I picked up Songs of Love & Death — All-Original Tales of Star-Crossed Love for a few reasons.
First, I love short stories.
Second, the collection included a story by Diana Gabaldon, whose Outlander I read years ago and still remember as totally captivating.
Third, George R. R. Martin co-edited the book (along with Gardner Dozois), so I figured if the genius behind Game of Thrones gave these 17 cross-genre tales the OK, then they had to be worth reading.
Oh, yes. And it was cheap. $4.99 in the bargain section at Chapters.
Sadly, even at that bargain-basement price, I feel a little ripped off.
The dust jacket blurb promised everything from faeries and aliens to post-apocalyptic zombies, appearing in stories linked by the theme of ill-fated love.
And while the stories did offer an amazingly diverse (and strange…and bizarre…and downright weird) cast of characters, it was the stories themselves I found lacking.
In Jim Butcher’s “Love Hurts,” what starts out as a promising mystery (with a law enforcement wizard on the case of several seemingly unrelated suicide pacts) ends up with a monologuing vampire, and a shoot-out in a possessed Tunnel of Terror. Huh?
Then in Neil Gaiman’s “The Thing About Cassandra,” the girlfriend a man made up when he was an awkward 15-year-old shows up for real in his life decades later. Cool concept. But then all of a sudden the first-person narrative changes. “I” is no longer Stuart, it’s Cassandra. Did he make her up? Or did she make him up? Who the heck is Mr. Postie? And Stuart is now a pile of ashes on the floor? What?
Even Gabaldon’s “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” was disappointing. Granted, her author’s note suggests there’s more to this story in another story. But a great part of my love of short stories lies in the fact that the good ones are able to stand on their own as tiny little slices of life. Gabaldon’s doesn’t.
There are a few gems in this collection. “Blue Boots” by Robin Hobb is a sweet little happily-ever-after kind of fairy tale. “After the Blood” by Marjorie M. Liu is a creepy post-apocalyptic story (complete with forest zombies) which, although reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Stand (in miniature), is satisfying in its own right. And “Under/Above the Water” by Tanith Lee is a beautifully crafted and lyrical story of lovers missing each other in one lifetime but finding each other in another.
I expected more from “seventeen of the greatest modern authors of fantasy, science fiction, and romance.” And I feel I had to read through a lot of time-wasting, uninteresting or downright bewildering stuff to find the half a dozen or so worth reading in this collection.
Since I only paid $4.99 for the hardcover, that works out to less than a buck per deserving story.
If it goes an extra 50% off the last ticketed price, you might want to pick it up.
Check out Luc’s thoughts on Songs of Love & Death.