edited John Joseph Adams & Douglas Cohen
(47North, pb February 2013, $14.95)
Reviewed by Cyd Athens
Were L. Frank Baum’s original Oz books movies, the MPAA would rate them G: General Audiences. Readers of this tome are advised up front that this volume would warrant a PG-13: Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13. In the anthology, this warning comes before the Table of Contents and takes this form: “Intended for ages thirteen and up, and as such, some of the stories deal with mature themes, so parental guidance is suggested.” Consider yourself forewarned. Now, on to the stories.
“The Great Zeppelin Heist of Oz” by Rae Carson & C.C. Finlay
Oscar Diggs is a confidence man who has stumbled upon four kingdoms with witches but no kings. With Progress in his pocket, he sets about systematically manipulating everyone he meets, beginning with Scraps, the Patchwork Girl. Using smooth talk, double talk, and other elocutionary gifts at his disposal, he tries to bamboozle his way to becoming king of what he wants to call Diggety. The story’s title is as misleading as Oscar and it is not until the end of this humorous tale that it makes sense.
“Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust” by Seanan McGuire
The Dorothy Gale in this story is a foul-mouthed lesbian and ex-lover to Ozma, Empress of Oz. Dot, an unrepentant hard-ass, is also a Princess of Oz, the Crossover Ambassador, and the Wicked Bitch (“it’s pronounced witch”) of the West. She starts out angry, and things get worse when the Empress arrives on her doorstep demanding that Dot investigate a murder that has happened in a seedy section of Oz known as Downtown. This story spends lots of time showing us how pissed off Dorothy is, and considerably less solving the crime. In fact the resolution is so pat and easy that it is no challenge at all. Dot’s hostility overshadows everything else to the point that this tale could easily have been titled, “The Angry Girl of Oz.”
“Lost Girls of Oz” by Theodora Goss
Dottie’s sister, Nell, is an intrepid reporter who is hot on the trail of a story about girls from Sacramento who have gone missing. Through a series of letters, Nell tells Dottie about the investigation and how it leads Nell, travelling under the assumed name Sally Russell, to Oz. When Nell arrives there, she does find the lost girls. She also learns of a war effort, led by the likes of Ozma and Glinda, to search out and rescue girls like those who have been so badly abused and mistreated as to end up running away to Oz. Though Nell’s evolution here is predictable, the story is, nonetheless, a worthwhile read.
“The Boy Detective of Oz: An Otherland Story” by Tad Williams
The title tells us that this is a mash-up between Oz and Otherland. Orlando Gardiner, the only Dead Boy Detective in existence, is called upon to investigate what appears to be a murder. Omby Amby’s body is found face-down and headless. Orlando’s investigation in a simulated Oz is interspersed with messages to his Otherland contact. Accompanied by the Glass Cat, a self-important feline, Orlando questions Scarecrow, Tinman, Lion, and even Senator Wizard as this Wizard of Oz is called. There are rumblings of discontent and accusations of attempts at industrial land grabs in the mix. Those familiar with both Oz and Otherworld will most appreciate this story. However, unfamiliarity with Otherworld does not detract from the tale.
“Dorothy Dreams” by Simon R. Green
Dorothy is an elderly woman, confined to a wheelchair, and deposited in a nursing home too far away for her children to visit. One day, after enduring hair care from someone whose name Dorothy does not remember, she has a dream of returning to Oz. Astute readers will notice something here that will give away the ending. For optimal enjoyment, pay more attention to the story than to the details.
“Dead Blue” by David Farland
This reimagining has cyborgs and technomages. Tin Man is one of the former, and Dorothy, after killing the Wicked Witch of the West, becomes one of the latter. In the midst of being murdered by chimeras, Tin Man shows another side of himself—an aesthete who can appreciate beauty even in those who are killing him. After he reboots and reconnects with Dorothy, he learns of her encounter with the West’s witch. He also discovers, through Dorothy, that the Wizard is a charlatan who cannot grant wishes. Worse, the great wizard “is the ultimate politician” and the mastermind behind the attempt to murder Dorothy and her friends. Dorothy, newly empowered with her own magic, and pained by how she got it, does not have the heart to do anything but leave the Wizard’s fate in the hands of his people. Beneath all its technological and magical trappings, this is a love story.
“One Flew Over the Rainbow” by Robin Wasserman
In this story, the Land of Oz collides with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The tale is set in a mental institution. Tin, Crow, and Roar are some of the characters. The Wizard is a fellow mental patient who is obsessed with the color green in all its variations. The Wicked Witch has a lot in common with Nurse Ratched and “Monkeys” are what the inpatients call the orderlies. Like McMurphy, from the day a shoe-obsessed Dorothy is brought into the mix, she riles things up a bit. Eventually Dorothy ups the stakes by planning an escape with her fellows. This is an intriguing piece that covers all the necessary bases.
“The Veiled Shanghai” by Ken Liu
Like a good DJ who has taken the lyrics from one song and set them to surprising but enjoyable music of another, this author takes a socio-political event, The May Fourth Movement, and sets it to an Ozian plot. Dorothy is the English name of a Chinese girl who lives on Kansu Road with her Uncle Heng and Aunt En. She gets swept up in student demonstrations and transported from her home in the Veiled Shanghai to another Shanghai that is similar to, but not quite, her home. Following the Ozian plot, most of the people she meets—including the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion—are either tied to or touched by the political unrest. The overlay is well done and includes all the salient bits while remaining an entertaining story rather than an educational lecture.
“Beyond the Naked Eye” by Rachel Swirsky
WISH is reality television, Oz style. In this program, competitors hope to win a single wish from the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy and her friends are contestants; Mister Kristol Kristoff, a jeweler who sees the world’s flaws through a jeweler’s loupe, is one of the many viewers. He is also one member of a conspiracy, led by Lady Flashgleam Sparkle, to overthrow the Wizard. As Kristoff watches one of the quiet moment interviews that Glinda has with the contestants, he learns that Dorothy just wants “to go home.” He remembers being a child who wanted to go home. This influences his actions later when he learns what he is expected to do as his part of the conspiracy. The story here is about redemption.
“A Tornado of Dorothys” by Kat Howard
In Kansas, even the people in Dorothy’s world are gray. Then she is transported, house and all, to Oz—a place as Technicolor as hers is drab. Glinda, the first person Dorothy meets in Oz, gives her a pair of silver shoes and sends Dorothy on her way with little more explanation than, “Once you get to be East, you can be the Eva. But until you get there, you have to be the Dorothy.” Dorothy is so excited about seeing the world in color that she does not protest too much before putting on the shoes. Later, she is unable to remove them. It is as though they are magically bound to her feet. When she sees the ghosts of other children, some of whom may have been the Dorothy before her and are now trapped in an ethereal state, she makes a decision that changes the story’s outcome. This is a short and simple tale about the power of choice.
“Blown Away” by Jane Yolen
To hear this narrator tell it, there were not one, but two twisters. It was in the second that Dorothy was swept away. Years later, a grown Dorothy shows up on Uncle Henry and Aunt Em’s front door. She tells of having been blown away to another county, losing all memory of her past, and joining a traveling circus as a wire walker. Soon after her return, another member of the circus shows up with an invitation for Dorothy to re-join the circus. Dorothy accepts. Here we have a straightforward story with trappings of Oz though it is not set in that world.
“City So Bright” by Dale Bailey
While on a scaffold polishing the emerald walls of Oz, Joe, a Winkie, has a fatal on-the-job accident. Later, Joe’s best co-worker friend, a Munchkin, and two other colleagues meet at a bar to commiserate about losing Joe. One of the friends floats a theory that Joe’s death was not an accident; rather it was murder because Joe was trying to unionize the workers. If you are a fan of stories where the narrator rambles, gets ahead of himself, and persists in taking a thousand words to tell you something that could be told in ten while not saying much at all, you will enjoy this.
“Off to See the Emperor” by Orson Scott Card
This tale tackles Oz from a different perspective. It presents a possibility that might have been the source for L. Frank Baum’s stories. Frank Joslyn Baum is a very observant six-year-old. The year is 1889, and Frank’s father, L. Frank Baum, is editor of the town’s newspaper. On his first day of school, Frank meets nine-year-old Dotty, short for Theodora. After school, Frank follows Theodora on a fantastic adventure and meets the Emperor of the Air. Later, after he has returned to the ordinary cornfields of Aberdeen, Frank relates the adventure to his family. They praise his storytelling, believing his tale to be fiction. The elder Baum takes artistic license and writes about his son’s experiences in Oz. This story is both pleasant and plausible.
“A Meeting in Oz” by Jeffrey Ford
Dorothy Gale, disgruntled with her mundane life, returns to a dilapidated Oz and meets with the Wizard for tea. The two chat about what happened, both to Oz and to Dorothy, when she left after living in Oz for four years. As the Wizard explains, there is a strong tie between Dorothy and Oz. However, Dorothy has grown old and bitter. She is resentful and wants revenge for the life she led—one full of “Fourteen-hour shifts, a bowl of gruel, the heat, the constant grinding noise and darkness, the groping hands of filthy men.” As the Wizard explains the effects her life in Kansas have had on Oz, it becomes clear that he, too, is unhappy. Despite the title, this is less of a “meeting” and more of a “showdown.”
“The Cobbler of Oz” by Jonathan Maberry
Nyla is a young winged monkey with deficient wings. Because she cannot fly, she goes to a cobbler and requests that he make for her a pair of traveling shoes. As he explains, there are traveling shoes, and there are traveling shoes. When she decides that she would like the latter, magic shoes, he shows her a battered pair of tiny silver shoes in need of mending. There is magic asleep in them. Nyla is tasked with wearing the shoes and seeking out the last living dragon, far beyond the Deadly Desert, for living silver with which to repair the shoes. This story weaves the themes of innocence and ethics into a worthy adventure while also providing a possible history for one of Oz’s most recognized items of footwear.
This anthology is a good companion to Baum’s books. It offers some unexpected speculative spins and new ways of viewing the world into which Dorothy was drawn. Those who have never had the pleasure of reading L. Frank Baum may find themselves curious enough to seek out his words after this introduction.
Cyd Athens indulges a speculative fiction addiction from 45ø 29 30.65 N, 122ø 35 30.91 W.