Audiobook review: Welcome to Bordertown

Welcome to Bordertown: New Stories and Poems of the Borderlands
Edited by: Holly Black and Ellen Kushner
Performances by: MacLeod Andrews, Cassandra Campbell, Ellen Kushner, and Holly Black
Length: 18 hours and 8 minutes
Release date: 10 April 2012

Review by Dave Thompson: Bordertown Lives!

I feel in love with Welcome to Bordertown well before I actually read any of the stories. In her introduction, Terri Windling explains how Bordertown came to be: In the 80s, fantasy meant epic – primarily riffs on Tolkien, talking animals, and Sword and Sorcery. Windling was living in NYC, having conversations with writers and editors about mythology while punk music pounding at the bar stage. And when she was given the task of creating a shared world anthology, she had the idea to tap both a sense of rebellion and of tradition, and blend them into something different. Today, we call it Urban Fantasy, but at the time, it didn’t have a name, and it’s easy to forget how unique it was back then. [MORE:]

After a couple more introductions by editors Ellen Kushner and Holly Black (about thirty minutes all together), we learn that Bordertown disappeared 13 years ago (which is when the last collection came out), and nobody has seen it since. The collection opens up with Terri Windling and Ellen Kushner’s “Welcome to Bordertown” – which is easily my favorite story in this collection. It’s light, fun, and highly accessible, a story primarily about a boy whose older sister disappeared along with Bordertown thirteen years ago. When Bordertown is back, he hops in his pick-up truck to go find his now younger sister. His sister and a young Indian American also have viewpoints, and the fun that ensued between them had such an infectious sense of nostalgia and camaraderie, it made me want to jump in my own righteous mini-van, drive over to B-town, and stay up all night watching some bands and drinking them.

It’s not the only fun story in the collection. Cory Doctorow’s “Shannon’s Law” attempts to explore other worldly magic scientifically through a young, technical entrepreneur. Will Shetterly’s “The Sages of Elsewhere” finds Wolfboy – Bordertown’s most popular character (he probably appears in a cameo in at least half of these stories) – trying to make ends meet for he and his wife by keeping their bookstore afloat. And Tim Pratt’s “Our Stars, Our Selves,” follows a future rock star finding out what would happen if she got her wish. (I want to know: When does her album come out?)

The stories can also shift into a slightly darker tone, but perhaps with the exception of Janni Lee Simmer’s “Crossings,” the danger doesn’t feel terribly real or threatening. For example, “The Rowan Gentleman” by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black opens when a young woman stumbles into a theater and dies during a rehearsal. It’s a mystery filled with murder and the drug trade, and yet somehow, shades of The Scarlett Pimpernel and V for Vendetta, manages to be lots fun.

Nalo Hopkinson’s “Ours is the Prettiest” takes us on one of the strangest parades I’ve ever seen, with characters that depart from the typical Anglo-European/American  cast, and some of the strangest events and creatures we see in this volume. Bordertown is a haven for outsiders – regardless of their nationality or sexual orientation.

Poetry is something I have very little experience with, but the poems and songs add a nice flavor to the collections as a whole, although I have to admit I wish the songs were actually put to music. At PodCastle, we had the privilege to run Amal El-Mohtar’s “Stairs in her Hair”, put to music, and it just doesn’t have the same power as a straight reading (no matter how good of a reader Cassandra Campbell is).  Ellen Kushner read my favorite poem, Delia Sherman’s “The Wall,” which felt as if an NPR journalist had been sent to Bordertown to record different perspectives on it and Faerie.  Neil Gaiman’s “A Song of The Song” is short and playful, and a nice set-up for the ending of the collection.

Charles de Lint’s “A Tangle of Green Men” is an interesting story to end the collection with because about 80% of it takes place outside of Bordertown.  The first half is a love story that leads into a pilgrimage to Bordertown. I appreciated that this story featured a Native American protagonist, as well as a young blind character. Considering some of the difficulties Joey’s gone through, some of the outcomes and progressions felt a little too easy for me, but really, I guess that was the point. It also seems like it could very easily be the starting point of a larger story.

The performances by MacLeod Andrews and Cassandra Campbell are pretty impressive given the aforementioned diversity of the characters and stories. I’ve only experienced small doses of their work before, and wasn’t sure whether they’d be able to pull off all these different stories, but they do very good work here. (Kushner reads a couple poems and two introductions – I wish she’d been given the opportunity to read more, Black reads her introduction).

All in all, if you haven’t been to Bordertown before, I highly recommend the trip. It’s a strange, diverse place, and I hope it doesn’t take another thirteen years until we’re allowed to catch another ride there.

Table of Contents

Welcome to Bordertown, by Terri Windling & Ellen Kushner
Shannon’s Law, by Cory Doctorow 
Cruel Sister (poem), by Patricia A. McKillip 
Voice Like a Hole, by Catherynne M. Valente 
Stairs in Her Hair (song*) – Amal El-Mohtar
Incunabulum, by Emma Bull
Run Back to the Border (song), by Steven Brust
Prince of Thirteen Days, by  Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Sages of Elsewhere, by Will Shetterly
Soulja Grrrl: A Long Line Rap (song), by Jane Yolen 
Crossings, by Janni Lee Simner
Lullabye: Night Song for a Halfie (song), by Jane Yolen 
Our Stars, Our Selves, by Tim Pratt
Elf Blood, by Annette Curtis Klause
The Wall (poem), by Delia Sherman
Ours is the Prettiest, by Nalo Hopkinson
We Do Not Come in Peace, by Christopher Barzak
A Borderland Jump-Rope Rhyme (poem), by Jane Yolen 
The Rowan Gentleman, by Cassandra Clare & Holly Black
The Song of the Song (song), by Neil Gaiman
A Tangle of Green Men, by Charles de Lint

——

Dave Thompson is the host and co-editor of PodCastle, the fantasy fiction audio magazine. His own fiction has been published by Bull Spec and Apex Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @krylyr.

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