Now to the books. Norilana, established by the fantasy writer Vera Nazarian, is showing commendable dedication to publishing original anthologies, with a commitment to several new series of these: first Lace and Blade, and now, with a very strong first volume, Clockwork Phoenix, edited by Mike Allen. Established writers and new names all are in good form here...
"All the Little Gods We Are" by John Grant is a rich meditation on the vagaries of romance. The protagonist met a girl at school he was convinced was his other half; and two possible lives unfold for him, one in which he remains inseparable from this heaven sent partner, the other in which he is single, lonely, unfulfilled. One day he makes a phone call, and lines cross between existences, selves are in impossible communication. This prompts deep reflection, a trawling of memory, an inner dispute over how one's will relates to reality, how we make our fates. John C. Wright's "Choosers of the Slain" is a characteristically magniloquent discussion of courage and how an heroic destiny is fashioned—should a great leader, seemingly facing defeat by an overwhelming invader, stand and fight, or should he step aside, into an ideal Valhalla? Wright's answer is a bit predictable, but the atmosphere is grand. "Oblivion: A Journey" by Vandana Singh is an opulent space opera, full of exotic color and historical resonance, about a quest for revenge upon an evil warlord paralleling a figure in Hindu myth. Should the pattern of myth be followed for justice to be done? And what in truth are the mythical referents? The answers are literate and compelling.
Also of merit: "The Woman" by Tanith Lee, which at first resembles a standard sword-and-sorcery tale, but evolves into a moving, tragic hymn to a dying world. Allusions to homosexuality, and unwanted sons, and a curiously ugly paragon of femininity build to a dark revelation against which there is no appeal; grim storytelling this, Lee at her barbaric best. "The Occultation" by Laird Barron is unforgiving also, portraying the mounting menace faced by a married couple in a motel room; something is wrong, but its precise character is only hinted at, and then hinted more, and then more... A fine exercise in ambiguous horror. "There is a Monster Under Helen's Bed" by Ekaterina Sedia is different in tone, but likewise involves things that go bump in the night; a Russian orphan transplanted to an American home is scared, and apparently with good reason. "The City of Blind Delight" by Catherynne M. Valente is attractively written surrealism, about trains that connect with peculiar places unmarked on most maps; and "The Dew Drop Coffee Lounge" by Cat Rambo ponders the symbolic roles people perforce adopt, in this case that of disappointer of romantic expectations in a place where dates made on the internet will be kept, or more likely broken.
These and other contributions mark Clockwork Phoenix as a series of great promise. Prospects on the anthology front look ever better.