Reviewed in the United States on March 24, 2015
This anthology opens with an interesting and enlightening introduction by the Editor, Juliana Rew. As usual with Third Flatiron anthologies, there is a wide range of stories in the fields of sci-fi, fantasy and mythology, set in various geographical locations and eras. As usual also, there are some very nice graphics; I particularly liked those accompanying Deborah Walker's "Beyond the Turning Orrery," Gustavo Bondoni's "Rain Over Lesser Boso," Elliotte Rusty Harold's "Refusing The Call," and Robin Wyatt Dunn's "On a Train With a Coyote Ghost."
The book opens and closes with animal tales. Siobhan Gallaher's "Blade Beween Oni and Hare," features a shipwrecked Japanese girl who, having survived a struggle at sea with a squid, almost falls prey on land to a monstrous half-human spider. Having escaped the spider, she finds herself being watched by a white hare. The hare, guardian of the island, offers to help her reach the mainland. The hare is, of course, other than he first appears, and exacts a price from her, but he keeps his side of the bargain.
I had not really understood what "steampunk" was until I read Martin Clark's "Through An Ocular, Darkly." In this story, set in Constantinople, Leon Prinz, an inventor, has been commissioned by Josephus the Pharisee to build an automaton to protect the Jewish temple. But Prinz has already accepted a bribe from an emissary from General Gordon, who wants Josephus out of the way. Josephus had asked Prinz to construct a golem for him. Instead he finds that Prinz has built for him a lifesize ballerina--dismissed by an angry Josephus as "a toy." The "toy" takes a dainty dancing step and strikes Josephus dead. Gordon hasn't quite finished with Prinz, however. He asks a favor of him: to inspect an item that he will send over. Prinz unwraps the package, and finds a complicated mechanical device inside it. The device has a most surprising action. I wasn't too sure of the chronology of this interesting and enigmatic story but then I am not an historian.
The membership of "The Committee," in Margarita Tenser's humorous story is made up of a fascinating collection of gods, goddesses and godlings, all rejoicing in wonderfully appropriate cosmic names, for this is the Creationist Committee, and what they are seeking to create is a--or, perhaps, the--universe. After much squabbling and rejected ideas, and as they have a deadline to work to, the suggestion is made to stuff everything into a tiny dot and then explode it. This is such a witty little story.
The beautifully written final story, "On a Train with a Coyote Ghost," by Robin Wyatt Dunn, provides an excellent ending to the compilation. In it, a ten-year-old Jewish girl travels by train from Poland into Russia to try to find the healer who can provide the broth that she knows will save her grandmother and their fellow villagers, for their community has fallen ill. The child is accompanied by a coyote ghost who was a friend of her father. When she locates the healer, a somewhat multi-denominational entity, she finds to her dismay that the coyote also wants the broth, for his own benefit. The girl and the coyote ghost each has to tell their story to the healer, who will then choose between them; each tale is fascinating and moving and of historical import. This story provides a most fitting conclusion to this anthology of Abbreviated Epics.