By Lyndsey Holder
Crossed Genres Year One. January 7, 2010. US $9.99. ISBN-13: 978-1449996949.
The most interesting thing about this book is that it seems to throw convention completely out of the window. There’s a romance with no bodice-ripping, a crime story with a shocking lack of alcoholic detectives, child fiction that is surprisingly dark, and a humour piece that isn’t at all funny. Although it doesn’t work for all of the stories in this anthology, many of the authors within Crossed Genres have travelled far away from the standard fare in an attempt to bring us something incredible.
Unfortunately, more than a couple of the stories seem to be nothing more than a vehicle to introduce an interesting idea. Erika Tracey’s “The Bat and the Blitz” shows us what it might be like if witches and warlocks were secretly serving in World War II on the side of the Allies. The plot itself is very weak, and not half as captivating as the descriptions of magic use in WWII. I was saddened to find out, however, that the Nazis in this story did not have any magic users on their side. Hitler’s connections to occultism are fairly well known, often speculated upon, and are a large part of what makes Nazis such great pulp villains. It seems rather strange to me to have a setting where magic users exist and can use their skills to fight in a war, and not explain why they fight only on one side. This would have been a great story if the focus had been shifted more towards the universe it is written in: giving more details of the battles the warlocks fought in and exactly how they impacted the war effort. When I read that it was “alternate history”, I expected there to be a bit more history in it.
“The Strangler Fig” by Jennifer D. Munro is an excellent story told from the eyes of a paparazzo in love with the starlet he takes pictures of. It would be all too easy to make the protagonist despicable, but Munro writes him with an honesty and rawness that make it possible to understand and even sympathize with him. He acts in ways that are creepy on the surface, but it’s easy to see things through his eyes – his unrequited love for her, his view of their relationship as symbiotic (He helps her career by getting her in magazines; she helps his by being in his pictures), and his feelings of inadequacy. This is a brilliant piece of writing.
Many stories in this anthology suffer from spelling and grammatical errors. The powerful ending of the otherwise-fantastic space robot western (I don’t think there really is such a genre, but this story proved that there should be), “Red Dust” by Amanda Lord, is marred by a spelling error. Further, while I personally didn’t find the comedy in Jill Afzelius’ “Condiment Wars” (basically Toy Story set in a kitchen, but with sauces and spices instead of toys) very funny, it’s difficult to say how much of this was due to the grammatical errors that plagued the piece.
I really wasn’t prepared for Camille Alexa’s “The Good Old-Fashioned Kind of Water”. When I read that it was “child fiction”, I expected something light, something reminiscent of Robert Munsch. Instead, it seems at first to be a rather dark piece, set in a diseased world where acid rain is so corrosive that protective gear must always be worn outside. In this horrible, blighted place, orphaned children cling together, rationing out cans of food and well water, and yet somehow still managing to be children, to have that unbridled imagination, that innocence which children are so famous for. Although, in the beginning, it seems to be a bleak tale, it blossoms into something beautiful, expertly managing to be neither overly depressing nor trite.
Melissa S. Green’s “Cold” is disappointing. It has some very neat concepts, but ends without any satisfying conclusions. We have a very brief introduction to the characters, learn just enough about them and their world to start to be interested, and then are abruptly cut off. The author’s biography at the end states that it is merely the first chapter of a novel in progress, which left me feeling as though I was tricked into reading a book advertisement. I want to stress, though, that the writing is solid, and that I have no doubt in my mind that the novel this piece comes from will be worth reading. It does not, however, work on its own as a short story, and putting it next to complete tales is unfair as there is no possible way that it could read as anything but incomplete, no matter how well-written.
If I had to pick a favourite story, it would be “The Drain” by M. Palmer, although it is only by a fraction that this won first place in my heart. Again, this isn’t exactly the read I was expecting when I saw that it was “horror”, though I’m not sure what I would classify it as such if you asked me. Weird fiction, perhaps? He writes his protagonist in a way that is brutally, viscerally honest, and that’s what makes me love this story so much. There are things about being a woman that he picks up on that I’m not sure everyone would, things that I have personally experienced that I have never seen anyone write about quite as succinctly. The way certain men act around you: how they prowl, sniffing out weakness, assessing the best place to strike. How it feels to be down as a female, how the world looks at an impoverished woman (differently than how the world looks at an impoverished man). I am honestly impressed with the quality of Palmer’s writing. It is exquisite.
This anthology does have its flaws. It isn’t as strong as other anthologies I’ve read, and suffers from errors in spelling and grammar that tend to pull you out of the book at times. However, there are also some fantastic stories contained within its covers. Overall, I felt that the excellent writing I encountered was worth all of the flaws I had to wade through to get there. Hopefully, the next Crossed Genres anthology will pay more attention to editing and will include only complete stories.
You can purchase Crossed Genres Year One through Amazon.com.