With so many novels, magazines and anthologies shouting their contents from their front covers, to come across an anthology that displays no author names is intriguing. The Silver Gryphon (Golden Gryphon Press, $27.95), edited by Gary Turner and Marty Halpern, is an original anthology that celebrates the Golden Gryphon Press publishing venture with this, their 25th book (hence the title). The 20 authors featured have all appeared in one or more of the first 24 books from Golden Gryphon, and include such luminaries as Lucius Shepard, Michael Bishop and Geoffrey A. Landis. They were all asked to write a story that they felt best defined them as a writer; this book gives a fascinating insight into how they see their work. The stories featured are so varied in content, style, and even genre (ranging from hard sf to soft fantasy, to mainstream), that it's a great pleasure to start reading any of these tales just to see what's on offer next.
Lucius Shepard and Kage Baker return to familiar territory, but their stories are no less enjoyable for that. With Shepard's mainstream tale, "After Ildiko," we're in Central America (where so many of Shepard's richly drawn stories are set) and in the company of Pederson, a useless piece of human flotsam on a barge journey up the Rio Dulce. He's fallen in with a Swiss woman, Ildiko, under the jealous eye of the captain of the barge, Joseph Rawley. The story takes us deep into Pederson's psyche as he copes with the consequences of his thoughtless actions involving Ildiko, and his subsequent attempts to retrieve their relationship. By the end, I found myself in sympathy with him, despite his unsavoury character: a tribute to Shepard's skill. As a study of isolation, it's up to the usual superlative Shepard standard.
I reviewed Kage Baker's Black Projects, White Knights: The Company Dossiers (2003) in Interzone 187, a collection of stories about a group of time-travelling cyborgs. Her contribution to this anthology, "A Night On the Barbary Coast," is another Company story set in 19th-century California. It features the field biologist Mendoza on a manhunt in boomtown San Francisco. As a Company story, it doesn't reveal anything more about the organization's background or problems (as hinted at in Black Projects, White Knights), which is a disappointment, although no surprise in a showcase anthology. On the upside, it contains many of the delightful details we've come to expect from Baker as she describes the difficulties her future-aware cyborgs have in their interaction with the natives. So: nothing new here, but fun nevertheless.
Given that there's no particular theme to this anthology, it's interesting that the subject of time travel features in five out of 20 tales. The most memorable time-travel story in this collection is "Takes You Back" by George Zebrowski. A man steps out to get a pizza, and finds himself two-and-a-half years in his past. It's classic Twilight Zone, and Zebrowski does a great job taking the reader through this dilemma, building the tension well until our hapless time traveller lives through normal time up to the point where he disappeared in the first place.
Geoffrey A. Landis, with "The Time-Travel Heart," leaps into his time tale with gusto. It's the sort of story that would have graced the pages of Galaxy magazine many years ago — a time-travel paradox that reads well, looks so simple it verges on the trite, but avoids that fate with panache. Does this mean that Landis sees himself as a writer of retro sf? The story concerns the invention of a time machine, and an attempt to make money out of it. I'm hampered by the desire not to give the ending away: I can only recommend this as a tale that starts with farce, and ends up as deliciously creepy. Another time story is Kevin J. Anderson's "An Innocent Presumption." It concerns a time-travelling woman who's after a serial killer, crossing alternate realities in an effort to catch each reality's version of the killer. It raises interesting questions about destiny and free will in the unique way that only an sf story can.
On a different subject, some of the stories are primarily concerned with American issues (not a surprise as the writers are mainly American). Michael Bishop's "The Door Gunner" takes us back to Vietnam, when the gunner of a gunship helicopter ends up as a zombie. "The American Monarchy" by Richard A. Lupoff takes a satirical poke at the controversy following the Presidential election of George W. Bush (remember the Florida "chads" controversy?). In this alternative world, the situation has been resolved by Bush and Gore sharing the Presidency. Another story that has a political edge is "Tropical Nights at the Natatorium" by Richard Paul Russo. He explores the phenomenon of rich tourists deciding to establish themselves among poorer peoples, and the subsequent exploitation leading to terrorist action. Sadly, in a world where we've had the Bali bombing, this story hardly counts as sf. The reality of terrorist attacks on Western tourists in the Third World mean that the story's ending is underplayed to the point where it needs to be much more horrific to be credible.
On a lighter note, several writers set out to write humour. "Kwantum Babes" by Neal Barrett, Jr. is hampered by the irritable point-of-view of its drunk protagonist, but takes an effective dig at the pathetic efforts of astronomers to bed their beautiful girl groupies (Do scientists have these? If not, why not?). "Fire Dog" by Joe R. Lansdale is the stronger story. It takes an absurd premise and runs with it to its ultimate conclusion. I guessed the ending, but it didn't matter as — in the best jokes — the telling itself was fun. Yet there is a Kafkaesque element to this story, too, whereby the job "becomes the man" to the point where the man himself is extinguished. There's a serious point here, which is the mark of the best humour.
"Far Barbary" by R. Garcia y Robertson is the only fantasy tale in this anthology. It follows the adventures of a Scottish knight abroad as he copes with beautiful English maidens in distress, airships full of fierce Turks and Tartars, and Giant Rocs. Sinbad meets King Arthur in an enjoyable, light adventure. Other stories worth a mention include two that examine romance in its many forms. In "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" by Paul Di Filippo, a young genius has invented information-processing paper. He has paid the price of social and emotional immaturity for his intellectual triumphs, but Di Filippo does bring some sympathy to his nerdy hero. Ian Watson writes a touching tale in "Separate Lives." It uses the sf element to emphasize what is already an excellent story about enduring love between a separated couple. For my money, though, "Cowboy Grace" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is the star of this collection. This is a mainstream story about a successful lady accountant who, in the throes of a mid-life crisis, decides to chuck it all in and become a croupier at the poker tables in the Nevada casinos. The consequences of her seemingly innocent action are surprising; I enjoyed the company of this feisty lady.
So does this anthology offer a collection of stories that "best define" its authors? By the nature of the premise, none of the writers are setting out consciously to break new ground, just showcase what they do best. Given their calibre, its no surprise that the stories have such a consistently high standard. As an introduction to these writers, this book is also an excellent starting point. It's an impressive anthology and a worthy tribute to the Golden Gryphon Press. Although it does hide its authors' lights under a bushel by not putting their names on its cover, I hope that isn't detrimental to its well-deserved success.
— Nigel Brown, Interzone 193, Spring 2004