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Salon Fantastique: Windling and Datlow do it again

Updated on December 22, 2010

Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow are my favorite fantasy anthologists, bar pretty much no one. They've had quite an output, quite a lot of which I have not yet been able to read, but what I have read I have loved. They were the editors for the bulk of the the run of the "Year's Best Fantasy and Horror," and in my opinion that series declined in quality when Windling left, with Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant being unable to pick up the slack. They were also the editors for the "Tales From" series of folkore-themed anthologies (which included "The Green Man", 'the Faery Reel", and "The Coyote Road"), one of my very favorite anthology series.

So I was quite enthusiastic to read "Salon Fantastique," their collection based around recapturing the spirit of the literary salons of eighteenth and nineteenth century France. To accomplish this, they selected fifteen writers that they liked, both old pros and relative newcomers, and told them to experiment and come up with something new and innovative.

What the authors came up with varies wildly. There is very little in the way of traditional fantasy here, with Peter S. Beagle's "Chadail" and Catherine M. Valente's 'A Gray and Soundless Tide" probably coming the closest, the former with an old woman reflecting back on her youth and her strange experience with the dying sea creature of the title, the latter an interesting twist on traditional selkie legends. Both are really good, with special credit needing to go to Beagle's invention of such a new and fascinating creature with such a truly alien way of thinking and acting, a truly courageous act by any fantasy writer.

Besides Delia Sherman's "La Fee Verte," a lovely historical fantasy which deals with the interactions between a bohemian prostitute and a mysterious fortuneteller set in late nineteenth century France, most of the rest of the stories are more slipstreamy or experimental. Sometimes this works, sometimes it really doesn't.

Where it works is with stories such as Gavin J. Grant's 'Yours, Etc."; where a man tries to protect his wife from the ghosts that she writes letters to, and Christopher Barzak's "The Guardian of the Egg," in which the teenage narrator's older sister inexplicably grows a tree out of her head and begins to change the world around her. These stories are evocative of particular moods, and while what actually happens may not be explained or really make sense, you can still gain a sort of instinctive sense of what the story means on an emotional or thematic level.

However, there are several stories which plain do not work. Greer Gilman's "Down the Wall" is written in impenetrable slang, making it impossible to understand what is going on, why, or what we're supposed to feel about it. Gregory Maguire's "Nottamun Town" and Lavie Tidhar's 'My Travels with al-Qaeda" rely too much on their nonchronological order in order to be different, and as a result are less successful. David Prill's "The Mask of '67" is just kinda dull, provoking a few questions that it never really bothers to answer.

However, aside from these mis-steps (and some of them, for instance "My Travels With al-Qaeda," are at least interesting attempts), "Salon Fantastique" is an all-around good anthology, with a wide spread and very interesting selection of stories. Although it isn't as good as "The Faery Reel" or "the Coyote Road," this anthology once again demonstrates the talent of Windling and Datlow at assembling an awesome anthology. 

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