Monday, August 8, 2011

Welcome back to Bordertown

I remember how refreshing and different Bordertown was, when I was a teenager.

Back then - this was in the early 1980s - I read a lot of fantasy novels. They tended to be deeply influenced by Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Stephen R. Donaldson, Patricia McKillip, Terry Brooks, Katherine Kurtz - they all depicted magical worlds modeled on medieval Europe. There were kings and queens, knights and ladies, not to mention wizards and elves, going on quests and facing down magical threats in imaginary landscapes. I read them all.

The first Bordertown anthology, Borderland, was edited by Terri Windling and came out in 1986, and how unusual it was. Here was fantasy that took place in a modern city, amid the highways and bars and bands and apartment buildings and factories. Urban fantasy isn't that unusual now, but at the time it was strange and delightful.

Bordertown is a city in the NeverNever, the fey area where the World meets the Elven Realm, where neither magic nor human technology seem to work properly. To this city come the riffraff of both worlds - runaways, rejects, halflings, and seekers of all kinds. They figure out who they are, build new communities in exile, and try to steer clear of the gangs and addicts.

There were several Bordertown anthologies, featuring stories by well-known fantasy authors of the day. The format of the books is just as interesting as the setting - lots of authors wrote their own stories, sharing the setting. The books are mostly out of print now, and very hard to find (though the Tillamook County Library has this one).

After a long hiatus, a new Bordertown anthology has come out. Welcome to Bordertown features stories by some of my favorite authors from the old anthologies - Ellen Kushner, Emma Bull, Will Shetterly, and Charles de Lint. It's also picked up stories by some other authors who, like me, enjoyed the series back in the day - Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow, Holly Black, and Catherynne Valente.

My favorite story is "Incunabulum" by the always-excellent Emma Bull, in which an elf in a bloodstained shirt finds himself in Bordertown, furious, frightened, and unable to remember his name or how he came to be there. His attempt to steal a clean shirt starts him on the road to self-discovery.

If you're an old fan of Bordertown - or if you've never heard of it, but are intrigued by the idea - check out Welcome to Bordertown. It's lots of fun.

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