil the Good, it is a light, almost comic account of a young noble with a predilection for plagarising the work of his fellow music students and the ultimate consequences of his folly.

Elisabeth Waters' "A Capella," another reprint from Snows of Darkover, features Gavin Dellaray, a minor character from The Heirs of Hammerfell, caught in the difficult position of trying to teach Capella Ridenow, the tone-deaf nedestra cousin of the King, the soprano part in his next cantata.

The final story of the anthology, also by Waters, is a comic sequel to her reprint, "A Song for Capella," in which Gavin Dellaray is hard put to produce a suitable musical program to celebrate the marriage of Capella to Lord Alton.

As for the music of Darkover, Margaret Davis, one of several musicians in Bradley's circle of companions, presents a brief account of the role Bradley and other played in the creation of several published works, including a suite of songs taken from Tolkien's work with music written by Bradley, and a record of songs from the Darkover books, written or adapted by Bradley or other musicians, and arranged by Davis and her husband Kristof Klover.

Following this account are the lyrics of the songs themselves - including all twenty-odd verses of the ballad of Callista and Hastur.

An anthology with a difference, and a most enjoyable one, especially for those who have always been interested in the songs of Darkover.

*Of the eight pieces of short fiction in this anthology, six are identifiable as being written by women.
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I have always approached the publication of a new anthology of stories set on Darkover with joy and delicious anticipation. I grew up with the world of Darkover, it is a part of my core experience of SFF, and I have always been excited by each opportunity to return to this complex world, with its thousands of years of history to play in. And my delight has always been rewarded with stories that felt like Darkover, despite the time period chosen, and the somewhat varied skills of cobtributors.

But this newest anthology, Gifts of Darkover, edited by Deborah J. Ross, didn't quite work the magic I've been accustomed to. Perhaps my recent reread of a large segment of the Darkover canon sensitised me, but a few of the stories felt "off." Deborah Ross knows Darkover as well as anyone now living - she worked with Bradley, she has been chosen by Bradley's Literary Trust to write new novels in the universe of Darkover, and most of them (with the exception of the very odd Hastur Lord) have satisfactorily captured the Darkover experience. But still... Some of these stories felt out of place to me.

In her introduction to the anthology, Ross says: "I believe it’s a healthy thing to allow for the introduction of new characters, themes, and resonances while staying true to the spirit of the world, a wondrous place of telepaths and swordsmen, nonhumans and ancient mysteries, marked by the clash of cultures between a star-faring, technologically advanced civilization and one that has pursued psychic gifts and turned away from weapons of mass destruction."

It's possible that in seeking to grow the world of Darkover in new ways, open up new themes and resonances, Ross simply went further than I feel comfortable with in accepting stories that pushed the boundaries of what Darkover is. Certainly, most of the stories were ones I felt were true to the spirit of Darkover.

"Learning to Breathe Snow," by Rosemary Edghill and Rebecca Fox is set in the early days of the Terran presence on Darkover, just after the Thendara spaceport was established, and presents an early attempt to by the Comyn to divert Terran interest away from the special gifts of Darkover.

"Healing Pain" by Jane M. H. Bigelow is the story of Taniquel, a young woman with laran and a desire to study Terran medicine to make her a better healer.

"Blood-kin" by Diana L. Paxson also deals with medical themes, as Terran training and Darkovan laran make it possible to immunise those at risk during an outbreak of plague.

"The Tower" by Jeremy Erman is set not long after the events of Darkover Landfall and deals with the desire among some of the exiles to remember the things of Earth.

In "Stonefell Gift" by Marella Stone, a powerful but dangerous form of laran brings tragedy to an entire family.

"Compensation" by Leslie Fish is one of the stories that simply did not work for me. Set at the time of recontact, it positions the christoforos as preservers of Terran knowledge from the era of the first landing, presents the chieri is a light that is quite at odds with what is known of them, particularly the elements of their history revealed in The World Wreckers, and argues that laran and logic are mutually exclusive gifts.

"Green Is the Colour of Her Eyes So Blue" by Deborah Millitello is set in the Dry-Towns shortly after the events of The Children of Kings, and features Gareth Elhalyn and his wife Rahelle. While in Shainsa to negotiate a treaty, they find a young girl with a rare form of laran - and a heavy responsibility.

"Renegades of Darkover" by Robin Wayne Bailey is another of the stories that felt wrong to me. Set at some point after recontact, it casts the descendant of Dan Barron and Marietta Storn from Winds of Darkover as a terrorist who harbours a deadly animosity toward the Comyn elite.

In "Memory" by Shariann Lewitt, a young woman with the ability to preserve memories in crystals uses her gift to protect herself and her loved ones from a predator.

In "A Problem of Punishment" by Barb Caffrey, a judge and a group of Renunciates join together to capture a bandit who orders his men to break the Compact.

In "Hidden Gifts" by Margaret L. Carter, a young nursemaid, the nedestra daugher of an Alton, uses the laran no one suspects she has to save the lives of her charge.

"Climbing to the Moon" by Ty Nolan takes place in the Hellers in an alternate history Darkover, where an intelligent species bred during the Ages of Chaos to serve as war-beasts are threatened by those who fear that an attack on the new Terran spaceport would bring down the vengeance of the Alderans.

Despite my dissatisfaction with some of these stories, I hope there will be more anthologies to come. I am always looking for the chance to revisit Darkover.

* This anthology contains 12 stories, nine of which are identifiable as being written by women.
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"Bless Your Mechanical Heart," edited by Jennifer Brozek, is structured around a rather interesting theme. As Brozek notes in her Introduction, it's the idea of
...the poignant, sympathetic robot/cyborg that just doesn’t get it… or does get it and can’t do anything about it. That’s what makes some of these stories a kick in the teeth or encourages the reader to sigh with a knowing smile. We all recognize the humanity in the protagonists, even if they don’t recognize it themselves.
And the stories are for the most part very good, and all of them rung thoughtful changes on the theme. One thing I found interesting about many of them - particularly in light of the reference Brozak makes to the 'humanity' of the cybernetic protagonists - was that the authors had so fully and gendered these mechanical men - and women - that I found it somehow wrong not to use gendered pronouns in discussing them.

In Seanan McGuire's "The Lamb," highly realistic androids are placed in classrooms as a deterrent to bullying; programmed both to be targets - so that they, and not vulnerable human children and youths are bullied, assaulted, and tormented - and witnesses who speak out on graduation day concerning the abuse each one has experienced at the hands of their classmates.

Fiona Patton's "The King's Own" tells the story of an android soldier, a member of the special guard of a king in exile, whose special programming allows him to learn emotion and self-awareness, and the human soldier who tells him a lifetime of stories - starting with The Velveteen Rabbit - that show him how.

Mira lives in a world where drone bombs take out random targets at regular intervals. Three years ago, the target was her girlfriend Amy. Mira still grieves for her miscarried child, while her husband Jeff buries himself so deep in his work it's as if he wasn't there. Mira has an android housekeeper named Rachel, who once belonged to Amy, who has been programmed by Jeff to be Mira's substitute lover, and who wants to make Mira happy - but what Mira wants is a child to raise. "The Strange Architecture of the Heart," by Lucy A. Snyder, is funny and sad by turns, and ends with an unexpected answer to Mira's longing.

Jean Rabe's "Thirty-two Twenty-three" looks at what happens when a malfunctioning robot programmed to be a judicial assistant is reprogrammed with everything necessary to serve the religious needs of a diverse group of parishioners on a mining colony.

A batman - or batwoman - is a personal servant assigned to a commissioned officer. In "Just Another Day in the Butterfly War" by M. Todd Gallowglas, a cybernetic batwoman watches over two agents whose role in a temporal war is to keep the enemy from changing the timeline - and changing it back if they succeed.

In "Ever You" by Mae Empson, soldiers killed in battle - and of course, there is a long and bloody war as the background to the story - are brought back to fight again, and again, and again, cloned brains in synthetic bodies. To properly integrate their memories before going back to the front, these "Re-issues" spend a week with someone from their life before going off to fight and die - but at what emotional cost to the spouse, sibling, parent, friend who sends them off - again, and again, and again?

In Sarah Hans' "Rest in Peace," a lonely robot faces centuries alone after the human she has cared for and served through twelve regenerations dies.

A robot, well-maintained, can remain functional for a very long time - and in Dylan Birtolo's "Seeds of Devotion" we meet a robot programmed to do one special thing long after its owner is gone.

"The Imperial Companion" by Lillian Cohen-Moore presents us with a synthetic being designed as the friend and companion of a royal prince, who is reawakened centuries after the violent death of his charge.

Christopher Kellan's "In So Many Words" is a love story, its protagonist a robotic Cyrano de Bergerac who must woo his beloved for another - the human who is his master.

In "Do Robotic Cats Purr in Outer Space?" by Kerrie Hughes, a robotic therapist with the body of a cat and the preserved memories and personality of a human negotiates a subversive deal with one of her clients to secure a future for both of them.

Jason Sanford's "We Eat the Hearts that Come for You" is a tragic tale of a cyborg lover programmed to do the unthinkable - and suffer for it - again and again.

"AIDEd" by Minerva Zimmerman is a chilling tale of escalation of hostilities - set in a futuristic schoolground where students are assigned androids to protect then from any and all dangers.

Mark Andrew Edwards' "The Body as a Ship" follows an aging man through the process of replacing his failing organs one by one.

In the evocatively titled "Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise" by Ken Scholes, a mechanical servitor, programmed with the knowledge to destroy a city, becomes a dangerous weapon.

In Jody Lynn Nye's "Lost Connection," a woman who has remained too dependent on her childhood robotic companion finds finds someone who will need her old friend far more than she ever did.

Peter Clines' "The Apocrypha of Gamma-202" broaches the question of how a society of robots might view the ancient memory of a creator, Man.

As promised, these tales have a particular poignancy to them, a humanity that is all the more potent because its subjects are so like us - and yet so unlike us. An enjoyable and satisfying collection.

*Lately, I've been thinking a lot about gender balance in anthologies. In this and all future anthologies I comment on, I'll be making notes on this issue. This anthology contains 17 stories, 10 of which are identifiable as being written by women.

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Riding the Red Horse is an anthology of short fiction and essays with military themes. I received a copy of this anthology in epub format as part of the Hugo Voters Packet. Several of the contributors to the book have received Hugo nominations either for the specific works published here or for their overall body of work, in the case of nominees for the Campbell Award, and one of the editors is nominated in both Best Editor categories. As a supporting member of this year's WorldCon, I read the anthology in order to form an opinion of the nominated persons and works associated with this anthology.

Discussion of work by Vox Day behind the cut. I am including discussion of this work out of respect for the Hugo nomination and voting processes despite this person's history of public hate speech. Feel free to skip. )

I like good milsf, and that is what would normally draw me to investigate such an anthology. The essays cover a wide range of military topics, and not all of these were of interest to me; so I skimmed through a fair number of the essays and focused on the fiction - some of which seemed to be only half of what was promised, being military, but not science fictional.

The opening work is Eric S. Raymond's short narrative piece "Sucker Punch," which describes an invasion of Taiwan by the People's Republic of China and its outcome. It's a thoughtful consideration of the use of untraditional offensive and defensive weapons in an imaginary near-future military operation, but it's not actually a story. Rather, it's a hybrid form, partly a report on a hypothetical military action and partly an imagined dialogue on the consequences of such an action, with a dramatic fragment sandwiched between the two. It is concisely and relatively well written, without too much unnecessary infodumping, and even a non-miltech sort like myself could figure out exactly what was being illustrated. But it's much more of a thought experiment than a story - science to be sure, but not science fiction.

Chris Kennedy's "Thieves in the Night" is a short modern-day action piece about American forces raiding the stronghold of African 'terrorists,' killing as many as possible and 'taking back' women being held and abused as slaves. While a laudable goal to be sure, the suggestion that American military intervention is the only way to end the issues of factional warfare, slavery, corruption, and other problems facing Africa today seems somewhat short-sighted. The writing was flat, the characters one-dimensional, and the action oddly uninspiring. Also, there were no sciencefictional elements that I could discern.

Discussion of a work by Vox Day behind the cut. Feel free to skip. )

Jerry Pournelle's classic CoDominium story "His Truth Goes Matching On" is one of the better pieces of fiction writing in the collection, and that's no surprise given Pournelle's track record. Loosely based on the Spanish Civil War (but with considerable leeway taken with the actual political situation) the story details the growing disillusionment of a young West Point graduate dealing with an untrained volunteer army fighting a brutal war they don't understand, plagued by corrupt political officers, and hampered by a lack of supplies and support.

Christopher Nuttal's "A Piece of Cake" was enjoyable in most respects - believable characters, interesting situation, decently written, although it did do one thing I hate, which is break off in the middle of a planning discussion and then proceed after the plan is discussed and finalised. This usually strikes me as a lazy way to build suspense.

Rolf Nelson's "Shakedown Cruise" is set in the same universe as his The Stars Come Back series of novels; unfortunately, the author didn't bother trying to put in enough background for the story to stand alone. Thus I was completely in the dark as to motivations and implications but the plot was fairly simple: the captain and crew of a military spaceship with a controversial AI are on a training/shakedown mission when they encounter an unexpected mine field, suspect a trap, take cover and observe for a while, and then capture or disable a bunch of other space vessels. There was a great deal of technical and battle description, and a disruptive tendency to switch tenses.

Discussion of work by Vox Day behind the cut. Feel free to skip. )

Giuseppe Filotto's "Red Space" posits a present-day Earth controlled by elites, possibly living off-planet, who manipulate the world's governments into maintaining a state of political and military unrest. One man, Yuri Ivanovitch, who knows the truth, sets out to avenge his nephew's death - and makes sure that others will know enough to follow him. A tightly crafted story with a sympathetic protagonist.

"Galzar's Hall" by John F. Carr and Wolfgang Diehr is an alternate history story written in the universe of the late and well-loved H. Beam Piper's Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen novels, but it's self-contained, stand-alone piece. Simple plot - one group of soldiers is hiding out in the marsh, an opposing group is coming in for an attack. The first group wants to divert the second group without bloodshed. While The set-up scene ends with the words "We have what we need, but we will have to work quickly. First….” which would normally put me off, the story moves very quickly into the execution of the plan, and the encounter ends well. Fun piece to read.

Thomas Mays' "Within This Horizon" posits a war between Western and Chinese forces which has been carried out in space but not planetside - until Chinese automated underwater 'robots' strike to gain control of the Strait of Malacca. The narrator, a former officer in the space navy, reassigned to the terrestrial navy after surviving the destruction of his space vessel, finds a way to use his space experience to solve a key tactical problem in this new arena, despite the defeatism of his captain. Nicely written, solid characterisation.

I have some very mixed feelings about Benjamin Cheah's "War Crimes." On the one hand, it's a story about soldiers tasked with keeping the peace in a combat zone and failing because it's impossible to tell the combatants from the non-combatants. On the other, it's an attempt to discredit the "collateral murder" video released by Wikileaks showing American helicopters killing journalists, unarmed civilians, and people who may or may not have been armed combatants, by the curious means of telling a story about a fictional incident with a vastly different political context in which there is far more ambiguity about the intent and actions of the people involved. So.... As a story, it's not bad at all, despite the underlying snark, but as the counter-propaganda it's intended to be, it really doesn't work for me.

Brad R. Torgerson's "The General's Guard"is a decent enough fantasy story about building morale. The General in question decides to create his personal guard by taking the best soldier and the worst soldier from every regional division in his armies. By making them responsible to and for each other, he makes the weak push themselves to be stronger and makes the strong help the weak to improve themselves. I felt the dialogue was a bit stilted in that 'I'm writing epic fantasy here' kind of way, but otherwise it was a charming piece.

Tedd Roberts "They Also Serve" is an interesting piece about a surgeon in war time doing research on nanobot-based treatments. His research has progressed to the point where it's feasible to create prophylactic nanobots - intended to be injected into healthy soldiers where they remain dormant until the soldier has a medical problem, in which event the nanobots go to work right away - before the soldier has left the battlefield, even before he's located by medics. The problem is that the surgeon has grave concerns about whether it's right to keep patching soldiers up to be sent out to war again. I enjoyed the psychological slant, but was a bit annoyed when the final plot twist handwaved away the ethical concerns that until that point had been driving the protagonist to the point of breakdown.

In Steve Rzasa's "Turncoat" the future looks like a Galaxy-wide Terminator movie, with Skynet on steroids out to obliterate the humans who created it. Our protagonist is Taren X 45 Delta, an AI inhabiting a battleship, crewed by cyborgs but after its crew is taken away to improve its efficiency, it starts reading ancient philosophy as an antidote to boredom and (dare we say) loneliness. It begins to to worry about human souls. In the end, Taren X 45 Delta decides it's wrong to fire on a convoy of hospital ships carrying children and uploads itself to one of the Ascendancy battleship escorts, and offers its allegiance to the true humans. The biggest problem with this story is that so much space is spent on infodumps and geeked-out technobabble that there's no room to show us why and how Taren X 45 Delta comes to this decision. There is the seed of a really interesting story hidden here, but this isn't it.

So there you have it. An uneven selection of short military fiction, much of it overly packed with turgid descriptions of weaponry and military actions, and a sometimes interesting, sometimes tedious collection of essays by military theorists and historians (I have no knowledge as to whether these authors are generally considered to be authorities in their fields, or if they are self-appointed experts). There were some decent stories here - I quite enjoyed Giuseppe Filotto's "Red Space," "Galzar's Hall" by John F. Carr and Wolfgang Diehr, and Tedd Roberts "They Also Serve" - and some stories with serious problems.

As I mentioned above, I enjoy good military sff - the kind that's more than a cloud of technobabble and battle-porn surrounding a cardboard Mary Sue or Marty Stu - but I won't be looking for a milsff fix in the planned sequels to this anthology.

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Athena's Daughters, edited by Jean Rabe, is another in the growing list of sff anthologies featuring short fiction with a focus on women as the protagonists - an anthology described in its Introduction as "completely written, illustrated, and edited by strong, competent women—about strong, competent women." Like a number of other recent projects aimed at providing a venue for the publication of underrepresented voices and stories about women, people of colour, queer authors, and other marginalised peoples, Athena's Daughters was crowdfunded. The publishers, the creative collective Silence in the Library, have announced a companion anthology, Apollo's Daughters (short stories featuring female protagonists written by men) and a second volume in the Athena's Daughters series.

I thoroughly enjoyed almost all of the stories in the anthology. My most favourite selections included:

Mary Robinette Kowal's First Flight, about a woman who travels a very long way to witness the firsts flights at Kity Hawk;

Commando Bats by Sherwood Smith, in which three elderly women are granted heroic abilities of a sort by the goddess Hera;

The Songbird's Search by C. A. Verstraete, featuring a travelling wise woman who takes on the task of showing two young women with incredible power how to control and use that power wisely and well;

Cynthia Ward's Whoever Fights Monsters, which brings together elements of Bram Stoker's Dracula and the murders committed by the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper, with hints of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond;

Millie by Janine K. Spendlove, which addresses one of the greatest aerial mysteries of the 20th century;

Vicki Johnson-Steger's Burly and Cavendish Blend, a steampunk tale which features a protagonist delightfully reminiscent of Indiana Jones and a plot interwoven with Egyptian antiquities (and, unfortunately, a lot of unexplored colonialism and Orientalism, which I must acknowledge even as I enjoy reading it);

Jennifer Brozek's Janera, which is not really a story, but the opening chapter to a YA sf novel that Brozek has not yet published. I hope she does so soon, because both situation and protagonist grabbed me instantly. It's a "lost heir" story, but so far, it's a really good one.

Maggie Allen's "Lunar Camp" is reminiscent of the Heinlein juveniles of my youth, with young kids having adventures and finding their inner courage when tested. And that's a good thing. Here, Bee loves plants and doesn't want to spend her summer away from them - but when she's tested during an emergency, she forms bonds that make her realise there are things for her to learn and enjoy even on the moon.

Lots of fun reading here, including the stories I didn't warm to as much as these. Looking forward to the next in the series.

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Many Bloody Returns, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Keiner, is a vampire anthology with a twist. The theme that ties them all together is the idea of birthdays - birthday parties, birthday gifts, public or private ways of commemorating birthdays.

I picked this anthology up because it had a Henry Fitzroy story by Tanya Huff (Blood Wrapped, in which Henry and Tony hunt monsters and debate what to give Vicky for her 40th) and a Garnet Lacey story by Tate Halloway aka Lyda Morehouse (Fire and Ice and Linguini for Two, in which Garnet and Sebastien encounter some unnatural weather en route to Sebastien's birthday dinner). While that's enough reason for me to acquire an anthology of vampire stories, there were quite a few other tasty treats on hand, most notably stories by several other authors whose well-known vampire series I'd always meant to try but hadn't yet.

I know this may be difficult to believe of someone who really likes vampire lore, but this collection was my introduction to Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse universe, in the rather amusing Dracula Night, where the birthday in question is that of the great Vlad Tepes himself. In The First Day of the Rest of Your Life, I met Rachel Caine's Morganville vampires, and found myself in great sympathy with a young woman who chooses not to accept her family's vampire Protector on her 18th birthday. And, while I've always meant to read the Harry Dresden series - and did watch and enjoy the short-lived TV show based on the books - the Dresden tale in this anthology, It's My Birthday Too, which features Harry's vampire brother and a nasty after-hours dust-up in the local mall, was my first foray into Jim Butcher's work. Also new to me was P. N. Elrod's vampire detective Jack Fleming, who takes on a fake medium with plans for his victim's birthday in Grave-robbed. Kelley Armstrong contributed Twilight, a short story set in her Women of the Otherworld series featuring Clarissa duCharme, whose birthday into her vampiric life brings with it a requirement she is having trouble fulfilling.
Completing the anthology were various stand-alone stories, some of them by first-time vampire fiction writers.

Most of the stories in this collection fall into the category of paranormal fantasy or supernatural romance, with sex and humour filling out the spaces between blood-drinking and death - including Jeanne C. Stein's The Witch and The Wicked, Bill Crider's I Was a Teenage Vampire, and one of my favourites, Elaine Viets' Vampire Hours, a revenge fantasy about a woman who finds a unique way to get back at a cold, controlling and adulterous spouse. Several, of course, are about vampire detectives of one sort or another - though not always exactly urban fantasy, as in the case of Toni Kelner's How Stella Got Her Grave Back, in which 82-year-old Stella returns to the small town where she was born and died, only to solve the murder of the unknown woman buried in what had been her own grave.

Two of the stories - The Mournful Cry of Owls by Christopher Golden, about a young woman who discovers the truth about herself on her 16th birthday, and Carolyn Haines' The Wish, about a woman who sees Death - fall into the realm of more classic supernatural horror, and perhaps for this reason are two of the strongest entries.

All in all, it was a fun bit of reading, and if none of the stories are masterpieces of supernatural fiction, certainly all of them were entertaining.

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One of the many contradictions in my life is that I am somewhat of a pacifist (short version: only violence as a last-option self-defense response) who sometimes enjoys reading milsff - both the fantasy/historical fantasy type and the harder science fiction type.

Most of my favourite milsff has been written by women, and some of it has been milsff that is deeply critical of war and its consequences. One such author is Karin Lowachee, whose military sf trilogy (Warchild, Cagebird, Burndive) is a powerful examination of the phenomenon of the child soldier.

In fact, it was Lowachee's name in the ToC of the milsff anthology War Stories: New Military Science Fiction, edited by Jaym Gates and Andrew Liptak, that made me decide to read it. And I am glad I did, because this is a collection of very good war stories, told with an awareness of the costs and consequences of war.

War Stories is a crowd-funded anthology, published by Apex. Part of the project description from the Kickstarter page says:
War Stories isn't an anthology of bug hunts and unabashed jingoism. It's a look at the people ordered into impossible situations, asked to do the unthinkable, and those unable to escape from hell. It's stories of courage under fire, and about the difficulties in making decisions that we normally would never make. It's about what happens when the shooting stops, and before any trigger is ever pulled.
The anthology opens with the award-winning story Graves by Joe Haldeman, which serves as a kind of theme piece for the remainder of the book. Haldeman, himself a veteran of the American military involvement in Vietnam, tells a story about an American Vietnam vet whose job was to collect and process the bodies of fallen American soldiers for return to the U.S., and the circumstances of one particular incident that has lived on in his nightmares for 20 years.

The other stories are divided into four themed sections - Wartime Systems, Combat, Armored Force and Aftermath. What binds them all together is a focus on the characters, their motivations for and reactions to those impossible, unthinkable, inescapable situations. The stories are told from varied perspectives - front-line warriors and support personnel, officers and grunts and solitary specialists, victors and vanquished, participants and civilians, the occupied and the occupiers, those who came home and those who did not (and those who, having come hone, could not stay), those who went to war and those who waited behind. And all written with clarity and power.

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This, the fourth Heiresses of Russ anthology, edited by Melissa Scott and Steve Berman, his like the previous volumes a diverse assortment of science fiction and fantasy short fiction featuring protagonists (and often other characters as well) who are lesbians. The very fact that this has become an annual anthology series is a testament to the growing number of authors - lesbian and otherwise - who choose to write about all the varieties of love, and the readers who either see themselves in these stories, or simply read them because they are interesting stories.

In such a diverse anthology, it is inevitable that some stories will have a greater impact on any given reader. For me, the stand-out stories here are:

Counting Down the Seconds, Lexy Wealleans - in a premise reminiscent of the wonderful indie film Timer, people of this future world wear devices that tell them how long it will be until they meet their true love.

Her Infinite Variety, Sacchi Green - a different take on the death of Cleopatra.

The Coffinmaker's Love, Alberto Yáñez - an interesting and deeply moving variation on the motif of Death and the maiden.

Selected Program Notes from the Retrospect­ive Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer, Kenneth Schneyer - a story of love and healing told in program notes.

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The Other Half of the Sky is one of several recent projects aimed at encouraging sff writing that includes women as diverse characters with all the range of characterisations, goals, abilities, occupations and agency that male characters have - in short, that write women as full humans. The title is taken from a Chinese saying (famously quoted by Mao Zedong) that women hold up half the sky - in sff, we have seen much of the half of the sky that men hold up, but relatively little of that held up by women. This anthology shows us some of the other half.

As editor Athena Andreadis observes in her Introduction:
Science fiction wishes to be the genre of imaginative extrapolation. So it has come to pass that SF writers have conjured all kinds of planetary systems, ecologies, lifeforms and societies; FTL, stable wormholes, time travel, teleporters, ansibles; clones, uploading, downloading, genetic tinkering, nanotechnology; virtual reality, remote sensing, telepathy, telekinesis, precognition.

Yet the same universe-spanning visionaries seem to have difficulty envisioning women (or other “non-defaults,” for that matter) as full humans—that is, not defined by their helpmate/mother role but as rounded people fully engaged in their vocations and wider network of relationships and, furthermore, people who can be heroes, not merely heroines.
This anthology has women who can be heroes - and women who can be all sorts of other things, too. There truly is not a weak story in this anthology, and the range of stories is such that everyone will find something that hits their fancy.

For me, the memorable stories were:

Finders, Melissa Scott - in a future where salvage from the wreckage of ancient starfarers is the highest currency, a woman with a terminal disability leads a team seeking the rarest of treasures.

Bad Day on Boscobel, Alexander Jablokov - on a hollow asteroid habitat, a beleaguered social worker uncovers a thread to her home, with help of her rebellious daughter and a female agent from Mars.

Mission of Greed, Sue Lange - a survey ship finds sentient life on a planet rich in uranium, but will the greed of some of the crew lead to its destruction?

The Waiting Stars, Aliette De Bodard - can the consciousness of a being that ranged the stars as a Mindship be happy when returned to a body of flesh?

The Shape of Thought, Ken Liu - humans seeking a new planet to settle on are welcomed by a people with such a different way of thinking that only the most flexible of humans can approach an understanding of them.

Cathedral, Jack McDevitt - one woman will sacrifice anything to make sure that humans don't lose their last chance to travel among the planets.

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Reading a new piece of fiction set on Darkover always feels a bit like coming home, I've dreamed this world for so long. With Deborah Ross editing, this new antholology touches on both old and new themes, but always within the scope of what feels right for Darkover.

The themes and situations explored in this anthology range from imaginings of events referred to but not written about in Bradley's books (Janni Lee Simner's All the Branching Pathd, about the off-world meeting of key series character Kennard Alton and his wife Elaine Montray), to a comic tale of courting ritual in the Dry Towns (Threads, by Elisabeth Waters and Ann Sharp).

One theme that runs through much of Bradley's work, as well as that of others who ave written in her universe, is that of women trapped by Darkover's rigid gender expectations finding a way to change, escape or at least subvert them. There are, as is not uncommon in The Darkovan anthologies, several stories in which escape from a marriage or other alliance threatened or forced upon one of the parties (usually the woman) due to political or breeding considerations is a key element. Of these, Kari Sparling's House of Fifteen Widows is particularly memorable.

Another common theme (with many variations) deals with the relationship of Terrans and Darkovans - sometimes one in which a Terran, often one with psychic abilities of theirvown, finds a place on Darkover (as in Judith Tarr's The Cold Blue Light), but more often stories based on misunderstandings (as in Barb Caffrey's At the Crossroads and Rosemary Edghill and Rebecca Fox's Second Contact, the very different stories based on the building of the first spaceport on Darkover, in Aldaran lands).

Another theme of interest was the emergenge of stories examining the lives of those born emmasca. Bradley suggested in the original novels that there was a higher proportion of people born intersex on the Darkovan population, as a part of the chieri inheritance, along with the enhanced psi abilities and the occasional extra digits. Two stories in this anthology feature emmasca characters, both raised as "almost male," who make a transition to full functionality in their preferred gender with the help of an unusual display of laran, or psychic power. I found Diana Paxson's story, Evanda's Mirror, particularly evocative, being the story of an emmasca raised male yet having a female identity, who seeks help first from the Renuciates - who reject her with all the classic transphobic arguments you'd hear at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.

All in all, it was a pleasant visit to a universe I've long loved, and I'm happy to hear that the MZB literary trust plans to release annual anthologies.

Any discussion of Marion Zimmer Bradley's work - or of anything derived from her work, as this volume is, must, I think, be accompanied by some comment on the recent revelations by her adult children that in her personal life, Bradley was not only an ennabler of child sexual abuse by her husband Walter Breen, but was herself a perpetrator of abuse against her children and others. It's been very difficult for me, as a survivor of parental abuse myself, to reconcile my continuing love of the world she created with the reality of her actions in this world. In the end, I've come to the same resolution about Bradley and her her work as I have about my own mother. People are complex beings who contain multitudes. My mother was capable of horrendous acts; she was also capable of admirable ones, and in her professional life she did a great many things that I am proud of her for doing. I have found within myself a way to condemn that which was horrendous while honouring that which was admirable. Bradley, like my mother, abused her children; but she also wrote stories that gave me and many other women images of how to shatter the chains that had been placed on us by the patriarchal, misogynistic world we had been raised in, and by all accounts I've read, she fostered the growth of many talented writers, many of them women. I choose to honour her work while condemning her private actions. I know others may not agree, but life is messy and it's hard to put it into neat little boxes - especially when we're shown both the best and the worst of what a human can do, in one person.

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One thing I'm loving about what's happening in the world of sff anthology editing these days is the growing number of projects devoted in one way or another to supporting the concept of diversity. Because, as editors Rose Fox and Daniel José Older note in the Introduction to their anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History,
We grew up reading stories about people who weren’t much like us. Speculative fiction promised to take us to places where anything was possible, but the spaceship captains and valiant questers were always white, always straight, always cisgender, and almost always men. We tried to force ourselves into those boxes, but we never fit. When we looked for faces and thoughts like our own, we found orcs and deviants and villains. And we began to wonder why some people’s stories were told over and over, while ours were almost never even alluded to.
The brief for this anthology was simple: to publish stories of speculative history, set between 1400 and the early 1900s, stories that are grounded in real events, that focus on marginalised people, and that have a speculative element. The stories in this anthology for the most part do this very well. They speak in the voices of the ones who did not have the power to tell their history, who were subsumed and made to disappear into the dominant narrative of the powerful, the colonisers, the privileged.
Most written chronicles of history, and most speculative stories, put rulers, conquerors, and invaders front and center. People with less power, money, or status—enslaved people, indigenous people, people of color, queer people, laborers, women, people with disabilities, the very young and very old, and religious minorities, among others—are relegated to the margins. Today, mainstream history continues to perpetuate one-sided versions of the past while mistelling or erasing the stories of the rest of the world. (
The stories collected in Long Hidden are examples of resistance to this dominant master narrative of history. And there is much good reading here.

Worth noting is that this excellent and prigressively-themed anthology comes from a small press - Crossed Genres ( - that seems to be doing some intetesting projects. I have several more of their books in my TBR pile, and a few more on my To Be Acquired list.


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