Wil McCarthy, Martin H.
Greenberg & John Helfers, editors,
Once Upon a Galaxy
(DAW, 2002)

This collection of 14 sci-fi stories, all loosely based on classic fairy tales, is what is typically referred to as a "beach read," which means that it is not bad, but probably not destined to become a classic, either. These stories are easy to read, entertaining, but ultimately forgettable. For an afternoon of relaxed reading, this book is perfect -- buy it. If you are looking for a serious literary adventure, however, keep shopping.

A common theme through many of the stories is the way that unknown technology can seem like magic. As Wil McCarthy wrote in his introduction:

Even as a child I was bothered by the fact that fairy tales, without exception, hinge on a supernatural occurrence. I had waited and waited for a supernatural occurrence in my own life, some little sparkle of magic, but it never quite seemed to happen. And in a way, this seemed to undermine the authority of fairy tales, to relegate them to some other, slightly parallel universe where things like that could really happen.

As an adult, he came to realize that those magical events could actually be the result of technology, whether real or hypothetical. Hence, the fairy-tale/science-fiction tie-in.

There are rewrites or spin-offs of many of the best-known fairytales, including Goldilocks, Puss-in-Boots and The Emperor's New Clothes, and several stories that just have a fairy-tale feel to them, as well. Perhaps the best overall is Michelle West's "The Nightingale," a haunting tale of an android who learns to love from a woman who is her competition for the favor of their emperor, but who prefers death to life as a puppet. The language is lyrical, like the songs the android Nightingale sings for her owner, and painful, like the heart she learns that she has. This one is rather memorable.

There are two tales dealing with Elvish themes, "Of Wood and Stone" by Ronnie Seagren and "The Last Invasion of Ireland" by Richard Garfinkle; and a Cinderella-based piece, Richard E. Friesen's "Dancing in the Ashes." The rest of the stories run the science-fiction gamut, from time travel and spaceship stories to alien invasions and strange science. And while none of them are bad -- in fact, some are quite good -- they never quite make the leap into the realm of the extraordinary.

- Rambles
written by April Chase
published 9 November 2002

Buy it from Amazon.com.