The Secret History of Fantasy

Overview

Step Right Up and buy your ticket to the impossible marvels of the Barnum Museum. Take a highly caffeinated ride through the Empire of Ice Cream. If you dare, hunt feral archetypes deep within a haunted English forest. Or conquer the New World with a band of geographically-challenged Norsemen.

Tired of the same old fantasy? Here are the stories that you've never imagined possible. Nineteen extraordinary writers offer much-needed antidotes to clichéd tales of swords and sorcery. ...

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Overview

Step Right Up and buy your ticket to the impossible marvels of the Barnum Museum. Take a highly caffeinated ride through the Empire of Ice Cream. If you dare, hunt feral archetypes deep within a haunted English forest. Or conquer the New World with a band of geographically-challenged Norsemen.

Tired of the same old fantasy? Here are the stories that you've never imagined possible. Nineteen extraordinary writers offer much-needed antidotes to clichéd tales of swords and sorcery. Combining the best of the old and the new, these instant classics will inspire even the most jaded of readers. Beloved author and anthologist Peter S. Beagle reveals the secret: fantasy is back and it's better than ever.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Disparaging the commodification of fantasy, Beagle (The Last Unicorn) uses 19 stories and two essays to demonstrate that unique works of imagination are still appearing on both sides of the ostensible "separation of fantasy from actual literature." The all-star cast includes genre powerhouses (Maureen F. McHugh, Terry Bisson), mainstream favorites (Yann Martel, T.C. Boyle), and incorrigible line-straddlers (Jonathan Lethem, Stephen Millhauser). Concluding essays by Ursula Le Guin and David Hartwell can seem strident in their condemnation of "nostalgic, conservative, pastoral, and optimistic" epic fantasy. But in tales like Millhauser's "The Barnum Museum," which itself encapsulates the entire discussion of how to view the literature of the fantastic, there is a sense of frivolity and freedom that permits this anthology to "elude the mundane, and to achieve... beauty and exaltation." (Sept.)
From the Publisher

"In this exciting, canonic volume, Beagle showcases gifted writers who began to rediscover older fantasy classics and to redefine fantasy in their own unique voices."
Inner Worlds

“All 17 stories eschew all or most of the conventions of commercial fantasy.... Start reading and expect to enjoy.”
Booklist

“...set[s] out to rewrite our concept of fantasy, and with the help of some of the world’s best writers, succeeds admirably.”
The Agony Column

“This is a very well-done collection: The stories are all, in many different ways, pleasures to read.”
The Civilian Reader

Library Journal
From Stephen King's vibrantly macabre tale of a woman who knew that a straight line was not the shortest distance between two points ("Mrs. Todd's Shortcut") to Kij Johnson's somber narrative on the life and death of a circus trick ("26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss"), the 19 selections in this volume demonstrate that "fantasy" does not confine itself to certain writers and belongs as much in the mainstream as in a separate category. Informative essays by Ursula K. Le Guin and David G. Hartwell illuminating the origins of the fantasy genre add an additional dimension to this already strong anthology. VERDICT Including such classics as Terry Bisson's "Bears Discover Fire" and Robert Holdstock's "Mythago Wood" (the story that served as the starting point for his similarly titled novel), as well as stories by Francesca Lia Block and Neil Gaiman, this collection serves as a touchstone for fantasy lovers and short story aficionados alike.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781892391995
  • Publisher: Tachyon Publications
  • Publication date: 7/22/2010
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 681,221
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


Peter S. Beagle is the best-selling author of The Last Unicorn, which has sold a reported five million copies since its initial publication in 1968. His other novels include A Fine & Private Place, The Innkeeper’s Song, and Tamsin. His short fiction has been collected in four volumes by Tachyon Publications, including The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche, The Line Between, We Never Talk About My Brother, and Sleight of Hand. He has won the Hugo, Nebula, Mythopoeic, and Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire awards and the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement.
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Read an Excerpt

The Secret History of Fantasy


By Peter S. Beagle

Tachyon Publications

Copyright © 2010 Peter S. Beagle
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-892391-99-5



CHAPTER 1

Ancestor Money


Maureen F. Mchugh


In the afterlife, Rachel lived alone. She had a clapboard cabin and a yard full of gray geese which she could feed or not and they would do fine. Purple morning glories grew by the kitchen door. It was always an early summer morning and had been since her death. At first, she had wondered if this were some sort of Catholic afterlife. She neither felt the presence of God nor missed his absence. But in the stasis of this summer morning, it was difficult to wonder or worry, year after year.

The honking geese told her someone was coming. Geese were better than dogs, and maybe meaner. It was Speed. "Rachel?" he called from the fence.

She had barely known Speed in life — he was her husband's uncle and not a person she had liked or approved of. But she had come to enjoy his company when she no longer had to fear sin or bad companions.

"Rachel," he said, "you've got mail. From China."

She came and stood in the doorway, shading her eyes from the day. "What?" she said.

"You've got mail from China," Speed said. He held up an envelope. It was big, made of some stiff red paper, and sealed with a darker red bit of wax.

She had never received mail before. "Where did you get it?" she asked.

"It was in the mailbox at the end of the hollow," Speed said. He said "holler" for "hollow."

Speed had a thick brush of wiry black hair that never combed flat without hair grease.

"There's no mailbox there," she said.

"Is now."

"Heavens, Speed. Who put you up to this," she said.

"It's worse 'n that. No one did. Open it up."

She came down and took it from him. There were Chinese letters going up and down on the left side of the envelope. The stamp was as big as the palm of her hand. It was a white crane flying against a gilt background. Her name was right there in the middle in beautiful black ink.

Rachel Ball
b. 1892 d. 1927
Swan Pond Hollow, Kentucky
United States


Speed was about to have apoplexy, so Rachel put off opening it, turning the envelope over a couple of times. The red paper had a watermark in it of twisting Chinese dragons, barely visible. It was an altogether beautiful object.

She opened it with reluctance.

Inside it read:

Honorable Ancestress of Amelia Shaugnessy: an offering of death money and goods has been made to you at Tin Hau Temple in Yau Ma Tei, in Hong Kong. If you would like to claim it, please contact us either by letter or phone. HK8-555-4444.


There were more Chinese letters, probably saying the same thing.

"What is it?" Speed asked.

She showed it to him.

"Ah," he said.

"You know about this?" she asked.

"No," he said, "except that the Chinese do that ancestor worship. Are you going to call?" She went back inside and he followed her. His boots clumped on the floor. She was barefoot and so made no noise. "You want some coffee?" she asked.

"No," he said. "Are you going to write back?"

"I'm going to call," she said. Alexander Graham Bell had thought that the phone would eventually allow communication with the spirits of the dead and so the link between the dead and phones had been established. Rachel had a cell phone she had never used.

She dialed it now, standing in the middle of her clean kitchen, the hem of her skirt damp from the yard and clinging cool around her calves.

The phone rang four times and then a voice said, "Wei."

"Hello?" she said.

"Wei," said the voice again. "Wei?"

"Hello, do you speak English?" she said.

There was the empty sound of ether in the airwaves. Rachel frowned at Speed.

Then a voice said, "Hello? Yes?"

Rachel thought it was the same voice, accented but clear. It did not sound human, but had a reedy, hollow quality.

"This is Rachel Ball. I got an envelope that said I should call this number about, um," she checked the letter, "death money." Rachel had not been able to read very well in life but it was one of those things that had solved itself in the afterlife.

"Ah. Rachel Ball. A moment ..."

"Yes," she said.

"Yes. It is a substantial amount of goods and money. Would you like to claim it?"

"Yes," she said.

"Hold on," said the voice. She couldn't tell if it was male or female.

"What's going on?" Speed asked.

Rachel waved her hand to shush him.

"Honorable Ancestress, your claim has been recorded. You may come at any time within the next ninety days to claim it," said the strange, reedy voice.

"Go there?" she asked.

"Yes," said the voice.

"Can you send it?"

"Alas," said the voice, "we cannot." And the connection was closed.

"Wait," she said. But when she pushed redial, she went directly to voicemail. It was in Chinese.

Speed was watching her, thoughtful. She looked at her bare feet and curled her toes.

"Are you going to go?" Speed asked her.

"I guess," she said. "Do you want to come?"

"I traveled too much in life," he said and that was all. Rachel had never gone more than twenty-five miles from Swan Pond in life and had done less in death. But Speed had been a hobo in the Depression, leaving his wife and kids without a word and traveling the south and the west. Rachel did not understand why Speed was in heaven, or why some people were here and some people weren't, or where the other people were. She had figured her absence of concern was part of being dead.

Rachel had died, probably of complications from meningitis, in 1927, in Swan Pond, Kentucky. She had expected that Robert, her husband, would eventually be reunited with her. But in life, Robert had remarried badly and had seven more children, two of whom died young. She saw Robert now and again and felt nothing but distant affection for him. He had moved on in life, and even in death he was not her Robert anymore.

But now something flickered in her that was a little like discontent. Amelia Shaugnessy was ... her granddaughter. Child of her third child and second daughter, Evelyn. Amelia had sent her an offering. Rachel touched her fingers to her lips, thinking. She touched her hair.

What was it she had talked to on the phone? Some kind of Chinese spirit? Not an angel.

"I'll tell you about it when I get back," she said.

She did not take anything. She did not even close the door.

"Rachel," Speed said from her door. She stopped with her hand on the gate. "Are you going to wear shoes?" he asked.

"Do you think I need them?" she asked.

He shrugged.

The geese were gathered in a soft gray cluster by the garden at the side of the little clapboard cabin where they had been picking among the tomato plants. All their heads were turned towards her.

She went out the gate. The road was full of pale dust like talcum powder, already warmed by the sun. It felt so good she was glad that she hadn't worn shoes.

As she walked, she seemed to walk forward in time. She came down and out the hollow, past a white farmhouse with a barn and silo and a radio in the windowsill playing a Reds baseball game against the Padres. A black Rambler was parked in the driveway and laundry hung drying in the breeze, white sheets belling out.

Where the road met the highway was a neat brick ranch house with a paved driveway and a patient German shepherd lying in the shade under a tree. There was a television antenna like a lightning rod. The German shepherd watched her but did not bark.

She waited at the highway and after a few minutes, saw a Greyhound bus coming through the valley, following the Laurel River. She watched it through the curves, listening to the grinding down and back up of its gears. The sign on the front of the bus said Lexington, so that was where she supposed she would go next.

The bus stopped in front of her, sighing, and the door opened.


By the time she got to Lexington, the bus had modernized. It had a bathroom and the windows were tinted smoky colored. Highway 25 had become Interstate 75 and outside the window, they were passing horse farms with white board fence rising and falling across bluegreen fields. High-headed horses with manes like women's hair that shone in the sun.

"Airport, first," the driver called. "Then bus terminal with connections to Cincinnati, New York City and Sausalito, California." She thought he sounded northern.

Rachel stepped down from the bus in front of the terminal. The tarmac was pleasantly warm. As the bus pulled out, the breeze from its passing belled her skirt and tickled the back of her neck. She wondered if perhaps she should have worn a hat.

She wasn't afraid — what could happen to her here? She was dead. The bus had left her off in front of glass doors that opened to some invisible prompt. Across a cool and airy space was a counter for Hong Kong Air, and behind it, a diminutive Chinese woman in a green suit and a tiny green pillbox cap trimmed with gold. Her name tag said "Jade Girl" but her skin was as white as porcelain teeth.

Rachel hesitated for the first time since she had walked away from her own gate. This grandchild of hers who had sent her money, what obligation had she placed on Rachel?

For more than seventy years, far longer than she had lived, Rachel had been at peace in her little clapboard house on the creek, up in the hollow. She missed the companionable sound of the geese and the longing was painful in a way she had forgotten. She was so startled by the emotion that she lifted her hand to her silent heart.

"May I help you?" the woman asked.

Wordlessly, Rachel showed her the envelope.

"Mrs. Ball?" the woman behind the counter said. "Your flight is not leaving for a couple of hours. But I have your ticket."

She held out the ticket, a gaudy red plastic thing with golden dragons and black. Rachel took it because it was held out to her. The Chinese woman had beautiful hands, but Rachel had the hands of a woman who gardened — clean but not manicured or soft.

The ticket made something lurch within her and she was afraid. Afraid. She had not been afraid for more than seventy years. And she was barefoot and hadn't brought a hat.

"If you would like to shop while you are waiting," the woman behind the counter said, and gestured with her hand. There were signs above them that said "Terminal A/Gates 1-24A" with an arrow, and "Terminal B/Gates 1-15B." "There are shops along the concourse," the Chinese woman said.

Rachel looked at her ticket. Amidst the Chinese letters it said "Gate 4A." She looked back up at the sign. "Thank you," she said.

The feeling of fear had drained from her like water in sand and she felt herself again. What had that been about, she wondered. She followed the arrows to a brightly lit area full of shops. There was a book shop and a flower shop, a shop with postcards and salt-andpepper shakers and stuffed animals. It also had sandals, plastic things in bright colors. Rachel's skirt was pale blue so she picked a pair of blue ones. They weren't regular sandals. The sign said flip-flops and they had a strap sort of business that went between the big toe and second toe that felt odd. But she decided if they bothered her too much, she could always carry them.

She picked a postcard of a beautiful horse and found a pen on the counter. There was no shop girl. She wrote, "Dear Simon, The bus trip was pleasant." That was Speed's actual name. She paused, not sure what else to say. She thought about telling him about the odd sensations she had had at the ticket counter but didn't know how to explain it. So she just wrote, "I will leave for Hong Kong in a few hours. Sincerely, Rachel."

She addressed it to Simon Philpot, Swan Pond Hollow. At the door to the shop there was a mailbox on a post. She put the card in and raised the flag. She thought of him getting the card out of the new mailbox at the end of the hollow and a ghost of the heartsickness stirred in her chest. So she walked away, as she had from her own gate that morning, her new flip-flops snapping a little as she went. Partway down the concourse she thought of something she wanted to add and turned and went back to the mailbox. She was going to write, "I am not sure about this." But the flag was down and when she opened the mailbox, the card was already gone.

There were other people at Gate 4A. One of them was Chinese with a blue face and black around his eyes. His eyes were wide, the whites visible all the way around the very black pupils. He wore strange shoes with upturned toes, red leggings, elaborate red armor and a strange red hat. He was reading a Chinese newspaper.

Rachel sat a couple of rows away from the demon. She fanned herself with the beautiful red envelope, although she wasn't warm. There was a TV and on it a balding man was telling people what they should and should not do. He was some sort of doctor, Dr. Phil. He said oddly rude things and the people sat, hands folded like children, and nodded.

"Collecting ancestor money?" a man asked. He wore a dark suit, white shirt and tie and a fedora. "My son married a Chinese girl and every year I have to make this trip." He smiled.

"You've done this before?" Rachel asked. "Is it safe?"

The man shrugged. "It's different," he said. "I get a new suit. They're great tailors. It's a different afterlife, though. Buddhist and all."

Buddhism. Detachment. And for a moment, it felt as if everything swirled around her, a moment of vertigo. Rachel found herself unwilling to think about Buddhism.

The man was still talking. "You know, I can still feel how strongly my son wants things. The pull of the living and their way of obliging us," he said, and chuckled.

Rachel had not felt much obligation to the living for years. Of her children, all but two were dead. There was almost no one still alive who remembered her. "What about?" She pointed at the demon.

"Don't look at him," the man said, quietly.

Rachel looked down at her lap, at the envelope and the plastic ticket. "I'm not sure I should have come," she said.

"Most people don't," the man said. "What's your seat number?" Rachel looked at her ticket. Now, in addition to saying "Gate 4A," it also said, "Seat 7a."

"I was hoping we were together," said the man. "But I'm afraid I'm 12D. Aisle seat. I prefer the aisle. 7A. That's a window seat. You'll be able to see the stars."

She could see the stars at home.

"There's the plane," he said.

She could hear the whine of it, shrill, like metal on metal. It was a big passenger 747, red on top and silver underneath, with a long, swirling gold dragon running the length of the plane. She didn't like it.

She stayed with the man with the fedora through boarding. A young man in a golden suit, narrow and perfectly fitted, took their tickets. The young man's name tag said "Golden Boy." His face was as pale as platinum. At the door of the plane, there were two women in those beautiful green suits and little pillbox stewardess hats, both identical to the girl at the counter. Standing, Rachel could see that their skirts fell to their ankles but were slit up one side almost to the knee. Their nametags both said "Jade Girl." On the plane, the man with the fedora pointed out to Rachel where her seat was.

She sat down and looked out the window. In the time they had been waiting for the plane, it had started to get dark, although she could not yet see the first star.


They landed in Hong Kong at dawn, coming in low across the harbor, which was smooth and shined like pewter. They came closer and closer to the water until it seemed they were skimming it and then, suddenly, there was land and runway and the chirp of their wheels touching down.

Rachel's heart gave a painful thump and she said, "Oh," quite involuntarily, and put her hand to her chest. Under her hand she felt her heart lurch again and she gasped, air filling her quiet lungs until they creaked a bit and found elasticity. Her heart beat and filled her with — she did not know at first with what and then she realized it was excitement. Rising excitement and pleasure and fear in an intoxicating mix. Colors were sharp and when one of the Jade Girls cracked the door to the plane, the air had an uncertain tang — sweet and, underneath that, a many-people odor like old socks.

"Welcome to the Fragrant Harbor," the Jade Girls chorused, their voices so similar that they sounded like a single voice. The man with the fedora passed her and looked back over his shoulder and smiled. She followed him down the aisle, realizing only after she stood that the demon was now behind her. The demon smelled like wet charcoal and she could feel the heat of his body as if he were a furnace. She did not look around. Outside, there were steps down to the tarmac and the heat took her breath away, but a fresh wind blew off the water. Rachel skimmed off her flip-flops so they wouldn't trip her up and went down the stairs to China.

A Golden Boy was waiting for her, as a Jade Girl had been waiting for the man with the fedora. "Welcome to San-qing, the Heaven of Highest Purity," he said.

"I am supposed to be in Hong Kong," Rachel said. She dropped her flip-flops and stepped into them.

"This is the afterlife of Hong Kong," he said. "Are you here to stay?"

"No," she said. "I got a letter." She showed him the Chinese envelope.

"Ah," he said. "Tin Hau Temple. Excellent. And congratulations. Would you like a taxi or would you prefer to take a bus? The fares will be charged against the monies you collect."

"Which would you recommend?" she asked.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Secret History of Fantasy by Peter S. Beagle. Copyright © 2010 Peter S. Beagle. Excerpted by permission of Tachyon Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction Peters S. Beagle 9

1 Ancestor Money Maureen F. Mchugh 15

2 Scarecrow Gregory Maguire 31

3 Lady Of The Skulls Patricia A. McKillip 43

4 We Are Norsemen T. C. Boyle 55

5 The Barnum Museum Steven Millhauser 65

6 Mrs. Todd's Shortcut Stephen King 81

7 Bears Discover Fire Terry Bisson 109

8 Bones Francesca Lia Block 121

9 Snow, Glass, Apples Neil Gaiman 125

10 Fruit and Words Aimee Bender 139

11 The Empire of Ice Cream Jeffrey Ford 151

12 The Edge of the World Michael Swanwick 179

13 Super Goat Man Jonathan Lethem 195

14 John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner Susanna Clarke 215

15 The Book of Martha Octavia E. Butler 225

16 The Vita Æterna Mirror Company Yann Martel 245

17 Sleight of Hand Peter S. Beagle 275

18 Mythago Wood Robert Holdstock 297

19 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss Kij Johnson 341

Appendix 1 The Critics, The Monsters, and The Fantasists Ursula K. Le Guin 355

Appendix 2 The Making of The American Fantasy Genre David G. Hartwell 367

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