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This Magic World: A Collection of Fine Fantasy by Ru Emerson
Posted byThomas Marcinko
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"Call Him by Name" "Tall Magic" "A Golden Net for Silver Fishes" "The Werewolf’s Gift"
How much would you bet that Ru Emerson is delighted by the subtitle of her chapbook, This Magic World: A Collection of Fine Fantasy? Most writers, like Arthur Dent, are self-conscious in the presence of a cheese-processing plant. So let’s assume it’s just a sincere compliment from the publisher and move on.
The four stories in this chapbook show quite a range of style and subject matter. Not every piece will be to every taste, but they’re all well-written, diverting, and thought-provoking.
"Call Him by Name” is a sort of meta-story in which the heroine and her lover seem to be under some sort of enchantment to play out the leading roles in fairy tales. Knowing the names of her young man might be the key to freedom, or maybe not. Rapunzel, Red Rose, Sleeping Beauty, and others are mentioned by brand name, but it’s just my luck that the pivotal episode takes place in a fairy tale I’m not familiar with. I’m glad I went along for the ride, though, because the final twist puts our couple in what may be the oldest fairy story of them all.
We’ve had plenty of genre and mainstream fantasies about baseball, but genre stories about sports are few and far between. Maybe we’re just not a very athletic crew; maybe we’re just too wrapped up in quantum soccer. At any rate, “Tall Magic” may be a first: a modern urban fantasy about women’s basketball. This tale of a genie forced to make a girl’s hoop dreams come true is funny. It rang convincingly enough to me, if a family full of net-playing women yields any clues. Of course, even in urban fantasies, heroines should be careful what they wish for. The genie’s comeuppance seemed needlessly cruel, though.
“A Golden Net for Silver Fishes” returns us to the mysterious world of deep dark woods and talking animals. A lonely woman tries to accomplish an impossible task to rescue her young daughter from a river spirit, who has even crueler things than kidnapping in mind. It’s not the kind of fantasy I usually go for, but in spite of myself I was convinced and even, to my surprise, moved.
“The Werewolf’s Gift” also picks up on the child-in-danger theme. As in the previous story, Emerson does this without a trace of manipulation, something I wish she could teach Steven Spielberg. A being named Puck, probably pre-Midsummer Night, tries to cure his town’s werewolf problem by offering up a human child to whom the curse can be passed on. Questions of what it means to be human, and whether that state is desirable, make for some witty conversation before the werewolf’s unexpected decision.
Ru Emerson’s work is new to me, and though I’m usually more comfortable with sf, she’s well worth discovering. Among other things, her stories show just how wide the imagination can roam, and that we need to be pretty specific about what we talk about when we talk about fantasy.