Steven H. Silver &
Martin H. Greenberg, editors,
Magical Beginnings
(DAW, 2003)

I'm about one book away from forming a fan club for editor Martin H. Greenberg. His latest collection is assembled in partnership with Steven H. Silver, but there's a definite Greenberg stamp on Magical Beginnings. This collection of now renowned authors' first paying jobs shows the variety of authors and stories that appears in all of his projects, and gives the authors the room to speak for their own work that is nearly becoming a trademark. The detailed reminiscences alone could have been the basis for an anthology. But I hear people crying, "What about the stories?"

For first stories, many of these are surprisingly mature. Andre Norton shows some awkwardness in the culture of the "People of the Crater," but her clean writing style and direct storytelling is already on display. Charles de Lint could have written "Fane of the Grey Rose" last year. Though a little rough at the sides, "Fane" is one of de Lint's usual excellent fairy tales, hinting at older myths while creating something fresh. Peter Beagle contributes a nonmagical but still enchanting story, "My Daughter's Name is Sarah." Though set in the world of modern man and concerned only with the daily life of a father and daughter, "Sarah" is a powerfully crafted bit of writing that I visited repeatedly just to feel the texture of the words.

Kristin Kathryn Rusch also steps slightly outside the borders of the fantasy genre with "Sing," a story closer to science fiction than fantasy. Like Beagle, Rusch infuses her writing with the magic not evident in the story's plot. The aliens in "Sing" are baffled by a simple human concept, music, but it seems to be a sensory perception failure instead of an irritating culture gap. The sweetness and innocence of the unnamed race create a sensation of immense, unbridgeable separation that still invites a human guest.

"April in Paris" is a slight bit of story born from one of Ursula K. LeGuin's hobbies, but the snowballing silliness of this tale is enforced by her clean, sober style. The pull of one quite wretched Paris flat becomes increasingly ludicrous as the story goes on; it's not giving away too much to admit that my favorite victim of circumstance was the dog. Humor is always a tricky sell, but Tanya Huff made it her first with "Third Time Lucky" and has made me an outright fan with her tale of the most powerful wizard on Earth who just can't be bothered to care. Understated characters and Huff's perfectly pitched style bring out the humor in a story that could easily have slipped and become a depressing epic.

It's not quite humor, but Megan Lindholm lets her heroes keep their sense of amusement through the almost Lovecraftian horror of "Bones For Dulath." "Bones" is the earliest of her Ki and Vandien tales, and it's notable for not being a tale of partnership, with Ki decidedly stealing the show. "Rending Dark" provides more interplay between partners. Emma Bull hints at a world rich in myth and culture through this adventure of the mutant Marya and hot-tempered bard Kay. My one disappointment in the story is its solitary nature; the world, if not the characters, feels like it could fill a book.

Of course these are first stories, and some of them are bound to show growing pains. Some of them feel like fan fiction because they are. It's strange to see two now-famous authors testing their legs in the world of fan writing. But there's Susan Schwartz in the world of Darkover with "The Fires of Her Vengeance." I must admit to having never read the Darkover series, but Schwartz reveals all the necessary background in his brief story of rape and vengeance. Mercedes Lackey joins the Darkover fan club with "A Different Kind of Courage." This blushingly amateur fan story lavishes on the overdone emotions and forced drama, with a heroine ultimately rescued from her own life in what feels like childish wish fulfillment. Lisanne Norman handles the birthing pains of a fresh character in her own universe quite well in "The Jewel and the Demon," but stumbles in her new intro, explaining away all the magic of the story.

It's amazing there aren't more missteps evident in Magical Beginnings. These stories should be the equivalent of the authors' awkward high school yearbook photos, gangly and undeveloped and likeable in spite of themselves. Instead they're glamour photos, a bit nervous, sometimes a little overdone, but polished and tempting. And definitely eye-catching.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 31 May 2003

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