Thursday, September 19, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee was born 19 September 1947, and died, only 67, in 2015. She was really a remarkable writer, I think perhaps sometimes not as well appreciated as she should have been, perhaps because she was quite prolific, perhaps because some of her most original work was in her short fiction. Here's a selection of my reviews of her short fiction, from my Locus column, late in her life.

Locus, April 2002

And at last to the Spring Weird Tales, which features a few nice stories. Weird Tales regular Tanith Lee contributes one in "Flicker of a Winter Star" a graceful novelette about a woman farmed out to a nursing home by her oafish son-in-law, and the strange creature that she encounters there.  Lee is always worth attention, though this is perhaps lesser Lee, and also less exotic than usual for her.  But well executed.

Locus, May 2002

DAW has issued a big anthology of fantasy stories in celebration of that imprint's 30th Anniversary, called simply enough DAW 30th Anniversary Fantasy, edited by Elizabeth R. Wollheim and Sheila E. Gilbert. The admirable Tanith Lee contributes "Persian Eyes"; a spooky story set in Ancient Rome, in which a mysterious Persican slave girl casts an unusual spell over the men of several unfortunate households.

Locus, November 2002

October/November is also F&SF's special double issue. Best might be Tanith Lee's novelette "In the City of Dead Night", an effective fantasy about two thieves breaking into the title city, and the terrible thing that awaits them. Nothing much new here, but Lee does effectively work changes on familiar tropes.

Locus, May 2003

Tanith Lee's "Blood Chess" (Weird Tales, Spring) is a vampire story, but quite original, about a vampire who exacts a toll from the neighboring village: one young woman every so often. The vampire's sister, not herself a vampire, tells the story of one particular victim.

Review of Fair Folk (Locus, April 2005)

This book features stories of fairies – but not, as Marvin Kaye's introduction notes, "wee, adorable elves". The fair folk here are often very fair indeed, but they are also scary, jealous of their rights, and willing to harshly use any mortal who gets on their wrong side.

Tanith Lee's opening piece, "UOUS", is a perfect illustration. Sixteen year old Lois is a lives with her stepmother and stepsisters in a decaying house on the edge of a scary wood. The others treat her as a servant, while they spend their lives in dissolution: lots of sex, drugs, and alcohol. Then Lois  meets a fairy: an eerily handsome man named Finn. But Finn is not willing to give her three wishes: instead he will take them. And Lois is set on a path of stealing from her fellows, leading inevitably to inviting Finn to the house, where he will take just what he wants. The story is uncompromising, and one feels uneasily that the characters perhaps deserve their odd fates, but that by implication those fates may be reserved for us.

Locus, December 2005

Lords of Swords promises traditional Heroic Fantasy and it delivers that pretty well. It’s an uneven anthology, but the best stories are solid work, particularly Tanith Lee’s lovely “The Woman in Scarlet”, about a traveling Sword’s Man, who is almost literally married to his Sword, which takes on a female persona. The Sword drives him where she wants, usually to dispense justice, but then she sends him to an unexpected place, and an unexpected man. Can a Sword be unfaithful?

Locus, January 2008

From Asimov’s for January I quite liked Tanith Lee’s “The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald”, a tensely unwinding medical mystery, in which a man comes to a domed city and visits a couple of old friends. The city is under a quarantine, we learn, for slowly emerging reasons: a virus with terribly ironic effects.

Locus, March 2008

And finally, a new anthology from Norilana Books, Lace and Blade, promises “an elegant and romantic “soft” form of sword and sorcery” – mixing wit, intrigue, passion – and of course swordplay and magic. And it delivers on all counts: the stories are wonderfully entertaining throughout, as with Tanith Lee’s “Lace-Maker, Blade-Taker, Grave-Breaker, Priest”, about two swordsmen on a ship who take violently against each other, but whose plans for a duel are upset by a shipwreck.

Locus, March 2009

Norilana Books continues its active foray into the original anthology market with the second Lace and Blade collection of – what? Costume fantasy? Fantasies of manners? At any rate, I greatly enjoyed about half the stories here … the rest were disappointing. But the book is well worth it for the high points, particularly perhaps the last two pieces. Tanith Lee’s “Comfort and Despair” is a sly portrait of an apparently mismatched marriage enlivened by certain secrets.

Locus, November 2009

In the October Fantasy Magazine Tanith Lee offers “Clockatrice”, a fine colorful entertainment in which another photographer stars – this one a freelancer who does art projects for magazines (and other things). She visits a rock star at his family’s ancient estate, hears a somewhat gothic story about a young woman turned to stone in the gardens, gets to see the statue, and the man’s bed … and ends up interested and annoyed enough, against her better judgement, to use the photographs she took to create a particular piece of art retelling the story of the cockatrice and the young woman. Which of course has consequences!

Locus, December 2009

Norilana Books has issued no fewer than six original anthologies in 2009. The latest is Sky Whales and Other Wonders, which seems aimed at presenting stories centered on really colorful central ideas. I liked “The Sky Won’t Listen”, by Tanith Lee, an SF ghost story, in which a psychic investigator of sorts is engaged to deal with a ghostly “whaling ship” on a distant planet. This planet features “sky whales”, once harvested for their luminous skin. That’s over now, but a ghost ship has been attacking some of the newer ships that try to herd the whales away from human cities. There is a human ghost on the ghost ship of course, and his motive is a bit different than expected – nice colorful work.

Review of Teeth (Locus, August 2011)

Tanith Lee’s “Why Light” is a story about a vampire girl going to meet her arranged husband. Lee suggests some different aspects of the vampire legend – limited tolerance to sunlight – and tells a conventional but enjoyable story about an unexpected romance.

Locus, September 2013

Tanith Lee's “A Little of the Night” (Clockwork Phoenix 4) is the story of an officer who kills a brutal fellow officer and must flee, finding himself in a mysterious near-abandoned castle, soon realizing that some sort of vampirism is going on, some pull on the residents' life force. This is Lee in fairly familiar form for her, at times a tad overwrought, but enjoyable.

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