Apprentice Fantastic

Title: Apprentice Fantastic

Author: Martin H. Greenburg

Short story collections are always such a mixed bag…

“The Augustine Painters” by Michelle West – This was one of my favorites. The way art and magic blended, and the consequences, made a compelling backdrop for the story of one apprentice who may lose someone very dear to her.

“Sign Here” by Charles de Lint – Hated on multiple levels. This is a story told entirely in dialogue (not even any speech tags), which annoyed me. And the story tries very hard to paint someone who wants people to sign over their souls to him as NOT the devil incarnate, which I don’t buy at all. It would be easier to read it as irony and say they’re all damned, for either trading their own souls or trading other people’s.

“Til Voices Drown Us” by Tim Waggoner – Also disliked, though not so intensely, and more for the philosophy presented than the storytelling. Telling people lies to make them feel good and protect them from the truth rubs me the wrong way.

“Homework” by Esther Friesner – Disliked, because the hero turns out to be a cad and there’s no one worth rooting for. Especially not the whiny kid.

“The Last Garden in Time’s Window” by Dean Wesley Smith – This was okay, but nothing really stood out to me about it. A man investigates his parent’s deaths, convinced it must have been a murder.

“Final Exam” by Jane Lindskold – Another favorite. Danny’s an interesting kid: spoiled rotten by his own admission, with powers to heal that seem incongruous with such a disposition until you realize how he got them and what he does with them. And it really makes me want to hunt down the original story featuring him to see how the beginning all works out (footnotes indicate these exist in other anthologies).

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’s Apprentice” by David Bischoff – Disliked. Too much focus on sex and being drunk.

“Zauberschrift” by David D. Levine – An interesting piece about a man who left magic for a job as a dyer being called back to troubleshoot his village’s weather issues. Not terribly memorable overall.

“When the Student is Ready” by Tanya Huff – A good piece about a girl who has to apprentice to a homeless bum of a magician who is all that stands between her and the forces of darkness.

“What Has to be Done” by Fiona Patton – This one could get a bit gross since it deals with necromancy, but it’s a fascinating look at an apprentice who hates his trade. The only downside is this feels a bit thin for a short story (and it’s one of the longest in the book), as though a longer form would’ve allowed it to play more with its ideas, and bring them to a fuller conclusion.

“Flanking Maneuver” by Mickey Zucker Reichert – A bit too happily ended, given the generations of conflict, but otherwise okay. A young man pressed into service for his country accidentally ends the war.

“The Muses’ Darling” by Sarah A. Hoyt – It’s a fantasy short story about the beginnings of William Shakespeare. The intro kind of spoils the whole thing, as once you know she has a Shakespearean novel it’s no stretch to figure out who “Will” is. This was okay. I was happy with the ending, though rather annoyed that so many of the ordinary people were speaking in rhyme (and, for the watchful, these are lines adapted from his plays).

“Blood and Scale” by John Helfers – I liked this, though it wasn’t a favorite. The relationship between the unlucky apprentice and the dragon who captures him was fun, and the story kept twisting in surprising directions.

Overall the good stories, like “The Augustine Painters”, tend to be really good, but they’re mixed in with a lot that doesn’t feel worth the effort. So it may just boil down to how much you like short stories. I rate this book Neutral.

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