Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, editors, Salon Fantastique (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006)

Datlow and Windling are old hands at editing anthologies at this point, and they're exceedingly good at it. Salon Fantastique is their latest offering, a collection of fifteen previously unpublished fantasy stories from both established ( e.g., Peter Beagle, Jeffrey McGuire, Delia Sherman, Lucius Shepard) and new authors. The anthology lacks a central theme and serves more as a sandbox of sorts for the various authors to show their chops in the genre, which they have done with gusto. The result is a solid, entertaining collection from cover to cover, with a broad range of fantasy represented: selkies, ghosts, phantom cities, a modern day Green Woman...

While there may be no overarching theme to tie the stories together, many of the volume's standouts do seem to have something in common, a sense of "otherness." For example, the refined French prostitute Victorine in Delia Sherman's exquisite period piece "La Fée Verte" finds herself obsessed with an otherworldly woman who may well be half fairy-half human, as the title suggests. The tsunami victims of "Femaville 29," all save the narrator, too bound by the grim reality of his circumstances, find a new home in a quasi-mythical town uncovered from the collective unconscious of their children. A brother and sister hold an amorphous evil spirit, determined to murder  their family, at bay with something as mundane as shoes in "Concealment Shoes." In Peter Beagle's "Chandail," a sailor comes to terms with her past through reluctantly attempting to save a grievously injured chandail -- mysterious sea creatures that can reach into human minds and "play" with thoughts and memories, little knowing the psychic torture this causes their playthings. To give but a few examples.

Of the authors' offerings, several jump out as luminaries. Sherman's "La Fée Verte," which opens the collection, shines bright, with its atmospheric wartime Parisian setting and La Fée's eerie prescient ability. Equally as stellar is Jeffrey Ford's "The Night Whiskey," wherein once a year the denizens of a small town draw lots to drink the potent "night whiskey" (fermented from a plant grown from corpses), which causes them to not only get extraordinarily drunk, but also to climb into trees and . . . commune with the dead. In one case a bit too literally for the townsfolk's comfort. Greer Gilman's "Down the Wall" is a dreamlike _tour de force_ of language. All gorgeous imagery and beautiful word choice . . . though  it may take several readings to ascertain just what precisely occurs. In "Dust Devil on a Quiet Street," Richard Bowes seems to question art as entertainment and the role of artist as celebrity, set against the backdrop of Manhattan, and involving a ring of rather mysterious (and dubious) origin.

Despite having no central theme, Salon Fantastique holds up well as an anthology because of the strength of its stories.  They are distinctive, well-written and a pleasure to read. Tres magnifique!

[April Gutierrez]