BOOK REVIEW: Fish, Edited by Carrie Cuinn and K.V. Taylor

REVIEW SUMMARY: Another diverse, multi-sided anthology from Dagan Books with an unexpected and unusual subject.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: FISH is an anthology of fiction of various stripes, swimming around the titular subject in a variety of ways.
PROS: A few strong, memorable stories that tent-pole the collection; beautiful cover and interior art; strong diversity in approaches to subject matter.
CONS: Category may be too broad; a number of the works were underwhelming.
BOTTOM LINE: An anthology that shows off the contributors’ and editor’s talents.

A young man with a fishbowl head and fish for eyes…a deep-sea’s fish to the unknown world of the surface….a god in fish form offers a Hawaiian fisherman a perilous bargain…a seamstress’ needlepoint fish threaten to change the fate of two kingdoms…the Just So story of why catfish have a flat head…

These and many other characters and situations are to be found within the stories in FISH, an anthology from Dagan Books.

FISH is a genre-bending anthology that includes fantasy, science fiction, fable, and myths among its thirty-three stories. These stories are mostly short, with varying tones as well as genres. Together, they take on the rather broad titular topic in individual and idiosyncratic ways, often only obliquely, and sometimes rather explicitly.

It’s difficult to speak in generalities about a collection that is as diverse as this one, and containing so many stories. Instead, a few of the representative stories that worked best for me include:

  • Corinne Duyvis’s “The Applause of Others” has a real sense of place–the canals of Amsterdam. The story also brings together a rather narcissistic and self-centered eel and the young woman who encounters him. Mix in an authorial viewpoint of someone very familiar with the culture and ethos of the city, and the story shows how some of the stories use the topic as a springboard rather than a straitjacket.
  • Cate Gardner’s “Too Delicate for Human Form” is a haunting fantasy story of the unexpected legacy of a girl’s aunt and a magical secret with a sharp sting in the tail. Even as the implications of the story become clear, the conclusion of the story rushes down an inescapable cascade as one reads it.
  • Sam Fleming’s “What the Water Gave Her” is a dark, weird and lovely tale about a misunderstood girl, the fish she talks to, and the other things she sees. This story, even more so than the Gardner story, shows how the anthology can sometimes go to very dark places in matter and tone. And, yet, it fits well with the other stories it abuts against.
  • Jennifer R. Povey’s “Water Demons” is a fantastic steampunk tale with a husband and wife team of Victorian adventurers stopping threats from water goblins, kabalists and fish golems. Yes, fish golems. Like other stories I both liked and disliked, this is a clear indication of how creative the authors were with the subject of the anthology.

And yes, as the anchor to the collection, there is a story from the prolific Ken Liu, too, one of the few truly science fictional tales in the collection.

A word about the art, too, is in order. The beautiful cover, by Galen Dara, sets the mood for the piece. Some black and white pieces within the collection by Dara are also very well done. I have been enjoying the art she has been bringing to Dagan Books’ collections, and FISH is no exception to that trend.

The diversity of the collection is a strength and a weakness. The stories ranging from Myth, to New Weird, to fantasy, to fable, to SF, come in a sometimes seemingly unfathomable order. You really don’t know what is going to come next and I think that is part of what the editors were trying to do. The collection works best read in stages, but read linearly all the same.

The broadness of the collection and its contributors works for it, and against it, ultimately. The wide variety of authors and takes on the subject matter simultaneously means that there is enchanting, enthralling work here to be found. It also meant that there are stories which were definitely not in my genre comfort zone, sometimes to good effect and sometimes not. And there are stories here that did not really support the anthology’s mission well.

Ultimately, though, I do think that there is a value proposition in the experimentation and diversity that the editor has brought to this project in terms of authors and approaches to the subject matter. What secrets belong only to a Fish? Dive in and find out.

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