There is magic in our world . . . and in others. The fertile imagination can cultivate wondrous things, aided by ancient myths and memory, enduring childhood dreams and desires, and the power of cultural archetypes. Once again, award-winning editors David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer reap a magnificent crop of superior fantasy short fiction -- the finest to blossom over the past twelve months. A cornucopia of remarkable tales from some of the field's most acclaimed artists -- Neil Gaiman, Octavia Butler, Tanith Lee, and Michael Swanwick, to name but a few -- as well as stunning new works from emerging young talents, Year's Best Fantasy 4 is a collection as magical as its illustrious predecessors, a feast for every true connoisseur of fantastic literature.
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June 30, 2004
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Excerpt from Year's Best Fantasy 4 by Kathryn Cramer
Michael Swanwick [www.michaelswanwick.com] lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His novels include the Nebula Award winner, Stations of the Tide (1991), The Iron Dragon's Daughter (1993) and Jack Faust (1997), and Bones of the Earth (2002). Swanwick is also the author of two influential critical essays, one on SF, "User's Guide to the Postmoderns" (1985), and one on fantasy, "In The Tradition..." (1994). But in between the novels, he writes short stories, and his tales have dominated the short fiction Hugo Award nominations in recent years. His stories have been collected principally in Gravity's Angels (1991), A Geography of Unknown Lands (1997), Moon Dogs (2000), Tales of Old Earth (2000), and as a pamphlet, Puck Aleshire's Abecedary (2000), and a collection of short-shorts, Cigar-Box Faust and Other Miniatures (2003).
"King Dragon" appeared in an original anthology published by the Science Fiction Book Club, The Dragon Quintet, edited by Marvin Kaye. It appears to be set in the same fantasy world as The Iron Dragon's Daughter. It is in any case an example of what Swanwick in his essay "In the Tradition..." calls hard fantasy, not like the fantasy worlds of other writers but dark, technological, and brutal. It is interesting to contrast it to Pat Murphy's fine and very different dragon story later in this book.
The dragons came at dawn, flying low and in formation, their jets so thunderous they shook the ground like the great throbbing heartbeat of the world. The village elders ran outside, half unbuttoned, waving their staffs in circles and shouting words of power. Vanish, they cried to the land, and sleep to the skies, though had the dragons' half-elven pilots cared they could have easily seen through such flimsy spells of concealment. But the pilots' thoughts were turned toward the West, where Avalon's industrial strength was based, and where its armies were rumored to be massing.
Will's aunt made a blind grab for him, but he ducked under her arm and ran out into the dirt street. The gun emplacements to the south were speaking now, in booming shouts that filled the sky with bursts of pink smoke and flak.
Half the children in the village were out in the streets, hopping up and down in glee, the winged ones buzzing about in small, excited circles. Then the yage-witch came hobbling out from her barrel and, demonstrating a strength Will had never suspected her of having, swept her arms wide and then slammed together her hoary old hands with a boom! that drove the children, all against their will, back into their huts.
All save Will. He had been performing that act which rendered one immune from child-magic every night for three weeks now. Fleeing from the village, he felt the enchantment like a polite hand placed on his shoulder. One weak tug, and then it was gone.
He ran, swift as the wind, up Grannystone Hill. His great-great-great-grandmother lived there still, alone at its tip, as a grey standing stone. She never said anything. But sometimes, though one never saw her move, she went down to the river at night to drink. Coming back from a night-time fishing trip in his wee coracle, Will would find her standing motionless there and greet her respectfully. If the catch was good, he would gut an eel or a small trout, and smear the blood over her feet. It was the sort of small courtesy elderly relatives appreciated.