REVIEW SUMMARY: Tad Williams’s third collection includes 17 stories from across his career, ranging in publication dates [1988 through 2014] and across the genre landscape [fantasy, horror, mystery/detective, science fiction] highlighting one of the genre’s most potent storytellers.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Very Best of Tad Williams is just that, a retrospective of a superb writer/storyteller.
PROS: A master of the Epic displays his storytelling abilities in the short form with great success.
CONS: A couple of the shortest stories of the bunch connected with me the least.
BOTTOM LINE: An essential addition to the bookshelf for fans of Tad Williams and also a great opportunity for new readers to sample the breadth of his storytelling prowess.
The Very Best of Tad Williams is the third collection of the author’s short fiction and includes stories published as far back as 1988 to a story new to this volume, 2014. To most genre readers, Tad Williams is best known for door-stopper epic sagas like Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, Otherland, and Shadowmarch, in addition to the recent Angel Detective series Bobby Dollar. This latest collection illustrates that it is not the size of the epic, but the teller of the tale.
I’ve read a handful of his shorts in various themed collections and am a very big fan of those aforementioned large-scale Epic sagas, and I consider Memory, Sorrow and Thorn one of my favorite series. So how did the collection work as a whole?
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Award-winning photographer Lauren Zurchin has created a fantasy photography calendar with fourteen world-famous authors: Holly Black, Gail Carriger, Cassandra Clare, Tessa Gratton, Lauren Kate, Gregory Maguire, Brandon Mull, Lauren Oliver, Christopher Paolini, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Maggie Stiefvater, Tad Williams, and Brenna Yovanoff.
Each month features a photograph of a different author (or authors, in one case) dressed in custom costumes made by Lauren, and placed in unique locations with one-of-a-kind props. The overall effect is sometimes dark, sometimes ethereal, sometimes whimsical, and completely fantasy.
Here’s the book description:
This career retrospective from beloved author Tad Williams (Otherland; Tailchaser’s Song; Shadowplay) demonstrates why he is one of fantasy’s most enduring icons. The Very Best of Tad Williams collects Williams’ finest work in multiple genres, including epic fantasy, urban fantasy, and YA. These superlative tales, many of which were previously available only in limited editions, introduce dragons, wizards, assassins, heroes, and fools — even a few cyberpunks and super-soldiers.
Readers only familiar with Williams’ internationally bestselling novels and series will be delighted that in his short fiction he explores myriad new possibilities and adventures. Here are the stories that showcase the exhilarating breadth of Williams’ imagination, hearkening back to such classic fantasists as J. R. R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, Peter S. Beagle, and beyond.
Here’s the table of contents…
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BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Bobby Dollar is once again chased by demons and questioned by juries of angels. Everyone wants him to go to Hell, including himself. So he does.
PROS: An amazing and disturbing vision of Hell; more conspiracy layers upon conspiracies, as the norm of what we the reader (and Bobby Dollar) think the rules are between Heaven and Hell are slowly disproven; the character Riprash.
CONS: Descriptions of hell and its punishments so vivid I almost put the book down.
BOTTOM LINE: The first book in the series set the stage by stating the rules of balance between Heaven and Hell…and then slowly showing that their are no rules. This new book burns down the stage and the book of rules, with an amazing, disturbing, thought-provoking depiction of Hell. Who is Bobby Dollar (or who was he before he became an angel), and why he is the focal point of these trials and adventures?
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REVIEW SUMMARY: Author Tad Williams does a lot of things differently (and exceptionally well) than in his previous series in a crime-noir take on the concepts of Heaven and Hell, and Angels and Demons.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Souls of the recently deceased begin to disappear and advocate angel Bobby Dollar has to solve the mystery before demons, his bosses in Heaven and the lords of Hell lay the blame and punishment on him.
PROS: Fiery demons! Sexy demons! Angels with assault weapons and cool cars! And just enough recitation of the rules to make the reader realize: there are no rules.
CONS: Not many. A lot of telling of the rules; a story-line that could be a series, but will hopefully tie up some loose ends without dragging them out.
BOTTOM LINE: The first in the Bobby Dollar series is a fun, fast-paced read, with a protagonist that does what a lot of us do: questions the rules of Existence and his place in it while just trying to survive…but Bobby Dollar happens to be an Angel. The rules seem cut and dried…but are they?
If you could get a new Wheel Of Time short by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, new stories from Shannara, Word/Void, Riyria, Demon Cycle, Vault of Heaven, Temeraire, Broken Empire, and more all in one collection, what would you say?
Well, if you haven’t heard of Shawn Speakman, perhaps you’ve heard of his website: The Signed Page where he makes available signed copies of new releases for fans who can’t make it to events where their favorite author appears in person. Or maybe you know him from Suvudu.com, the Random House speculative fiction blog where he’s a regular contributor or from the websites he runs for authors like Terry Brooks and Naomi Novik.
What you may not know is that Shawn suffers from Hodgkins lymphoma. Diagnosed in 2011 and without health insurance, his treatment has left him with thousands in medical bills. Faced with filing bankruptcy, Shawn sought another way out. A way he could make it through without dealing with the 10 year nightmare a filing would bring. Then his friend Terry Brooks offered him a short story Shawn could sell to help alleviate those bills and an idea came to his head. What if he did an anthology from some of the many author friends he’d made over the past few years from both Suvudu, The Signed Page and his other activities?
[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
Urban Fantasy remains as a strong and vibrant subgenre of Fantasy. Like any subgenres, over the last few years, new authors, new ideas and new motifs have often radically reshaped a genre once known for “supernaturals in the night” into a much broader category. We asked this week’s panelists:
This is what they had to say…
The problem with knowing where a genre is going starts with defining the genre itself. What exactly is “Urban Fantasy”? There’s always been a category of work in what was then just called “Science Fiction” that fits this bill, from Bradbury’s October Country stuff to Sturgeon and Leiber and many others, including myself and many contemporaries. (I’d love to know what my book War of the Flowers was if it wasn’t urban fantasy.) But these days it’s also a consumer category — that is, it’s meant to narrowcast to people who apparently like fantasy stories that don’t take place in the traditional epic-fantasy environments of imaginary pasts. At the moment that means lots of fairies, vampires, werewolves, and zombies, most of which used to be thought of as components of “Horror”. So it’s hard to say. The trendy stuff — hello, bloodsuckers! — will peak and dwindle, just like serial killer novels did, but there will always be stories that can rightly be called Urban Fantasy. So I suspect it’s not a question of whether the waves will still come in — they will — but what kind of surfers will be on them. Memes will rise and decay (mostly through incestuous overuse) but as long as people stay interested in what lies behind ordinary life, I suspect the genre, at least the part that is about storytelling, will stay strong.
Tad Williams writes doorstop-sized fantasy series where, in his world building, not everything is ever revealed to the reader. One of the great characteristics about series such as Otherland, Shadowmarch, and Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is that, when they are done, there are pieces and connections that your brain continues to try to figure out; it’s not that he leaves big gaping holes in the background of the world or characters, he provides just enough to allow his reader to think, and to imagine. (The other great characteristic is that he finishes these series with a frequency that doesn’t keep his readers waiting for several years; and he always provides a summary of what has gone before, something those of us with poor memories require.)
Thus, I expected this collection of short stories and novellas to be in that category: grandiose fantasies with lots behind the curtain. And some of these certainly fit in that bucket and could be extended into larger stories and worlds (specifically “And Ministers of Grace”, “The Storm Door”, “The Stranger’s Hand”, and “The Terrible Conflaguration at Quiller’s Mints”, which takes place in the Shadowmarch world). But there were other stories that were either completely out of the fantasy genre, or in someone else’s world, or were just standalone fantasy short stories. And unfortunately, there were a couple of screenplays thrown in. Unless it’s Shakespeare, the reading of a screenplay is difficult (unless maybe for actors?), and having one (or two) in a collection of short stories breaks up the rhythm. Structurally, they are quite a different read, and the two included here were a fragment and a horror story. “Black Sunshine”, the horror story, I actually enjoyed, but the reading of a story in screenplay format is not for me.
My favorites here were “And Ministers of Grace”, “The Stranger’s Hand”, “The Thursday Men” (Hellboy, yeah!) and “The Lamentable Comic Tragedy (or the Laughably Tragic Comedy) of Luxal Laqavee”. I could have done without “Bad Guy Factory” (the screenplay fragment) and “The Terrible Conflagration at the Quiller’s Mint”.
Individual reviews below:
Variety reports that Warner Brothers has acquired feature rights to Tad Williams’ science fiction book tetralogy, Otherland, comprised of City of Golden Shadow, River of Blue Fire, Mountain of Black Glass and Sea of Silver Light, which were originally publsihed between 1996 and 2001.
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