Terri Windling and Delia Sherman, editors, The Essential Bordertown (Tor, 1998)

The Essential Bordertown provides new stories to Bordertown fans while neatly introducing new readers to the shared world created by Windling with creative input from Mark Alan Arnold and a raft of authors. These authors contributed to early, and now out-of-print anthologies about the city at the Border between the World and Faerie. (These anthologies are well worth seeking out.) Some of these authors are contributors to The Essential Bordertown.

Bordertown is a city that was transformed by the Border between our World and the "True and Only Realm" populated by Elves. Technology doesn't work reliably there, and magic kinda sorta does, and then in ways that you wouldn't expect it to work. It is populated by humans, True Bloods (pure-blooded Elves), and halfies (Elf-human mixes), many of whom eke out an existence in the funky, flamboyant neighborhood of Soho.

The book is set up like a guidebook for the young runaways, human and Elvin, who flock to Bordertown. This is no Fodor's guide; the sections are tough-talking and gritty. If you make it to Bordertown, you need to be practical, alert and motivated, or you're not going to last. Each section describes a different element, including how to get there, how to find a place to sleep, what to eat and where, how to support yourself, and more. The guidebook description is followed by a short story which usually illustrates some aspect of the description, although in some cases, the link is tenuous.

Patricia A. McKillip writes about a runaway with stars in her eyes who has to find her own place in the Bordertown world in the luminous "Oak Hill." A "halfie" with a rare talent escapes from Elfland across the Border to look for his mother and the strength to stay the course in Midori Snyder's moving, powerful "Dragon Child." Delia Sherman's "Socks" is about the power of story and the personal transformation the character Socks experiences as she settles into the family she has chosen.

Tangie Tellican, studying to be a Voudou initiate, wishes he could get his friend Cochise out of the gang he's in, but he finds out just how awry a Bordertown spell can go in "Half Life" by Donnárd Sturgis. Talking teapots feature in "Hot Water: A Bordertown Romance," a delicious love story by Ellen Kushner. Michael Korolenko's "Arcadia" is a poignant tale about a young woman's search for answers about a friend. "Changeling" by Elisabeth Kushner is another love story woven around a production of Peter Pan.

Charles de Lint, one of the "original" Bordertown authors, offers a brief, piercing look at loneliness in "May This Be Your Last Sorrow." Caroline Stevermer's "Rag" is a fast-paced tale about an editorial cartoonist who makes a big difference. "When the Bow Breaks" by Steven Brust was a finalist for the Nebula Award with this haunting, suspenseful story of a Mad River captain and his unusual ship.

"Argentine" by Ellen Steiber shimmers with hope, while Micole Sudberg's bittersweet "Cover Up My Tracks With Rain" is fraught with heartbreak. Finally, Felicity Savage closes the collection with "How Shannaro Tolkinson Lost and Found His Heart," a portrait of the mind set of those fresh from Elfland.

Each author's distinctive signature is present in his or her story, yet all the stories are true to the world they share. The overall quality of the stories is consistently high, and the guidebook sections, written by Windling with some contributions by Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Mimi Panitch, Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner, are vibrant and biting while providing excellent background for newcomers to the books.

Whether you're a longtime Borderland fan or just heard about it this minute, you won't want to miss this collection. Grab a backpack, leave the technology at home, and make a break for the Nevernever -- and don't forget your guidebook!

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

Buy The Essential Bordertown from Amazon.com.