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Book Review: Fellowship Fantastic edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes

* Genre: Fantasy, Short Story
* ISBN: 0756404657
* ISBN-13: 9780756404659
* Format: Mass Market Paperback, 320pp
* Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) – DAW
* Pub. Date: January 02, 2008

Fellowship is usually defined as friendship or a close association of person who share a similar interest. In fantasy, the most revered fellowship is Tolkien�s Fellowship of the Ring, a disparate group of people united in common cause. But Fellowship can come in many forms; it can be a close friendship of two people, as sisters or boon companions. Or it can be a group of people who never knew one another before, but through tragedy form lasting bonds to one another. Or it can even be two people who find mutual benefit in using one another and so remain closely tied. Sometimes, it is even interspecies.

Each of these styles of fellowship and more are represented in Fellowship Fantastic, a collection of thirteen stories by experienced authors, gathered under the editorial skills of Martin H. Greenberg and Kerri Hughes. Each of these stories is a treat to read, and Greenberg and Hughes have chosen well in the stories they included. Each story is derived from a different subgenre of speculative fiction, and each looks at the idea of fellowship and its meaning from varied perspectives. Although the cover of the anthology might lead the reader to think that the majority of these stories are about childhood friendship, this is not the case. In these stories, the authors have explored adult friendships, both in group and two person settings.

For readers who enjoy short fiction, this anthology is one of those rare collections that lacks a truly �bad� story. Each story is well-crafted, although some more than others. Paul Genesse explores the connection between two friends that are Almost Brothers in his epic style fantasy. Donald J. Bingle�s The Quest will ring true with anyone who has participated in online gaming, and the transfer of virtual sacrifice into reality is a compelling argument for the value of friendship that can be taught through such games. Sweet Threads by Jody Lynn Nye, shows the reader that where one person cannot succeed alone, two can overcome any odds in her fantasy. In the science fiction story Trophy Wives Nina Kiriki Hoffman asks what can happen when two people share not just friendship, but a mind to mind link. Christopher Pierson�s Eye of Heaven shows just how the bonds of friendship, loyalty and trust can survive even past death. Overcast, by Alan Dean Foster wonders at the unique relationship between a man and his pet, even a pet that can throw lightning. Brenda Cooper�s Friends of the High Hills creates a pseudo Celtic story that brings the world of magic close to our own, and describes how the bonds of family exist even between worlds. Scars Enough is a haunting ghost story in which Russell Davis delves into a betrayed friendship and the aftereffects of betrayed trust. Steven Schend weaves interplay between two friends whose viewpoints on magic, religion, and science put them on opposite sides of a playing filed in Concerning a Gambit on Fraternity. Fiona Patton returns to The County to tell another story of the strangely magical families and the comradeship between brothers in Revenge is a Dish Best Served with Beers. S. Andrew Swann creates an alternate literary history for Holmes and Watson � er, excuse me � Helms and Wilson in the murder mystery The Enigma of the Serbian Scientist. Cirque de Lumiere by Brad Beaulieu finds that even antagonistic fellowships can be important. And Friendly Advice by Alexander B. Potter reminds the reader that even when used by them, a friend will stick by those who broke their trust.

As a reader, there were two I found particularly enjoyable, and one that I greatly disliked. To me, Friends of the High Hills lacked cohesion. Cooper had so many characters moving in and around each other, and behaving strangely that I lost the flow of the narrative and couldn�t get it back again. That, coupled with the predictable final revelation, made for a mundane and uninteresting story. For instance, while the girls were on the run from Grandma Nelson, it would have been reasonable to assume that Grandma, in her desire to return the girls to her own world, would have been single minded in her doggedness to catch the girls. Yet she stops to have tea and chitchat. This didn�t make much sense. Also, the magical Grandma Nelson seems easily to be able to find the girls, yet she does chase and lose them. This event is hard to understand if it is true that she is able to magically locate them, as seems implied in the text. This was probably the poorest story in the bunch, although female readers who have a sister will resonate with the theme.

The best stories in this anthology were The Quest and The Enigma of the Serbian Scientist, which is odd, considering that neither is truly fantasy in the strictest sense. Bingle�s The Quest gives the reader an example of modern day heroism, of personal sacrifice for the greater good. Like many real stories coming out of the War in Iraq, one person sacrifices himself for the good of his group, saving them from certain death. The Quest is especially poignant in that it creates heroes out of a traditionally derided group of folks, the online gamers. Gamers are often accused of being false heroes, of creating fantasy situations of heroism in order to boost self-esteem. But what if that desire to be a hero was translated into a real world situation? Bingle does this in The Quest and the sacrifice related in the narrative was heart wrenching.

The Enigma of the Serbian Scientist by S. Andrew Swann reintroduces the historical figures of Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, in a murder mystery that can only be solved by an alternate Sherlock Holmes. The stories connection to fellowship is tenuous, as it builds on the readers� prior knowledge of the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, renamed Helms and Wilson in this story, but it is still interesting to read and is an unusual choice for this collection. Therefore, if nothing else, it stands out for its distinctiveness as well as its craft.

Ultimately, anyone who has ever enjoyed the closeness of fellowship and friendship in any of its forms will find a story that resonates clearly in their hearts and minds. Greenberg and Hughes have collected thirteen stories that cover many speculative fiction genres, but that all explore the unique relationship that is a fellowship. These stories are comrades in literature, each supporting the others weaknesses, and filling in the gaps as to what fellowship means for the human heart.

I recommend this anthology. The stories are solid, written by authors widely acknowledged as accomplished in the art of the short story. The reader will not be taking a chance on new authors only beginning their craft. Greenberg�s legendary editorial talent shines through, and Kerrie Hughes is an editor who understands what it means to tie stories in an anthology together while still maintaining distinctiveness in the telling. You will not be disappointed should you choose to read this anthology. Share it with your friends and revel in the fellowship.

(Where possible, I have linked to the author’s website so that you can find out more about them.)