Until one begins a series of anthologies, one does not appreciate the challenges that such a project will entail.
I’m not speaking of the challenge of constructing each Kickstarter, or the challenge of collecting and editing the stories from the featured authors (which is more a pleasure than a challenge).
No, I’m speaking of the challenge of coming up with a fresh introduction for each volume.
The purpose of the introduction is to introduce (duh) you, the reader, to the anthology in a way that will hopefully entice you to read the whole thing. To do so, I like to use metaphor.
In the introduction to the first volume, where I laid out my own background as a long-time reader and writer of science fiction and fantasy and how I came to be hosting a podcast and then Kickstarting an anthology featuring authors who were guests on that podcast, I finished with a metaphor comparing authors to potters, shaping worlds out of the clay of their own experiences, thoughts, dreams, fears, and hopes.
Not a bad metaphor, albeit I stole it from myself—the leading character in my novel Worldshaper, which began a series for DAW Books entitled Worldshapers and whose release coincided with the beginning of my podcast, The Worldshapers (sensing a pattern here?) was, indeed, a potter, and the cover featured a potter literally shaping a world on the wheel.
Last year, I used what I think is the best metaphor of all, likening the anthology to a “cabinet of curiousities,” those eclectic collections learned and curious individuals assembled in centuries past, precursors to natural history museums and other such delights. In a cabinet of curiousities, fossils, meteorites, artwork, cultural artifacts, and antiquities might all rest cheek by jowl to educated, entertain, enlighten, and intrigue viewers—just as, in these anthologies, tales of monsters, demons, and aliens, tales of magic and horror and humor, and tales of time travel, space travel, and post-apocalyptic wandering may all find a home under one cover.
But that brings me to this volume, and I find myself in need of a new metaphor. As it happens, the very day I’m writing this, I took a long walk in the prairie outside my home city of Regina, Saskatchewan. The prairie is deceptively simple in appearance. When you drive through it in a car, all you see is the flat land stretching to the horizon, brown or green or white, depending on the season, and it’s easy to dismiss it as a monotonous place with little variety.
But when you walk on the prairie (or, indeed, in the forest or any other natural environment), you quickly discover that, in fact, variety is everywhere. On my walk this morning, I startled a bevy of quail from a wheatfield. Grasshoppers leaped out of my path; a yellow butterfly fluttered by; a hawk, circling overhead, called; a gopher skittered across the road; and once I was out of the wheatfield, there were more plants beneath my feet than I could identify (except for the nettles—they’re hard to ignore when you’re wearing shorts). And I know that in the soil, earthworms tunnel, microscopic fauna thrive, and microbes multiply.
All of these forms of life are different from each other: unique and fascinating. In a way, every species is a world unto itself, full of mystery. Scientists spend entire careers studying a single species without learning everything there is to know. Multiply that by the number of living things in every acre of prairie, and the complexity is mind-boggling.
Yet, when you view it from a distance, all you see is the prairie.
Similarly, when you look at the cover of this or any anthology, all you see is the cover. In this case, in addition to the (I hope) eye-catching image that draws you to the book, there is a list of names, the authors whose stories appear in this volume: Griffin Barber, Gerald Brandt, Miles Cameron, Sebastien de Castell, Kristi Charish, Cory Doctorow, K. Eason, David Ebenbach, Mark Everglade and Joseph Hurtgen, Frank J. Fleming, Violette Malan, Anna Mocikat, James Morrow, Jess E. Owen, Robert Penner, Cat Rambo, K.M. Rice,Walter Jon Williams, F. Paul Wilson, Jane Yolen, and me.
Some of these authors may be familiar to you. Some you may never have heard of. But all have crafted tales set in worlds of their creation. Each tale is a window into that world. Some of those worlds are much like ours. Others are very different. Some tales take place in a single corner of the world. Some span all of time and space.
And each author, like the multiple species I encountered on my walk in the prairie this morning, is a world unto him or herself, full of more stories for you to discover in novels and short stories and poetry.
The ecosystem of science fiction and fantasy, like the ecosystem of the prairie or any other ecosystem on this whirling planet, is infinitely complex, infinitely diverse. This anthology is just one small corner of it: a few square feet of prairie, to continue (but hopefully not torture) my metaphor.
The variety contained within this book is immense, but only a fraction of the variety to be found in all the tales told by all the writers of wondrous tales in all the world.
Enjoy—and then continue your exploration in all the other stories written by these authors, and all the many others in the grand biosphere of fiction.
September 1, 2022