Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fantasy-Faction Anthology edited by Marc Aplin and Jennie Ivins

Aha! I have returned from the wilds of England!

As the picture above may have alerted the more eagle eyed amongst you this is going to be a review post.

For a few years now, almost as long as the book above took to produce, I've been a moderator over at Fantasy-Faction's forum. Almost from the time that Marc Aplin and his off sider Jennie Ivins announced that they were planning to produce an anthology I was on board with the idea.

They got some excellent authors on board with the project. Names like Mark Lawrence (The Broken Empire), Anne Lyle (Night's Masque), Kameron Hurley (God's War and The Mirror Empire - seriously everyone with an interest in epic fantasy should read that book, genuinely ground breaking), Richard Morgan (the Takeshi Kovacs books and others), Mark Charan Newton (Legends of the Red Sun), Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Revelations), James Barclay (The Raven books and Elves), Myke Cole (Shadow Ops), Adrian Tchaikovsky (Shadows of the Apt) and John Sprunk (the Shadow trilogy), to name a few and then really sent the idea into overdrive by announcing a contest open to anyone who wanted to get a short story into print.

The short story project was probably largely responsible for the time it took from conception to actually publishing the anthology. The response was overwhelming. In his introduction to the book Marc Aplin says that they received 1700 entries and he and two other judges had to read through all of those and then pick the lucky few (the reading required amounted to roughly reading the entire Wheel of Time series over 3 times!). However the summit of the mountain was eventually reached and what they got was the Fantasy-Faction Anthology.

I should note here that none of the authors, established or otherwise, were paid for their contributions to the book, neither were editors and publishers Marc Aplin and Jennie Ivins. All proceeds from the sale of the anthology will be ploughed back into keeping the lights burning at Fantasy-Faction and possibly producing similar anthologies in the future.

Unusually for a book of this type not every entry is an actual story. Most are, but there are a few essays sprinkled amongst them. I highly recommend Anne Lyle's piece on doing historical research for a fantasy novel to assist with world building, Kameron Hurley's 'Creating Better Fantasy Economics' which is also about world building, and contains ideas of how to make your world both more complete and believable. Mark Charan Newton's pieces of advice he would have given his younger self should be essential reading for anyone wanting to eventually get their work into print. James Barclay's humorous take on the traditional and changing role of elves in fantasy fiction is also well worth a read, it had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion. My personal favourite essay though was Richard Morgan's 'Killing the Magic (And Putting it in a Box)' which speaks about the recent obsession with categorising fiction for marketing purposes and then picking it apart for it's inconsistencies. It's a lovely rant and it contains this little nugget and these are words for a fantasy writer, in particular to live by: 'It doesn't matter how realistic a piece of fiction ends up, it matters how convincing it is.' Those two words realistic and convincing are two very different things and the distinction needs to be clear.

Interestingly enough I found the stories by the unknown authors were by and large the more enjoyable and fresh. Not just because they're new voices to me, but because they were willing to take the change on breaking new ground.

That's not to say the contributions by the established authors aren't good, they are and Michael J. Sullivan's story 'The Autumn Mist' will stay with me for a long time.

Overall the stories run the gamut of the genre and it's various sub genres (no urban fantasy as such, although Michael J. Sullivan's story and that of  John Yeo Jr. come very close to it).

There's something to please everyone. If you're a fan of the established authors it's a chance to see them write outside of what they usually produce, which I found is always interesting and if you're looking for fresh new talent with interesting ideas then the winners of the story contest and the previously unknown names will hopefully prove to be as enjoyable to discover for you as they were for me.

Marc and Jennie have done an excellent job here and I hope the anthology is the first of many to come in the future!