Windling Terri. Bordertown: A Chronicle of the Borderlands.

NY: Armadillo Press. 1986.

In the mid-’80s, “urban fantasy” was just beginning to be a thing. Instead of Tolkien’s white-haired wizards and ethereal elves, we had punks with silver hair and pointy ears wearing red leather and torn jeans and riding spell-powered motorcycles. Windling and a couple of her friends set up the background for what became an amazing and very influential series of fantasy short stories and a few novels,

set in the border country between The World (inhabited by humans) and Faerie, and especially in Bordertown, which has been changed greatly by the return of magic to the world. Since neither magic nor technology work reliably there, it has become a sort of truce territory and the favorite destination of young runaways who want to escape their homes and become Someone.

This volume (the second after Borderland) presents four stories by different authors, every one of which is a very entertaining read. “Danceland,” by Emma Bull and her husband, Will Shetterly, provides much of the detail the reader will need to understand and appreciate Bordertown, and also provides a well-written and exciting murder mystery and adventure yarn. The protagonist, Orient, is a “finder” — if he knows something exists, he can locate it– who later got his own novel. It also introduces Wolfboy, the victim of a annoyed elf’s spell, but at least now everyone knows who he is. Emma is a musician as well as an author, and folkish rock imbues every paragraph of the story. “Demon,” by Midori Snyder is about bullying, martial arts, survival, and what’s really important in life. The characterization is above average and the action is almost cinematic.

“Exile,” by Bellamy Bach, is (relatively speaking) the least satisfactory story in the book, about an elf girl trying to manage in Bordertown with no sense of self-preservation, and who always seems to be in the wrong place, and the damaged young man who tries to protect her, even while insisting that he doesn’t care about anyone else and refuses responsibility for them.

“Mockery,” by Ellen Kushner and Bach again, is the longest piece here and easily the best. The frame of the narrative is Bordertown a generation later, when beat-up old Ho Street has been gentrified, the punks of the early days have become middle class, and Art Isn’t What It Used to Be. Hale, a middle-aged human artist now much in demand — but only for his early work — reminisces with a young academic researcher about what life was like at the Mock Avenue Studio, when he and three elvish artists and a halfie poet, all as young as him, were buckling a swash through the Border’s struggling art world. Most of them are famous now, but were they actually successful in their own terms? Not entirely. And Hale never got the girl, either. The writing in this one is very nicely crafted and the characterization is deep and subtle. This volume, like the first, is long out of print and difficult to find, and that’s a shame. But locating it is definitely worth the effort.

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