Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer



876pp/$25.00/April 2020

The Big Book of Modern Fantasy
Cover by Joe Montgomery

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In 2012, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer edited the massive anthology The Weird to help define a specific subgenre of speculative fiction, one they had previously explored in The New Weird, four years earlier. Since that time, the couple has published a series of monumental and genre defining anthologies with The Time Traveler's Almanac, The Big Book of Science Fiction, and The Big Book of Classic Fantasy. They have now followed up with The Big Book of Modern Fantas, which picks up with the previous volume left off. Unfortunately, in their introduction, they make it clear that this will be the last of these anthology they edit, although having provided us with six enormous volumes, they can be excused for wanting to focus on other projects.

While the anthology includes many familiar names synonymous with modern fantasy. Fritz Leiber ("Lean Times in Lankhmar"), Michael Moorcock ("The Dreaming City"), and Jack Vance ("Liane the Wayfarer") all helped establish many of the tropes that so many authors have adopted, responded to, or rebelled against. Diana Wynne Jones ("Warlock at the Wheel"), Patricia McKillip ("The Fellowship of the Dragon"), and Ursula K. Le Guin ("The One Who Walks Away from Omelas") were all heavily involved in the explosion of fantasy in the 1970s. However, the elements of fantasy are thousands of years old. While the VanderMeers explored earlier works in their The Big Book of Classic Fantasy, the influence of those thousands of years is clearly felt in the table of contents of the current volume. Numerous authors who are not generally thought of as fantasy authors are also included since they include elements of the fantastic in their writing. Similarly fantastic elements come from all cultures and their table of contents draws from authors of a variety of ethnicities and countries.

The variety of stories in The Big Book of Modern Fantasy demonstrates not only the strength of the field, but the breadth of the definition of fantasy. Readers who think of George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" ("The Ice Dragon") as the quintessential type of fantasy or think of Carrie Vaughn's urban fantasy in that light may be pleasantly surprised to discover the humor of Terry Pratchett ("Troll Bridge"), the magic realism of Jorge Luis Borges ("The Zahir"), the indescribable fiction of R.A. Lafferty ("Narrow Valley"), or the fairy tales of Leonora Carrington ("A Mexican Fairy Tale"). The VanderMeer's anthology is a chronicle of a robust genre that continues to mutate and expand, drawing on the most ancient stories told by humans and introducing modern elements to create stories that are relevant to the modern reader.

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the science fiction "canon," and while it would be a mistake to suggest that the VanderMeers are working to build up a new canon with their "Big Book" anthology series, the inclusion of authors in these books is a statement that their works, whether the specific stories the VanderMeers have selected or other stories, are worthy of being kept in print and read beyond their initial appearances. The fact that the VanderMeers have cast a broad net in their selection process, intentionally seeking out works by non-Anglophonic author and stories by authors who are not usually represented within the traditional science fictional and fantasy genres, demonstrates the strength of fantastic literature in the first quarter of the twenty-first century and should inspire readers to seek out additional works by the authors included, and, potentially, additional authors.

Maurice Richardson Ten Rounds with Grandfather Clock
Paul Bowles The Circular Valley
Vladimir Nabokov Signs and Symbols
Jorge Luis Borges The Zahir
Jack Vance Liane the Wayfarer
Edgar Mittelholzer Poolwana's Orchid
Margaret St. Claire The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles
Manly Wade Wellman O Ugly Bird!
Abraham Sutzkever The Gopherwood Box
Amos Tutuola My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (Excerpt)
Gabriel Garcia Marquez A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings
Zenna Henderson The Anything Box
Fritz Leiber Lean Times in Lankhmar
Michael Moorcock The Dreaming City
Julio Cortazar Cronopios and Famas
Intizar Husain Kaya-Kalp (Metamorphosis)
Tove Jansson The Last Dragon in the World
J.G. Ballard The Drowned Giant
Satu Waltari The Monster
R.A. Lafferty Narrow Valley
Mikhail Bulgakov The Sinister Apartment
Italo Calvino The Origin of the Birds
Bilge Karasu The Prey
Silvina Ocampo The Topless Tower
Joanna Russ The Barbarian
Rosario Ferre The Youngest Doll
Ursula K. Le Guin The One Who Walks Away from Omelas
Henry Dumas Ark of Bones
Sylvia Townsend Warner Winged Creatures
Fred Chappell Linneaus Forgets
Angela Carter The Erl-King
Sara Gallardo The Great Night of the Trains
Samuel R. Delany The Tale of Dragons and Dreamers
Greg Bear The White Horse Child
C.J. Cherryh The Dreamstone
Alasdair Gray Five Letters from an Eastern Empire
George R.R. Martin The Ice Dragon
Leslie Marmon Silko One Time
Jane Yolen Sister Light, Sister Dark
M. John Harrison The Luck in the Head
Diana Wynne Jones Warlock at the Wheel
Stephen King Mrs Todd's Shortcut
Pat Murphy On the Dark Side of the Station Where the Train Never Stops
Edgardo Sanabria Santaliz After the Hurricane
Rachel Pollack The Girl Who Went to the Rich Neighborhood
Leena Krohn The Bystander
Karen Joy Fowler Wild Boys, Variations on a Theme
Marie Hermanson The Mole King
Ben Okri What the Tapster Saw
David Drake The Fool
Antonio Tabucchi The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico
Leonora Carrington A Mexican Fairy Tale
Elizabeth Hand The Boy in the Tree
Haruki Murakami TV People
Angela Carter Alice in Prague or the Curious Room
Carol Emshwiller Moon Songs
Victor Pelevin THe LIfe and Adventures of Shed Number XIII=
Patrica McKillip The Fellowship of the Dragon
Terry Pratchett Troll Bridge
Vilma Kadleckova Longing for Blood
D.F. Lewis A Brief Visit to Bonnyville
Kelly Link Travels with the Snow Queen
Rikki Ducornet The Neurosis of Containment
Rhys Hughes The Darktree Wheel
Shelley Jackson Foetus
Nalo Hopkinson Tan-Tan and Dry Bone
Tanith Lee Where Does the Town Go at Night
Joe Hill Pop Art
Stepan Chapman State Secrets of Aphasia
Tatyana Tolstaya The Window
Jeffrey Ford The Weight of Words
Han Song All the Water in the World
Dean Francis Alfar The Kite of Stars
Alberto Chimal Mogo
Nathan Balingrud The Malady of Ghostly Cities
Aimee Bender End of the Line
Victor LaValle I Left My Heart in Skaftafell
Sheree Renee Thomas The Grassdreaming Tree
Caitlin R. Kiernan La Peau Verte
Sumanth Prabhaker A Hard Truth About Waste Management
Erik Amundsen Bufo Rex
Manela Draeger The Arrest of the Great Mimille
Karin Tidbeck Aunts
Marta Kisiel For Life
Qitongren The Spring of Dongke Temple
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz The Wordeaters
Ramsey Shehadeh Creature
Garth Nix Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarskoe
Richard Bowes The Bear Dresser's Secret
Alberto Chimal Table with Ocean
Musharraf Ali Farooqi The Jinn Darazgosh

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