Women read fantasy too. Beloved author/editor Marion Zimmer Bradley created this anthology in 1984 to address just that issue. At a time when women's fantasy was just beginning to make its mark, MZB created an anthology to define the emerging female protagonist. In her introduction, MZB makes it clear that she wanted to avoid the stereotypical Amazon-type heroine who ultimately gave up her freedom to win love. She didn't simply want recreate the old cliché turned upside down-where the men are subservient to women. She wanted stories that gave women new myths to identify with, powerful stories that could be worth consideration by the men and women who read them. This collection is not your average "feminist literature", these are stories that feature warriors, magic-users, healers and thieves-the women of fantasy, the kind of women to give a new generation of fantasy readers characters to see parts of themselves in, and ultimately make readers think.
MZB must have been onto a good thing. In the nearly twenty years since the first publication, there have been 19 Sword and Sorceress anthologies to date. Having read all of these anthologies, I can honestly say that this remains one of the best. The originality of the stories, the quality, the variety; all of these elements make this particular shine out from the group. Out of the fifteen stories, four are written by men, including well-recognized authors Glen Cook and Charles de Lint. MZB prefaces each story with a short blurb about the author and a few comments of her own. These paragraphs, along with her introduction, enable readers to catch the glimpse of MZB's personality and some insight into why she chose the particular stories she's included in this anthology. It becomes clear that each story was selected with care, polished and set in place to augment this anthology. There are no "filler" stories here.
Readers skimming the contents will quickly recognize quite a few of the author names; Glen Cook, Emma Bull, Charles de Lint, Jennifer Roberson and Diana Paxson to name a few. For Emma Bull and some of the other authors listed, this is their first sale. That is an additional bit of delight in these earliest Sword and Sorceress anthologies. So many writers made their first sale, or were just beginning their careers at the time. As to the stories themselves, they are as varied as the authors. For sword and sorcery duos, "The Garnet and the Glory" by Phyllis Ann Karr and "The Rending Dark" by Emma Bull are good examples. For darker, emotionally charged reads, try "Severed Heads" by Glen Cook, or "Sword of Yraine" by Diana L. Paxson. On the lighter side there is "Taking Heart" by Stephen L. Burns, "Daton and the Dead Things" by Michael Ward, and the finale of the anthology, a short-short story by Dorothy J. Heydt, "Things Come in Threes". My particular favorite story-although I admit it is hard to choose just one, all of them have had a powerful impact-is "With Four Lean Hounds" by Pat Murphy. This is a beautiful, fairy-tale-esque story that is as powerful in its message as in its unfolding adventure.
Any reader who loves good fantasy, particularly short stories will likely enjoy this. Women readers especially-but in no way exclusively will appreciate the chance to read about women as protagonists of the epic fantasy story. When this was first published, there were much fewer female fantasy writers and stories available. This has changed dramatically over the intervening two decades. Despite that, it does not diminish the quality of this first anthology-and the stories remain as strong today as they were when published. On a side note-these are all fantasy reads-MZB as a rule does not include science fiction stories in any of her anthologies, although the right story can make her break the rule just a bit. If you can find this anthology, buy it-read it and treasure it.