Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Welcome To Bordertown

Welcome To Bordertown: New Stories and Poems of the Borderlands
edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner

Reviewed by Jan Edwards

When Terri Windling created Borderland and Bordertown in the late 80's she was not the first by any means to imagine a place that lay between the Realm and the World. But her Bordertown is the construct said by many to define the roots of modern Urban Fantasy. Her Bordertown is a land filled with runaways and lost souls in search of those things that we desire the most and never quite manage to attain. That is not to say that this is a volume filled with unremitting angst. It isn’t. Its streets are dark and its inhabitants most often darker, yet filled with music and art and esoterica that fills us with wonder. If anything the overriding theme of this collection is of dawning realisations and acceptance.

Thirteen years after the original books the concept of Bordertown is introduced to a new generation. It dives between short fiction and poetry (and even one short graphic-story) in contributions by many of the biggest names in urban fantasy, including Jane Yolen, Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Emma Bull, Tim Pratt, Will Shetterly and Patricia McKillip.

Most of the stories, whatever the format, deal with the rigours of being a ‘noob’ in the city, though Charles de Lint’s A Tangle of Green Men is more concerned with the trials and misfortunes of getting there – or not. Like many stories here it questions why anybody sets out to find Bordertown.

Many of the stories are seen from a ‘human’ perspective, and set out to show how the town as a whole is an inhospitable and dangerous place for newly arrived and defenceless humanity; a mecca not just for the lost and lonely but for those who prey on their weakness.

And none show that more vividly than Incunabulum by Emma Bull. A young Trueblood (pure fairy) arrives at the gates unable to remember who he is or why he is there. Through his eyes we’re told how to wash up on the edges of Bordertown and survive, and that it’s no different for strangers from either side of the divide. Be they Worlder or Realmer a noob is a noob, and nobody, but nobody, gets a break unless they hustle for it. Jungle law prevails.

It is expectations that are at the root of all that occurs in the streets and back alleys of Bordertown. Some survive despite themselves, others because it is the only home they have ever known. And in amongst the dirt and the fight for survival there is always the music and poetry and art that make the dangers of life for most of the denizens of Bordertown all worth the while.

This is Urban Fantasy as it should be. Excellent collection. Highly recommended.

Find out more about the editors on their websites here: Holly Black and Ellen Kushner

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