It's very strange. I've been a Tad Williams fan since the early 90s, when I first encountered (and subsequently devoured) his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn saga. I was absolutely blown away by the size and scope of the story, the complexities of the characters, and the depth of the mythology. I dabbled in the Otherland books, but never really got hooked, and I loved the Shadowmarch saga, although I still have 1 book left to read.
Maybe it's because I'm so enamored with him on that large scale that I've never really dabbled in his short stories, so there was a definite appeal in picking up The Very Best of Tad Williams for review. There were a handful of tales here that simply didn't work for me - 'And Ministers of Grace' was a tad too religious, while 'Black Sunshine' and 'Not with a Whimper, Either' were written in a style I didn't care for - there were also some very pleasant surprises.
'The Old Scale Game' is a great kick-off to the collection, with a con run by dragon and dragon slayer quickly getting out of control. It's quick, it's clever, and it's very funny. By contrast, 'The Storm Door' is a very dark sort of hard-boiled detective tale with a paranormal edge . . . and an ending I didn't expect, but which works beautifully.
We get lighter again with 'The Stranger’s Hands,' in which the darkest of magicians is caught masquerading as a miracle worker, while 'Child of an Ancient City' once again turns the tables on us, taking an Arabian Nights sort of approach to a mountain flight from old-school vampyrs. 'The Boy Detective of Oz' is an Otherland story that I really liked, which may put that saga back on my to-read list, in which Williams really has fun playing with the mythology of L. Frank Baum's world.
A very strange, but very strong story, 'Three Duets for Virgin and Nosehorn' is a sort of historical morality tale featuring a virgin beauty, a painter, a priest, a princess, and a (ahem) rhinocerous. Yes, rhinocerous. Nosehorn. Get it? Turning our attention from rhinos to zebras, 'Z is for...' examines the aftermath of a party, and the confusion of a hangover.
'Monsieur Vergalant’s Canard' is another odd one that I really can't explain, although it did leave me suitably amused. 'The Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of' brings us back to the realm of hard-boiled detectives, this time centered around the murder/suicide of a famous magician, while 'A Fish Between Three Friends' is a short, but lively sort of fairy tale fable.
'Every Fuzzy Beast of the Earth, Every Pink Fowl of the Air' is another religious themed tale, but this one worked for me because of its earnest absurdity. 'A Stark and Wormy Knight' is the one story I had read before, and it is just as funny and entertaining the second time around, particularly with its play of language. Finally, oddly meshing pulp fantasy and space opera, 'Omnitron, What Ho!' is a very funny tale about a young man and his robot, sent by his elders to prevent a marriage.
All-in-all, a solid collection of stories that does a nice job of exposing some new facets of Williams' literary talents. Even with the few that didn't work, The Very Best of Tad Williams is a better collection than most authors could ever hope to produce.
Paperback, 432 pages
Published May 13th 2014 by Tachyon Publications