Pandora's Closet by Jean Rabe & Martin H. Greenberg (Editors). Review by Andrea Johnson
Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. But at what cost? Pandora's Closet includes twenty or so short stories generally involving mythical objects or creatures that take over the lives of ordinary people. For the most part, these are lighter, more humorous selections, showcasing writers who are newer to the scene (such as Joe Masdon and Yvonne Coats), alongside their more experienced counterparts (such as Kevin J. Anderson, Timothy Zahn and Michael A. Stackpole). This collection is a satisfying mix of humor, drama, mythology and action, something for everyone in your family.
All readers of fiction are familiar with the magical object or person—the ring that makes you invisible, the feather that lets you fly, an object that possesses you with the spirit of another. Only in Disney movies are these magical objects free, at no cost to the user. Older tales were a lesson in disguise; the user paid a fee, be it their freedom, their innocence, or their lives for the forbidden use of magic. These days many authors and readers have found a happy medium: yes, the protagonist pays some terrible cost, and the reader gets some great entertainment out of the deal. Most characters in this collection fall into that category.
Having given the authors pretty much free reign over the content and thematic details of their stories, the editors Jean Rabe and Martin H. Greenberg ended up with a kaleidoscope of material. I didn't feel that every tale kept to the theme of magical and mythological objects, but even those that didn't, were often very good to excellent reads. And for the few entries that weren't as strong, their saving grace was that they were over quickly.
This collection of short stories is great for the casual reader looking for some fun and easy entertainment, and as with most anthologies, are a great way to get introduced to new authors. Most entries are appropriate for young adult readers as well, and nearly all are short enough to be perfect bedtime reading.
Selected Story Reviews:
"What Quig Found" by Christopher T. Pierson, "Cursory Review" by Donald J. Bingle, and "Jack's Mantle" by Joe Masdon
"What Quig Found" isn't a complicated story. It isn't scary, it isn't a parable in disguise. But it is one of the funniest stories I have ever read. A team of soon-to-be burned out software engineers are chilling out at their local kitch-covered Chotchkie's-esque restaurant, playing games involving the randomly odd kitch covering the walls and ceiling of the establishment. One fellow, Quig, spots what he believes is The Golden Helmet of Mambrino, from Don Quixote. Upon donning the ridiculous piece of metal, Quig embodies the Don, embarrassing his friends, defending the honor of a friendly waitress, and starting a bar brawl. Okay, so not so funny, on the surface. But very well written, smoothly flowing, and the way Pierson makes fun of the names of these restaurants is preciously hilarious.
"Cursory Review" brings us to the other side of magical and cursed objects: the Demons in Hell who are creating them, cursing them, and making sure they are within reach of humans. The idea being the cursed objects will cause humans to sin, thus increasing the power of hell. Threkma the demon has recently been transferred to the Cursed Clothing and Frivolous Fashion Accessories Division, and he hasn't got much time to impress his demanding boss, the putrescent Grznarb. Apparently the eyeglasses of impure thoughts, the little black dress of infidelity and the wedding ring of shrewishness are no longer new and hip, so Grznarb has charged Threkma with coming up with something exciting and irresistible to humans. And it's got to be cheap and easy to mass produce too, Hell isn't made of money, you know. After a creepy false start using someone else's recipe for curses, Threkma comes up with something that depending on your idea of a good time, will be insulting, ironic, or both.
"Jack's Mantle" comes from a newer player to the fantasy short story scene. Stuck on a shopping trip with his wife Brenda, Bob morosely browses around the vintage shop while his wife is in heaven. Bob is bored and frustrated with the marriage, but the strange old fashioned coat he finds (actually, it finds him) changes all that. It starts out with him drooling over women young enough to be his daughter, gets into sick and bloody day dreams, and evolves into his murders of prostitutes. Doesn't take much to figure out who used to own that long overcoat. But will his wife find out? This story is short, to the point, and creepy as hell.
Andrea Johnson lives in beautiful southwestern Michigan with her husband, and spends as much time as possible reading and enjoying science fiction and other speculative fiction. She is an administrator and book reviewer at Worm's Sci Fi Haven and an official reviewer at Multiverse.