Review: Songs of Love and Death, an Anthology

I rarely read short stories, even though a lot of authors I enjoy contribute to anthologies regularly.  A short story is kind of a no-win for me; if I love it, it’s over too soon.  This is particularly true of anthologies.  Unlike a collection of short stories by an author you know you love, with an anthology you know going in you’ll like some of the stories and dislike others.

That said, this anthology caught my attention because it features a short story by Diana Gabaldon that provides a back-story about Jerry Mackenzie, Brian’s father who died in World War II.  The theme of the anthology is love stories that are frustrated  in some way by death, conflict, time travel, or some other obstruction.  The stories are mostly fantasy, with a little bit of science fiction and a little romance.  It’s a rather loosely defined collection, which I didn’t mind.  And since I like sad, unresolved endings this seemed a good fit.

I read most of this collection while sick with the flu, so be aware you’re getting a less than detailed review here.  At the same time, these stories were perfect reads while sick because they required very little concentration.  So maybe I don’t love short story anthologies while healthy, but they work great if you’re spending hours in bed under the influence of cold medicine.  Also good for sleepless nights.  Which isn’t a raving endorsement, but there you are.

The stories themselves were a mixed bag, but I enjoyed ones by Gabaldon and other authors I know and like: Carrie Vaughn, Jim Butcher and Neil Gaiman.  I also enjoyed several stories from authors I haven’t read before: Robin Hobb, Peter Beagle, and Linnea Sinclair.

Some of my favorites:

“Love Hurts” by Jim Butcher.   I kind of got tired of the Harry Dresden books after around the 8th in the series, but I do love Harry and Murphy and the way Butcher writes.  So it was nice to get a little taste and maybe I’ll go back to the series.

“The Thing About Cassandra”  by Neil Gaiman.  Gaiman is brilliant and I need to read more of his books.  This is a story about a guy who makes up a first girlfriend, then is troubled when people start saying they’ve run into her.  Very “Twilight Zone”.

“Blue Boots” by Robin Hobb.  I’ve been meaning to read something by Hobb, so this was a good incentive.  Blue Boots tells the story of a kitchen maid who falls for a minstrel.  Everyone tells her this guy is just a womanizer.  Even in a short story Hobb manages to tell a pretty complex tale and avoid simple stereotypical characters.

“Rooftops” by Carrie Vaughn is a take on the Superman story — girl falls in love with masked rescuer and wonders if she knows him in real life.  She also has to figure out whether her somewhat-flawed boyfriend can compete with the fantasy of a superhero.

“Kaskia” by Peter Beagle.  Maybe this story’s been told before, but it felt original to me.  Shy awkward guy falls for a woman who appears to him through his computer.  Is she real or in his head? An alien trying to communicate or someone’s elaborate prank?

A few I didn’t like so much:

“You and You Alone” by Jacqueline Carey, who writes the Kushiel series.  I know people love her, but I don’t know the characters, and didn’t care for the narrator or the story.  Found it melodramatic at best.

A story by Tanith Lee called “Under/Above the Water” was a little more poetry than actual story.

“His Wolf” by Lisa Tuttle – a pretty cliché story about a man/wolf.  I like a good wolf story but this wasn’t it.

“The Marrying Maid” by Jo Beverly – too much romance novel for me.  I found it silly.  Robin of Locksleigh is doomed to die unless he marries the woman who is pre-ordained for him, by a certain date.  He finds her, brings her to his castle, she believes his crazy story, and voila, true love is found.

“The Demon Dancer” by Mary Jo Putney – bleh. The title alone almost made me not read it, and I wouldn’t have missed anything.

But that’s an anthology for  you.  You read what you like, skip the parts you don’t.  But if you’re lucky, you discover a few new authors you like.


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