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Mash Up edited by Gardner Dozois

Mash Up edited by Gardner Dozois
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Book Name: Mash Up
Author: edited by Gardner Dozois. With stories by Robert Charles Wilson, Mike Resnick, Elizabeth Bear, Allen M Steele, Daryl Gregory, Lavie Tidhar, John Scalzi, Nancy Kress, Jack Campbell, Paul Di Filippo, Mary Robinette Kowal, and James Patrick Kelly.
Publisher(s): Titan Books
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy / Science Fiction / Anthology
Release Date: June 7, 2016

Mash Up is a short story anthology edited by Gardner Dozois, in which authors take famous first lines from literature and weave completely new stories from them, all with a sci-fi or fantasy theme, often going in very unexpected directions. The anthology was originally a partnership between Audible and the SFWA, with each story recorded in audio format. Many of the stories were selected for yearly ‘best-of’ collections, Mary Robinette Kowal’s ‘The Lady Astronaut of Mars’ won the Hugo for Best Novelette, and the original Audible audio collection was nominated for an Audie Award. Now the stories are available in paperback book form in this anthology published by Titan Books.

The first thing that becomes apparent on opening up the anthology is the huge variety of stories on offer. There are first lines from books as different as Pride and Prejudice and The Communist Manifesto, The Wizard of Oz and The Declaration of Independence. There’s a short introduction from each author about why they chose their first line and how the story evolved from there, which is an interesting addition to each one.

In the book’s introduction by Steve Feldberg, we find out that the anthology was first conceived back in 2007, with a simple idea: start with a famous first line and go from there. The resulting story could be as connected or divorced from the original source as the author chose. It’s fascinating to see what each different author has done with this idea. In some cases, the first line alone has been used and the story very quickly veers away from anything to do with the original. In most cases, more than just the first line provides inspiration – plot, characters and theme are often drawn from the original story.

In some cases I thought this was extremely successful. For me, this was usually when the new story painted a completely different world but captured something of the feel or theme of the original, like a strange distorted echo. Others used a famous first line and then told a story about the ways people engage with that particular classic. Some of my favourites in the collection were:

Mary Robinette Kowal’s award-winning ‘The Lady Astronaut of Mars’ begins with the first line of The Wizard of Oz, not a first line that I would have been able to instantly recall but certainly a book that means a lot to a lot of people. I associate Dorothy’s story with the idea of adventure and exploration contrasted with the importance of home and family, two themes that are picked up on so brilliantly in Mary Robinette Kowal’s story. On its own, this story holds up as a beautifully written and very moving piece, but as part of this collection it takes on a new meaning as well. In an anthology about famous first lines and works of literature, this story also focuses on the meaning of leaving a legacy and the different ways that people can achieve this.

Another that really worked for me was ‘Fireborn’ by Robert Charles Wilson. I’m not familiar with the Rootabaga Stories from which the first line is taken, but it’s immediately apparent, from the first line alone, that the original was written with quite a unique lyrical style. This could have been a disaster for any new story that didn’t commit to the strange, slightly ethereal atmosphere that the first line creates, but Robert Charles Wilson really succeeds in keeping up a sense of strangeness and wonder, as well as lyrical descriptions that feel like they do justice to the first line.

One memorable story was ‘Highland Reel’ by Jack Campbell, about how people’s identity can become changed or erased over time by the romanticised stories that are told about them. In a story set in Scotland that’s also about magic and the fey and loss, what better first line to begin with than Macbeth, itself a fictional story about a romanticised place and past?

Another story, ‘Declaration’ by James Patrick Kelly, took the Declaration of Independence and considered what people of the future may need a similar document for, resulting in a story that was entertaining but also thought provoking. And there are many more great stories to discover too.

Less successful, for me, were stories that simply took characters or plots from the original work and retold their stories in a slightly different way, or with a sci-fi or fantasy twist. As is often the case with anthologies, there is a mix of different styles, subjects and themes on display here, but I think this is one of the most varied collections that I’ve come across. This means that you’re almost sure to find something you love, but equally there are likely to be a few that you just don’t get on with at all. There were stories in here that I loved, which really grabbed me and fired up my imagination, some that were just daft fun, some very deep and character driven, the odd one that left me perplexed or cold, and yes, a couple that I hated. In anthologies, there are always stories that I like less than others, but in this case there were some very high highs and some very low lows, which at points felt a little uneven and disappointing.

On the other hand, I’m sure those I didn’t like will be another reader’s favourites. That’s what makes diving into these kinds of anthologies such an adventure – like a bag of every flavour beans, you’re never quite sure what you’ll get next.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (3 votes cast)
Mash Up edited by Gardner Dozois, 10.0 out of 10 based on 3 ratings
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