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Bending the Landscape: Fantasy
Edited by Nicola Griffith and Stephen Pagel

Reviewed by Carl Cipra
Rating: none given

The first volume of Bending the Landscape, a new three-volume anthology of gay/lesbian F&SF short fiction, hit the bookstands about a month ago.  It's called Bending the Landscape: Fantasy; and if this book is any indication of what the entire series will be like, then I'm really looking forward to the upcoming two companion volumes (reportedly entitled BtL: Science Fiction and BtL: Horror).

In this volume's Forward, editors Nicola Griffith and Stephen Pagel say that their intention was to have "queer writrs write fantasy for the first time and genre writers explore queer characters" and to feature works by "a group of talented newcomers and award-winning genre veterans."  And, to my mind, they've made some great choices for this anthology!  This is a collection of well-written fantasy with "queer themes" by authors who seem to have a "feel" for the genre - not just gay/lesbian erotica with a thin veneer of fantasy slathered on.
 
In case the names of the editors seem somehow familiar to you, just let me remind you that Nicola Griffith is a two-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award in the category of "Fantasy and Science Fiction" (for her novels Ammonite and Slow River); and Stephen Pagel is Director of Sales at White Wolf Publishers (known for publishing fine works of F&SF), as well as a frequent Gaylaxicon guest.
 Bending the Landscape: Fantasy features an excellent collection of 22 all-original pieces of gay/lesbian short fantasy fiction.  Virtually all aspects of "fantasy" literature are explored:  contemporary urban fantasies, a vampire tale, a few "Orientalist" fantasies, some ghost stories, some classic "high fantasy" tales - as well as a couple of stories that I personally would have classified as "science fiction."
 
It's always difficult to figure out which of an anthology's stories to include in a review, so I'll just mention a few of my personal favorites here.  There's K.L. Berac's witty little magical mystery "Magicked Tricks," in which some friends try using unfamiliar magick to solve the apparent murder of a one-night-stand.  There's Lisa Silverthorne's "The Sound of Angels," the poignant tale of a lesbian couple's last moments together - just the two of them, a mind-link, and a pod of killer whales.  In "Expression of Desire," Dominick Cancilla relates an eerie story about a lesbian vampire-artist's unique "closet lifestyle."  For fans of the "Thieves World/Sanctuary" shared universe, Robin Wayne Bailey has written a new story about the gladiator/lovers Dismas and Gestus; it's entitled "The Stars Are Tears" and it's definitely a new twist on the old "boy-meets-?" story.  Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman have teamed up (and what a high-powered team it is!) to co-author "The Fall of Kings," which is set in the same world as Kushner's fabulous novel Swordspoint - but two generations later.  And then there's perhaps my favorite, Tanya Huff's "In Mysterious Ways" - a delightful new story about Terizan the thief and her intrigues with the powers-that-be in the Thieves' Guild, this time involving the theft of a creatively-vengeful godling's eye.
 
There's some very entertaining reading in here!  Not a clunker in the lot!  If you're looking for enjoyable, well-written fantasy stories featuring gay and/or lesbian characters, then this book is a "must read."  And definitely look for Bending the Landscape: Fantasy (and probably it's companion volumes, too!) among future lists of Lammy nominees!

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