Short stories are an interesting medium. As much as I love novels and want to publish a few dozen of my own, there’s a certain appeal to the short story format that keeps drawing me back, both for writing and for reading. And while in some ways it’s not as healthy a market as it used to be, as the number of magazines or websites publishing short stories dwindles, it’s still very much alive and kicking.
That said, today’s review comes to us from the hazy, bygone age of 2009. The Dragon Book, edited by Jack Dann and the late Gardner Dozois, was one of a number of draconic tomes I burned through in high school, and picked up after college now that I have money. Notably, at the time of its publication, each of the twenty stories in this book were brand new. When you’ve gone through a few dragon anthologies and realized more than half of them include either Weyr Search by McCaffrey and/or The Bully and the Beast by Card, this fact becomes greatly appreciated. (They’re fine stories, but I don’t need to own a half-dozen copies of them!) It’s also readily available in digital and physical formats, so if you find yourself interested, you should have no problem picking up a copy. (If you do, let me know!)
So, with the intro out of the way, let’s talk some dragons! To do the stories justice, I’ll be breaking this book up over multiple weeks, so we’ll only be talking about the first five today.
Dragon’s Deep, by Cecelia Holland
A duke’s raid on a fishing village forces the survivors to venture into dangerous waters to survive, and our heroine Perla ends up trapped in a dragons lair after it destroys her people’s boats. But when she makes it back home, it seems that the humans have become more monstrous than the dragons.
This one’s a bit confusing. Not to get into too many spoilers, but the relationship between Perla and the dragon is strange, and even reaches into euphemism-veiled rape at one point. Decisions are made that don’t really make sense. But the writing and imagery are good. Not a bad read.
Vici, by Naomi Novik
A Roman playboy is convicted of murder and sent to kill a dragon, but comes home with an egg. The situation devolves from there, although I’ll spare you the spoilers.
If this story isn’t set in the same world as Novik’s Temeraire books, I’ll eat someone’s shoe, but it’s a lot more lighthearted and fun than the tone she uses in those novels, and a refreshing change after the previous story in this collection. If you’re a fan of Temeraire, this is a must-read, but even if not it’s still excellent.
Bob Choi’s Last Job, by Jonathan Stroud
An old, tired dragon hunter goes a-hunting, but gets more than he bargained for.
There’s some definite streaks of Blade Runner‘s Deckard in Bob Choi, with his trenchcoat, love of noodles, experience hunting things that mask as human, and questionable humanity. He exudes an aura of cold so strong that he’s immune to dragonfire and can’t touch anyone without killing them. It’s a very cool setup, and Stroud takes it in some interesting directions, raising some similar questions to those which Blade Runner asked, about the nature of humanity and how we lose or preserve it.
Are You Afflicted With Dragons?, by Kage Baker
Mr. Smith runs a hotel, and has dragons infesting his roof, so naturally he calls in an exterminator. At the risk of repeating myself, things devolve from there.
We’ve see-sawed back to humorous with this one, and it’s good humor. And as there is humor present, I don’t want to go into it too deeply lest it be spoiled. Mr. Smith is not the center of the story, experiencing basically no growth throughout the piece, but Crankhandle the trapper is good fun, and the premise behind the world and the dragons is interesting.
The Tsar’s Dragons, by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
The Tsar of Russia has dragons, in case you weren’t aware. He’s using them to persecute Russian Jews, but they’ve made their homes more or less dragon-proof. But the Jews have some dragons eggs too, being cared for by man with some revolutionist sympathies. And there’s Rasputin as well, of course, because what respectable fantasy story set during Rasputin’s lifetime wouldn’t make use of him?
This one feels like a straight-up historical fantasy. It’s a version of Lenin’s revolution and Rasputin’s death with added dragons. It’s not bad, but it’s not the strongest piece in the book either. The dragons are purely animalistic, so they serve the plot more or less as living weapons and not much more.
Of these five tales, the definite standouts are Vici and Bob Choi’s Last Job, but rest are pretty solid as well. What will we get in our next installment? You’ll just have to wait and see, but there are some good ones coming, I’ll tell you that much!