Songs of Love and Death edited by George R R Martin and Gardner Dozois
Songs of Love and Death: All Original Tales of Star-crossed Love is another impressive anthology from George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois who have now displaced Bambi and Thumper from the top of the league table of editorial superstars. This time, they have challenged their current coterie of top authors to explore the interface between romance and fantasy, looking for “star-crossed love”.
We start off with “Love Hurts” by Jim Butcher. This has Harry Dresden consider how much illusion can enhance reality as we pass in and out of the sometimes confusingly named Tunnel of Love. Perhaps if we know the love is fake, we can stop it from working its magic, which would be particularly important if, unlike Dresden and Murphy, we happened to be brother and sister. Switching tropes, “The Marrying Maid” by Jo Beverley is an elegant story of a mortal caught in a game between Oberon and Titania. Some might say this is a golden opportunity, particularly if we had a Robin Hood complex, but it all comes down to our credibility with the maidens. I mean, how many are gullible enough to fall for a story that the man will literally die if he doesn’t get them into bed?
“Rooftops” by Carrie Vaughn gives us a real twist on the superhero complex with many humans, modestly enhanced, emerging to defend the downtrodden from further victimisation. And all the mutual attraction between defender and defended could be celebrated in words, but only the postmodern variety, of course. After all, who knows just how super anyone will turn out to be. “Hurt Me” by M L N Hanover is the impressive Daniel Abraham pretending to be new author. He asks how a victim might recover her self-respect and the answer is particularly pleasing when it comes to a definition of revenge. This is one of the best short stories of the year (so far).
“Demon Lover” by Cecilia Holland brings us back to the land of the fey where cruelty is routine if you surrender yourself for the sake of illusions. While we are off into distant galaxies with “The Wayfarer’s Advice” by Melinda M Snodgrass. This deals with sad practicalities when the gap in status is just too great to bridge. Even though you might snatch a few selfish moments, the worlds cannot keep on orbiting their suns unless key people are in the right place. Back on the ground, “Blue Boots” by Robin Hobb reminds us that there’s never any guarantee gossip will give you perfect information, nor that jealousy can resist the chance to dispose of a rival. This is a pleasing “straight” historical romance in which the right minstrel can weave magic with words. And, thinking about how words can defend our reputations, “The Thing About Cassandra” by Neil Gaiman wonders who might have invented whom remembering, of course, that the curse on the original Cassandra meant no-one believed what she said about anything important.
“After the Blood” by Marjorie M Liu details how survivors in a post-apocalypse situation might change if the world offered different ways in which we might commune with nature. People of all varieties are often more adaptable than they believe possible. Change, though, can come with a price tag attached. “You, and You Alone” by Jacqueline Carey might be a commitment too far. This is a very good piece of writing, but it reads more as background to, or an extract from, a Kushiel novel than a short story. That said, this is a clever way of talking about the commitments we make in different types of love: as between brother and sister, between lovers, and to children.
“His Wolf” by Lisa Tuttle is another particularly strong story that speculates on the way people bond. This may be as humans when they meet someone they feel is a kindred spirit, or as human to animal where both may change their lifestyles to adapt to each other. This can get more interesting if it becomes a ménage à trois. Returning to outer space, “Courting Trouble” by Linnea Sinclair has us in a more straightforward situation of a police officer seeking just the right moment to confess love. Somehow, the middle of an undercover operation with space canons pointing at you is not necessarily a good time.
“The Demon Dancer” by Mary Jo Putney has odd moments of rather banal magic interwoven into a tapestry of greater abilities. In this case, we have the old May/December relationship problem tinged with the recognition that, after December, comes January and then things are the right way round again. While “Under/Above the Water” by Tanith Lee is a magical tale about reincarnation or the ability of two souls who, feeling destined to be together, manage to transcend time and end together. This is a very clever blend of magic and romance in an SFnal setting.
Coming into the finishing straight, “Kaskia” by Peter S Beagle shows how chatting online can help bring reality into focus. All you need is an incentive to talk and the very act of forming the previously unspoken words, clarifies your thoughts. Beagle really is one of the most consistently readable short story writers working today. “Man in the Mirror” by Yasmine Galenorn produces a nice variation on the old idea of mirrors as a trap for the unwary. In this case, being in love sometimes means you must sacrifice yourself to save another. Finally, “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” by Diana Gabaldon sees the necessary editorial decision to translate British slang into something our transatlantic cousins can understand. I often wonder whether it might not be better to avoid using British English altogether when something is written for the US market. That said, this is a poignant way to end the anthology. Sometimes those who are lost need to hold on to memories just as sailors navigate by the stars. As they travel, they hope. Perhaps they will be in time to save the one they love.
It’s always pleasing to be able to report another excellent anthology. Although there are odd moments when I felt a slight falling away in matter of detail, this has a remarkable consistency of standard. Definitely worth reading!
For reviews of other anthologies by our top editorial team, see: Old Mars, Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance and Warriors.
For an anthology edited by Gardner Dozois on his own, see:
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Eighth Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Thirtieth Annual Collection.
“The Thing About Cassandra” by Neil Gaiman is a finalist in the 2011 Locus Award for Best Short Story.