Fantastic Companions by Julie E. Czerneda
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Fantastic Companions is a solid, varied anthology of imaginative, emotional, sometimes gently humorous short stories - all featuring non-human characters, most of whom stand side-by-side with a human counterpart. This is an exceptionally strong anthology; none of the stories were really duds, though a few were simply average, and a few others had flaws with virtues could make up for them ... and most of the tales were strong and satisfying, with unusual concepts or worldbuilding. Several moved me, which is quite hard to do. I enjoyed the range and variety of companions and how they came into play. Even the introduction is well-written: a nice teaser of the contents.
An observation more than anything: most of the stories are about and/or by women, and oddly, the weaker stories were often those with male protagonists. It almost makes me feel as if they were chosen to address an imbalance, rather than being the strongest in the submission pool. My least favorite was Jay Lake's "Eggs For Dinner," but I'll allow that it may be my personal taste - his writing isn't something I generally enjoy. (I also thought that "House of Cats," Catherine Dybiec Holm's opener, was weak in comparison to the rest of the anthology, though it's not a bad story by any means.) I could so easily pick out multiple stories as stand-outs, but I've got to go with my gut on this one: "Darkbeast" by Mindy L. Klasty, for an intriguing setting (children have darkbeasts who absorb their pettiness and faults, then have to slay them to be recognized as adults), a great use of a simple, personal plot, and a perfect ending.
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