Flights: Extreme Visions of Fantasy by Al Sarrantonio, Ed
Roc / Penguin Putnam HCVR: ISBN 0451459776 PubDate: 06/01/04
Review by Edward Carmien
560 pgs. List price $ 24.95
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Whether one imagines the divisions of the genres are marketing devices or genuine markers of difference between, say, heroic fantasy and horror, the fact this anthology was edited by Al Sarrantonio (winner of the Bram Stoker award) should provide a clue that not all within the pages of Flights is destined to be elves and sorcery, magic and knights. This sizeable tome kicks off with stories close to the heart of horror if not actually entombed within it with stories by Robert Silverberg, Kit Reed, Catherine Asaro, and Joyce Carol Oates.
While Sarrantonio spends less time creating a critical background for his anthology than did Brian S. Thomsen in The American Fantasy Tradition, he does kick open the door to his anthology with a definition from Locus writer Ed Bryant. Bryant’s definition of fantasy encompasses nearly all fiction, making the presence of horror fiction unsurprising.
The stories here are consistently good, and the quality of the writing is not restricted to the major-league names this anthology sports: Silverberg, Card, Asaro, Niven, Hand, Wolfe, Bisson, Gaiman, McKillip and others are heavyweights, certainly. Less commonly known but also exceptional writers also turn in great performances here.
Sarrantonio claims to be continuing in the lineage of Harlan Ellison’s fabled Dangerous Visions anthology, having told his writers to “not be concerned with taboos.” However, while some tales here are not the sort one shares with young children, most are not tremendously experimental or unusual in form or construction. Thomas M. Disch, a well-known deep thinker of the field, surprises and disturbs with his story “The White Man.” Joe R. Lansdales “Bill, the Little Steam Shovel” should be made into a picture-book, according to Sarrantonio—but if so, most parents will not shelve it with the Seuss or Goodnight Moon. It is, however, picturesque and amusing and unusual. L. E. Modestitt’s “Fallen Angel” will provoke thought, Elizabeth Hand cranks narrative to an unusual angle with her “Wonderwall,” and Peter Schneider’s “Tots” is darkly hilarious. There are too many to comment about them all, but these are the tales that struck this reader as the most representative of dangerous visions.
Good stories that don’t push the envelope but which still are well worth reading include Turtledove’s “Coming Across,” a predictable-but-can’t-avert-one’s-eyes tale, Gene Wolfe’s hypnotic and alluring “Golden City Far,” Silverberg’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and many others.
Readers with an interest in short fiction will enjoy at least some of the work here—even though it is not all cutting edge, all the work here has something to recommend it. Most readers will like it all, or nearly all—the size of the anthology works against it in this case. Of 29 works, some may not attract any one reader.
Flights would serve well as a course text. These authors represent a big slice of working genre writers, and the variety of stories provides for a lot of opportunity for teachable moments. For general reading, this would make a great summer book—just enough in any one story to pass part of a warm afternoon, or perhaps to fine-tune one’s tan. Readers, give this text time—it is not a one meal book, but rather a book of many snacks and light meals. Spread out the calories to better enjoy them all.