When you see the name Tad Williams you can’t help but think of multi-volume fantasy series that dominate the final rows of fantasy and science fiction paperbacks on the shelves of most bookstores. So it may come as a surprise to many to learn that the author of SHADOWMARCH, MEMORY, SORROW AND THORNE, and other epic series and is also an accomplished writer of short fiction – enough to fill two previous collections.
THE VERY BEST OF TAD WILLIAMS is, as the promotional copy indicates, a “career retrospective” that includes stories Williams wrote during the time he created the series and stand-alone works that established him among genre authors; including many stories that were originally published in extremely limited editions.
For newcomers to his short fiction, the most pleasant revelation will be the different types of stories Williams has written over the years. In “The Old Scale Game,” a fairly recent work, an aging knight confronts an equally aging dragon and the two traditional adversaries enter into a mutual partnership. This contemporary spin on a familiar setting allows Williams to express a sly warning to those who see the fantasy field as nothing more than a cash cow.
Contrast this with “Not With A Whimper” where a group of readers debate online the merits of fantasy versus science fiction until their exchange is interrupted by power surges. The source of the surges, the debaters discover, is an artificial intelligence struggling with its new-found consciousness and powers. Williams presents the entire story in a near cyber-punk style of coded posted messages.
In “The Storm Door” Williams incorporates the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism about death to create a truly unique addition to the ever-expanding canon of zombie stories.
Williams also uses the short form to poke gentle fun at fantasy and related fiction genres. In “The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of,” for example, Williams uses the trappings of hard-boiled mysteries in a story of an unemployed, down-on-his luck magician hired by a dishy dame to investigate the death of her magician father. “A Fish Between Three Friends” is a very short, fable-like tale that insightfully challenges the value of the standard three magical wishes.
And in “A Stark And Wormy Knight” (the title story of an earlier collection) a dragon lulls her child to sleep with a story about the child’s Great-Grandfather from the days when knights were truly noble and brave; and dragons were unquestionably fierce and feared. Here, as in all previously noted examples, the humor and satire are deeply rooted in a love for both the entertainment and enlightening values of fantasy stories.
Of the far too many authors cramming the fantasy field with seemingly endless series, only a few are genuinely worthy of our time. THE VERY BEST OF TAD WILLIAMS proves that he is among this select company, and may also cause some to drastically re-evaluate the talents of this prolific and popular author, and discover his other equally satisfying works. —Alan Cranis