The Best of Marion Zimmer Bradley Fantasy Magazine Volume 1 by Marion Zimmer Bradley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I came into this anthology with high hopes, because while the years have taken the luster off them, I love my issues of MZB Fantasy Magazine and think they contain some of the most enjoyable, while still wholesome stories I have ever encountered. Unfortunately, this anthology - filled with what the editor considers the best stories of a range of issues (I am not sure how many issues of MZBF this encompasses; she does not specify); not, notably, necessarily those that the readers voted as the best - failed to live up to my hopes.
Of the stories in this anthology, I would have to say that the humor stories are the most disappointing ... strange, since one of my favorite qualities of the magazine was its ability to provide light but still believable stories. But in this anthology, the humor stories are generally of that quality where the behavior of the characters is stretched to ridiculous for the sake of a joke, ruining any suspension of disbelief I might have had. I didn't care what happened, and the humor wasn't gut-splitting enough to overcome that.
The editor's commentary, overall, detracts from the book. Bad enough that the first story is basically a "punchline" story (in that the only purpose of the tale is to reveal the final line, whether humorous or not), but MZB chooses to telegraph that ending ... making the actual read a bit of a moot point. The personal comments in the intros make it feel as if the magazine was a friends-only club ... not the impression I got from reading MZB's editorials throughout the issues I have.
It's a fantasy magazine, yet at least twice, I counted in the comments, "This is the closest to science fiction we've ever published ..." (you can't say that twice unless they're tied, can you?) and at least two other stories that verged on that territory. This in an anthology of nineteen stories, making about twenty percent of the total ... more if you consider two of the stories are essentially flash fiction.
Those two pieces of flash fiction are very vivid and enjoyable, however. Also of note is Jo Clayton's "Change", which gets deep into the mind of a non-human entity. " The Dancer of Chimaera" from Diana L. Paxson shows the unexpected consequences when a shy, girlish dancer on a space station finds true love. Interestingly, both of these are stories MZB lumped into the SF category (I'd argue that "Change" isn't).
Some of the better stories beyond those draw strongly on a mythic tradition. For Mary C. Aldridge's "The Adinkra Cloth," it is African myth; for Lawrence Watt-Evans' "The Palace of al-Tir al-Abtan," it is Arabian legend. I also liked Pat Cirone's "To Father A Sohn," though I am never a fan of invented pronouns and there's got to be a better way to do it.
Overall, most of the stories are readable, but have distinct flaws, and few are really exceptional. I wouldn't go out of my way to track down this anthology.
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