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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Tails of Wonder and Imagination

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Tails of Wonder and Imagination, edited by Ellen Datlow

"Through the Looking Glass" (Excerpt) by Lewis Carroll
"No Heaven Will Not Ever Heaven Be…" by A.R. Morlan
"The Price" by Neil Gaiman
"Dark Eyes, Faith, and Devotion" by Charles de Lint
"Not Waving" by Michael Marshall Smith
"Catch" by Ray Vukcevich
"The Manticore Spell" by Jeffrey Ford
"Catskin" by Kelly Link
"Mieze Corrects an Incomplete Representation of Reality" by Michaela Roessner
"Guardians" by George R.R. Martin
"Life Regarded as a Jigsaw Puzzle of Highly Lustrous Cats" by Michael Bishop
"Gordon, the Self Made Cat" by Peter S. Beagle
"The Jaguar Hunter" by Lucius Shepard
"Arthur's Lion" by Tanith Lee
"Pride" by Mary Turzillo
"The Burglar Takes a Cat" by Lawrence Block
"The White Cat" by Joyce Carol Oates
"Returns" by Jack Ketchum
"Puss Cat" by Reggie Oliver
"Cat in Glass" by Nancy Etchemendy
"Coyote Peyote" by Carole Nelson Douglas
"The Poet and the Inkmaker's Daughter" by Elizabeth Hand
"The Night of the Tiger" by Stephen King
"Every Angel is Terrifying" by John Kessel
"Candia" by Graham Joyce
"Mbo" by Nicholas Royle
"Bean Bag Cats®" by Edward Bryant
"Antiquities" by John Crowley
"The Manticore's Tale" by Catherynne M. Valente
"In Carnation" by Nancy Springer
"Old Foss is the Name of His Cat" by David Sandner
"A Safe Place to Be" by Carol Emshwiller
"Nine Lives to Live" by Sharyn McCrumb
"Tiger Kill" by Kaaron Warren
"Something Better than Death" by Lucy Sussex
"Dominion" by Christine Lucas
"Tiger in the Snow" by Daniel Wynn Barber
"The Dweller in High Places" by Susanna Clarke
"Healing Benjamin" by Dennis Danvers
"The Puma" by Theodora Goss

  Reviewed by Carole Ann Moleti

Tails of Wonder and Imagination contains 462 pages, featuring works by some of the most accomplished writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Some of the forty stories have only a whisker's breadth of speculative content, some none. In others, the fantastic comes and goes in the blink of a mysterious, ever watchful cat's eye.

When people with this much imagination write about cats, you'll find not only tabbies and toms, Manx, Maine coons and Siamese, but also Manticores, Sphinxes, goddesses, pumas, jaguars, tigers, and shape shifters. All were previously published between the late 1970s and 2009 (except for the Lewis Carroll excerpt).

I first attempted to decode Ellen Datlow's strategy as she organized this incredible book, and soon gave up. Her introduction to each story gives the reader just enough information to maximize reading enjoyment. Everyone will find something to like, as well as dislike, in this anthology, depending upon how s/he feels about the common element:  felines.

There are some that cat lovers shouldn't read. They include "Catch" by Ray Vukcevich and "Catskin" by Kelly Link in which the storyteller warns "If you are looking for a happy ending in this story, then perhaps you should stop reading here and picture these children, these parents, their reunions." In the intro to "Returns" author Jack Ketchum quips, "Harm an animal in one of my stories and you're going straight to hell, brother."

There are magical realist tales like "No Heaven Will Not Ever Heaven Be…" by A. R. Morlan, "Candia" by Graham Joyce, and "The Price" by Neil Gaiman. I missed a subway stop reading "Not Waving" by Michael Marshall Smith. All are gorgeous slipstream with an autobiographical feel.

From "Not Waving:"

"I'll walk with heavy calm through black streets beneath featureless houses and sometimes go down to the canal. I sit on the bench and close my eyes, and sometimes I think I can see it. Sometimes I think I can feel the way it was when a hill was there and meetings were held in secret. […] The hill has gone and things have changed, and it's not like that anymore. No matter how long I sit and wait, the cats will never come."

George R.R. Martin's "Guardians" features a main character reminiscent of a composite of Captain Nemo and Professor Aronnax, on an odyssey worthy of any of Jules's Verne's protagonists. And like Verne's prose, there is plenty of social commentary couched in ironic humor. Ditto for Micheala Roessner's retort to Dr. Schrödinger in "Mieze Corrects an Incomplete Representation of Reality."

There are many supernatural horror stories including “Cat In Glass” by Nancy Etchemendy,

"Pride" by Mary Turzillo and "MBO" by Nicholas Royle. In "The White Cat" Joyce Carol Oates parallels Edgar Allen Poe's style. For those who like "literary" horror "Every Angel is Terrifying" by John Kessel takes the gruesome events portrayed in Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" one chapter further, featuring a cat named Pleasure.

The shifter stories also feature glimmers of horror, including "Dark Eyes, Faith, and Devotion" by Charles de Lint, "The Jaguar Hunter" by Lucius Shepard, "Tiger Kill" by Kaaron Warren, "The Night of the Tiger" by Stephen King, and "Something Better than Death" by Lucy Sussex.

Then there are the myth based tales, like (one of my favorites) the clever, snarky urban fantasy "In Carnation" by Nancy Springer, "The Manitcore's Tale" by Catherynne M. Valente, and "Dweller in High Places" by Susanna Clark.

From "Dominion" by Christine Lucas (if you consider at re-telling of a story from the book of Genesis anything but Gospel):

               He frowned. "I gave Man dominion over all creatures. They should obey him."

               "Kittens didn't exist at that time. They are excluded from the deal."

               "They will only disrupt the peace. The fruit is forbidden for a reason."

               "You said not to eat it. You never said anything about other uses."

               His frown deepened."Semantics."

Some have a touch of humor/noir/mystery/farce such as "Gordon, the Self Made Cat" by Peter S. Beagle, "Coyote Peyote" by Carole Nelson Douglas and "Nine Lives to Live" by Sharyn McCrumb, "Puss-Cat" by Reggie Oliver, and "Antiquities" by John Crowley.

Traditional fantasies include "Arthur's Lion" by Tanith Lee, "The Poet and the Inkmakers Daughter" by Elizabeth Hand, "Tiger in the Snow" by Daniel Wynn Barber, "Healing Benjamin" by Dennis Danvers, "The Manticore Spell" by Jeffrey Ford, and "The Puma" by Theodora Goss.

Three, which range from poignant to bizarre, feature characters suffering from mental illness such as "A Safe Place to Be" by Carol Emshwiller and "Life Regarded as a Jigsaw Puzzle of Highly Lustrous Cats" by Michael Bishop.

From the evocative "Old Foss is the Name of His Cat" by David Sandner (inspired by the poetry of Edward Lear):

"Why not go?" the Old Man said. "I wish to, with all my art, my heart, my feet, to go with them."

"Ah," Old Foss said, "but a sieve will only sink and bring you certainly to a place you cannot know now, but death has been visited by others before and will be again and it is common enough that we can wait until it finds us without looking for it. I think there are no dreams there."

And since we're dealing with cats, of course many of the protagonists are batty. I laughed out loud reading "The Burglar Takes a Cat" by Lawrence Block.

"They're Women with Cats, Bernie, and that's not what I want to be."

"No," I said, "and I can't see why. But—"

"It doesn't seem to be a problem for men," she said. "There are lots of men with two cats, and probably plenty with three or four, but when did you ever hear anything about a Man with Cats? When it comes to cats, men don't seem to have trouble knowing when to stop." She frowned. "Funny isn't it? In every other area of their lives—"

"Let's stick to cats," I suggested.

"Bean Bag Cats®" by Edward Bryant is preposterous enough to be true.

There, I got all of the stories organized and this summary into some semblance of order, though there are several so cross-genre they fit into multiple categories.

Ellen Datlow has won all those awards because of her gift at conjuring up great ideas for themed anthologies and choosing the best stories she can find. Her unobtrusive but masterful touch shines through in her introduction to the anthology, as well as to each entry.

Tails of Wonder and Imagination and its star-studded lineup will keep you happily occupied, with or without a purring kitty on your lap, for quite some time.

Nightshade Books, February 2010