Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Traveling Back Across the Border

Welcome to BordertownBordertown is a shared world, created by Terri Windling and the other authors who set stories there in the four anthologies and three novels published between 1986 and 1998. It's a place that exists on the border between the Elflands and the World, a half-magical city that became, like so many other cities, a refuge to those desperate to get away from who and what they were before. It was a well-loved shared world, and its influence on writers and readers of the fantastic cannot be overstated. Urban Fantasy, for example, would probably still exist today without Bordertown, but certainly not in its current shape.

And then the Border closed. For thirteen years, no new word crossed the Border.

In the newest Bordertown anthology, Welcome to Bordertown, edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner, introduced by Terri Windling, we learn that the thirteen years that passed here in the World were a mere thirteen days in Bordertown. No one knows exactly why the pinching off happened, only that it did. A flood of newbies enters Bordertown, bringing twenty-first century tech (that still only partially works, and never how you'd expect it to), and language with them. Younger brothers are older than sisters that left home years ago. The lost are found, and sometimes further lost.

Some of the original Bordertown authors are included in this anthology, and are joined by a number of new-to-Bordertown talents. The diversity of voices does an excellent job bringing Bordertown back to life. If you've read any of the stories before, you'll be pleased to see familiar names and places, and if you haven't, you get enough of a guide to feel perfectly situated in the world.

Welcome to Bordertown is the strongest of the Bordertown anthologies. Not to suggest that the others aren't good, or well worth your reading time, but there is more here. This Bordertown is full of all kinds of people: different races, different cultures, and they bring with them different kinds of magic. The spectrum of sexuality, of experience, of life is more fully represented. This visit to Bordertown feels the most real and the most magical of all the times I've gone.

Although there were - as one expects in any anthology - some entries that I enjoyed less, nothing here falls flat. The standout pieces for me were Kushner and Windling's "Welcome to Bordertown," which gives perfect mirrored perpectives of what things are really like in Bordertown; Cory Doctorow's "Shannon's Law," which made my brain feel like it had consumed too much of Jetfuel's coffee and then crossed the Border from the Elflands; Catherynne M. Valente's "A Voice Like a Hole" which pulls you in with exactly what the title says; and Nalo Hopkinson's "Ours is the Prettiest" which reads like living through the advent of a hurricane, and contains my favorite image in the anthology - a member of the Wild Hunt riding a tapir. It's a terrific anthology about a truly fantastic place. I highly recommend it.