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29 January 2010

#5 Paper Cities, edited by Ekaterina Sedia

Anthologies are a great way to sample new authors or genres. Fantasy is one of my favorite genres, though I often get frustrated with the epic-style multi-book series that populate the field. After completing a lengthy universe of a read, a small book of short stories helps me kick the brain back in to normal-lit gear.
Paper Cities is a collection of fantastic stories set in urban landscapes. Having recently read a few of China Mieville's works (which I would place firmly into the urban fantasy sub-genre), I was curious to sample other writers. However, I have a hard time classing some of the included stories into the genre. Mieville's fantasy city of New Crobuzon is almost a self-aware entity and plays almost a character roll in his Perdido Street Station. Most of the stories in this anthology fall short of that, and although this doesn't negate their worth as stories, it makes it hard for me to view them as good entries for this particular anthology. Here are some of my favorites from the book:

Hal Duncan's The Tower of the Morning's Bones stands out in this book, posing the city as a sentinel of time, watching the rise and fall of civilizations. The florid and inventive language reminds the reader that writing is an art. (This is the second of Duncan's short stories that I've read and loved, but I couldn't make it through his novels.)
Promises; A Tale of the City Imperishable by Jay Lake makes me want to read more of his women warriors and their careless world. A friend recommended I find his books, and I think I will.
Tearjerker by Steve Berman caught my attention. Set in the "Fallen Area" where the world rains vinegar and physical rules have been violated, it examines one woman's attempts to survive.
Stephanie Campisi gave an intriguing glimpse into a fascinating world in The Title of this Story, where an illegal onomatician is stumped in his work to name a mysterious religious text brought by an illiterate young man from the outskirts of the . . . city? planet? world? That's unclear.
Alex and the Toycievers by Paul Meloy was the only story in the book with an introductory paragraph explaining the source, a story cycle of universal creation conflict. It was a charming read, though not a short story (nor was it particularly urban).
I was fascinated by both the characters and the setting of Ben Peeks story The Funeral, Ruined, in which new technologies (magics?) allow people to pass by death, though it's questioned whether they're continuing life or not.
The Age of Flowers, Post-Fish was a great little story with a wonderful title by Anna Tambour where the city has been destroyed by semiaquatic orms, and the residents of the Brevant Building, having fortified their home, are trying to survive on their various hoards of edibles (and not-so-edibles).
I was mostly confused by Catherynne M. Valente's arousingling written and richly imaginedPalimpsest, but it was praised by a friend who says that the longer novel gives more information, so I'll look into that.

Don't expect an earth-moving read from Paper Cities, but keep your mind open and perhaps you'll find new places to send your imagination.

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