I found most of the stories in Eclipse Three, edited by Jonathan Strahan, especially in the first half of the book, disturbing, disorienting, and depressing, but never dull. Over and over, I would get sucked in by beautiful writing. I would keep reading, wondering where it’s going, thinking that if it’s this well done, there must be a good reason to spend time on it. And then I would get hit with a downer and the end — and feel burned.
Possibly the best example of this is “Useless Things,” by Maureen McHugh. Set in a New Mexico where the economy never recovers, it’s all wonderfully written, with likeable characters, and engaging scenes. And two dogs. But in the end, you’re left with the image of all the goodness left in the human heart being ground down by a world circling the drain.
The first story I actually liked was “The Visited Man,” by Molly Gloss. Rousseau’s neighbor is drawn out of grief and into the artist’s imagination. In a way, meeting Rousseau is like meeting an alien. You are drawn into the wonderful jungles of his world. I love how he shows compassion and understanding without you even realizing it. Odd as he is, he is wiser than you think.
My favorite story was “The Pretender’s Tourney,” by Daniel Abraham. It begins with a meteorite:
Black as soot, the stone was shapeless as a blighted apple. The word of God made stone: twisted, diseased, ambiguous.
Dafyd, suddenly Duke of Westford due to the plague that has swept the kingdom, spends the story confronting the whole idea of God. He is on his way to the capital to contend for the throne in a trial by combat, where the will of God will choose the next king. He wants none of it, and he fights it with all the bitter, mordant wit he can summon. But no magic. Whether you call this fantasy or not depends on what you think of God. But then, as Dafyd finds out, it really doesn’t matter what you think.
As for the other stories, if I didn’t enjoy them, it’s wholly a matter of taste. I could see a high level of quality in them. They just didn’t walk down roads I like to take.
Oh, and I did notice that about two-thirds of the stories were written by women. Very cool to see that in an SF anthology.