Lee Martindale, editor,
Such a Pretty Face
(Meisha Merlin, 2000)

Such a Pretty Face is a collection of 24 stories that set out to break the mould generally associated with fantasy/sci-fi heroes and heroines. All of the stories feature plus-sized characters -- but, while the vast majority are excellent stories, some feel as if they are really stretching to fit the theme of the book.

The most successful stories in this collection are those which use the overweight character as part of the theme. In Elizabeth Ann Scarborough's "Worse Than the Curse," the main character is cursed by a dismissed suitor and becomes increasingly large. The conclusion of this story actually relates to the size of the character, and fits into the idea that heroes can come in any size. "Eater," by Jon Hansen, also uses the character's size as a necessity to a rather unique, but nonetheless heroic ability. Another example that fits well into the theme of the book is "Chance Hospitality" by Carol Y. Huber and Mike C. Baker. "Chance Hospitality" features the opposite curse from Scarborough's story, and the lead character is suddenly granted the "perfect" 98-pound figure. The results in these three stories (and several others in the anthology) reinforce the ideals that Martindale is trying to emphasize and the theme is actually incorporated into the entire story.

Unfortunatly for Martindale, not all of her stories are so well crafted to help create a new breed of hero. Many just include a side comment about a character's weight, and then go on with the story without really focusing on the issue. Some of the stories are really great, but feel as if they were written first, and the word "fat" was added a few times later on to make it fit in this collection. This doesn't necessarily make stories like "Eleven to Seven" by Bradley H. Sinor or Patrice E. Sarath's "The Djinn Game" bad, but when the over-sized characters simply exist to have a large character, it becomes extraneous to the story, and is eventually distracting.

In some of the tales I couldn't help but start thinking to myself, "Yes, I already know he/she is fat." In many cases, if no description had been provided at all, it would have made little to no difference in the story, and the character I would have pictured in my head certainly wouldn't have been Calista Flockhart. At times I think that both the authors and Lee Martindale forget that sci-fi and fantasy are often more creative about their heroes and heroines than other genres, and that the readers of speculative fiction often have more open minds so that we can let in this type of literature. Martindale may really be preaching to the converted.

As a collection of stories, Such a Pretty Face pulls together some well-written and entertaining stories. As a collection of stories about people of size, it often feels forced and contrived. Overall, I would recommend reading this anthology; problems of theme aside, it contains a really fine mix of science fiction, fairy tales and fantasy writing.

[ by Kristy Tait ]

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