Sunday, 6 March 2016

Short Story Sunday 14: Andy Duncan, Charles de Lint, and David G. Hartwell Tribute

This series originally began with a focus on science fiction short stories. I think it’s a genre that works really well with this particular form of writing and it’s given me the opportunity to read more short stories and more science fiction, two things I feel I don’t do often enough. However, Short Story Sunday is the home of all short stories and I’m pleased to say that we’re diving head first into the fantasy genre. I’ve reviewed some of Robert E. Howard’s original Conan the Barbarian stories here too, but that’s just not enough! Short Story Sunday needs more fantasy and can’t limit itself to muscular barbarians and squishy monsters. There is plenty of room for other fantasy stories such as those of politically minded Hobbits and Travelling Littles.

“Senator Bilbo” by Andy Duncan
Read in Year’s Best Fantasy 2 (2002), edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (uncredited)
Originally published in Starlight 3 (2001), edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden

This story is based on a simple idea. What if the infamous white supremacist senator Theodore G. Bilbo was a descendant of Bilbo Baggins? Well, we’d end up with a filibustering, speech spewing, and racist hobbit. There isn’t much more to this story than playing out that idea, but it’s very well done and quite enjoyable.  

Most of this story is a comedic investigation of the horrible race relations usually found in fantasy novels and stories. It’s also a takedown of those same ideas. Duncan focuses on the world of Middle-Earth and its inhabitants but considering the immense influence of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, you can easily transpose that criticism to a very large part of the genre.

Ranking: 4 stars
A simple and clever idea, nicely executed. I’m surprised by how quickly things turned around by the end, but I think Duncan earns it with his crafty writing. The whole thing is quite funny and it’s nice to see a writer lovingly (but also seriously) poke fun at the setting of Middle-Earth. Not a story about action or plot, but smooth character work and a reminder of how quickly worldbuilding can unravel when you pull at the loose ends.

“Big City Littles” by Charles de Lint
Read in Year’s Best Fantasy 2 (2002), edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (uncredited)
Originally published as Big City Littles (2000, a chapbook published by Triskell Press)

Generally speaking I’m not a fan of urban fantasy. I think this might be because I haven’t I haven’t read a whole lot of it, but also because I don’t think I’ve read enough of it to realized what it really is. I have this idea of what urban fantasy is but I seem to rarely recognize it when I read it so I don’t have too many stories categorized in my head as being specifically urban fantasy. This story, I was told from the get go, is urban fantasy and that makes sense considering it’s written by Charles de Lint, one of the authors who was key to the sub-genre’s development in the 1980s.

“Big City Littles” plays with the idea of miniature people cohabitating with humans. It’s not unlike The Borrowers by Mary Norton. In this story, Sheri, a writer and illustrator of children fairy tales, meets one of the Travelling Littles. He’s come to visit her because he and his tribe believe that Sheri can help them learn to fly again. Sheri’s first published work was an historical account of the Travelling Littles, explaining how they were originally birds and what happened to make them little people no taller than six inches. In helping out the Littles, Sheri discovers that the worlds she thoughts were fictitious are actually real and simply hard to see.

Ranking: 3 stars
This is a story that is very familiar but it’s told in a comforting way. De Lint knows he’s not reinventing the wheel and he makes ample references to the Lilliputians and the Borrowers. It’s well told and uses a tone that suits the familiarity of the story. It’s quaint and friendly. I’m not sure if I would have liked this story better if I were familiar with the Newford series in which this story belongs. Either way, I’m glad to have a story that I can refer back to as being distinctly urban fantasy and it’s nice to finally read a story by de Lint, who is an author I haven’t read before.

This edition of Short Story Sunday is dedicated to the member of David G. Hartwell who passed away unexpectedly earlier this year. Even though the field of science fiction and fantasy literature has been irrevocably changed by his long and influential career, I had only recently discovered his work as an editor. Though he’s work with long form writing as well as short stories, it’s for his work editing short story collections that I think I’ll remember him by. One of his Year’s Best SF collections has been with this series of posts since the very beginning and no matter how long this series lasts, Hartwell will always remain a part of it. His work in celebrating and sharing the writings of others fits in nicely with the goals of Short Story Sunday, which is to discover and share short stories by a variety of authors working in genre fiction.

Other fans of genre literature have written more in-depth pieces about Hartwell’s influence on the field and about he was both as editor and as a fan of science fiction and fantasy. If you’d like to know more about the man I’d encourage you to read the following posts.

A short obituary posted at

Til Death Did Us Part, a remarkably moving and well written post from Kathryn Kramer, wife and co-editor with Hartwell.

An obituary posted at Black Gate

An obituary posted at Locus Online

David G. Hartwell Kept Restoring Our Faith InScience Fiction, a career overview of Hartwell posted at iO9

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