Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Dragon Book (Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois, editors)

The Dragon Book
Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois, editors
Fiction, Anthology/Fantasy
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Fierce, proud, magical, majestic... Few fantastic creatures have infiltrated the human imagination like the dragon. This short story collection contains 19 tales from some of the top names in fantasy and science fiction literature today.

REVIEW: After finishing this book, I started wondering if, perhaps, my problem with anthologies isn't with the stories, but with me. Maybe I don't understand what a short story is. I always thought that a short story was a condensed tale, either taking place in a very short time or simply distilled into its purest form, without the subplots or scenery or false starts or deadweight characters that populate longer works. After reading this collection, each one written by a best-selling author who presumably knows more about writing and stories than I could begin to comprehend, I've been forced to conclude that I was mistaken. Apparently, most short stories are about unlikable characters doing unlikable and uninteresting things which only rarely advance whatever passes for a plot, only to end with either a non-event or an out-of-the-blue twist that feels like it was spliced in from another work of fiction. "Short" also apparently can be expanded to cover forty or more pages worth of this aforementioned meandering prose.
Anyone who has read my reviews knows that I have notoriously bad luck with short stories; Bruce Coville, who seems to rely more on story integrity than celebrity name-dropping, seems to be the only safe bet, in my experience. But I've read and enjoyed books by several authors included here, such as Naomi "Temeraire" Novik, Jonathan "Bartimaeus" Stroud, and Tad "Shadowmarch" Williams. (It was also at Half Price Books for a very good price.) So, I figured I'd make an exception to my standard No-Anthologies-Edited-By-Anyone-But-Bruce-Coville rule. Sadly, the stories by two of my favorite authors, had I read them alone, would've turned me off of their larger, better books completely: Williams gets too clever for his own good with malapropisms and other English language maulings in "A Stark and Wormy Knight," while Novik's "Vici" - about the beginning of the dragon-human bonding that forms the heart of her alternate-universe series - lacks the character depth and sense of historic realism that I so love about the Temeraire books. Out of the whole book, I only enjoyed maybe three or four of the stories (including the one submitted by Bruce Coville.) The rest varied between pointless and boring, lacking sympathetic characters or situations I gave a rat's tail about, and often relegating the titular dragons to bit parts. Once again, this seems to be a case of editors (or, I suppose, publishers) collecting Big Names to drop rather than good stories. Lesson learned the hard way... again...

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