1. Borderland/Bordertown Series

    I wanted to point some folks on twitter to this series, but it takes a bit more room than a tweet, so, here we go.

    What I’m talking about:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Borderland_Series

    http://bordertownseries.com/blog/

    It’s a series of anthologies and a couple of standalone novels. Genre-wise, we’re talking YA urban fantasy, but starting in the 80’s, a bit before YA came to mean “cash cow” and before urban fantasy meant “sexy (insert mythological creature) and/or (insert hunter of mythological creature)”.

    Here is a list of folks who are involved — it’s a pretty impressive roster.

    The premise of the series is that:

    • The realm of Faerie has returned from wherever it went, and a border now exists between this world and that

    • "Bordertown" is a slightly post-apocalyptic city situated on this border, where humans, elves, part-elves, and misc. others coexist, ride motorcycles, and are badass

    • On the border, magic and technology both work, sort of, some of the time

    • The culture of Bordertown is dominated by various kinds of runaway, outcast, underground everything, and the sort of people who make a living by catering to that kind of community, and the sort of people who prey on that kind of community.

    That can be a lot to swallow if you don’t happen to be the sort of person who’s into elves riding motorcycles. But while the setting is central to the kind of stories that people tell in the series, the writing is not gimmicky or pandering. There are stories in this series that are as good as anything else written in the fantasy genre during my lifetime. So, if you have any interest in fantasy whatsoever, and you think maybe you can deal with the motorcycles, you should really give it a spin.

    Selling points:

    • There’s a real diversity in the kinds of writing people have contributed to the series. Some of it is hilarious, some of it is just really good, solid, entertaining fantasy, and some of it is beautiful, understated tragedy. All of it is enjoyable and accessible; none of it is dumb or undercooked.

    • Unlike a lot of fantasy, even “urban” fantasy, it deals with diverse kinds of people (esp. in terms of having heroes of different age, race, gender, and class backgrounds, and heroes who are mixed, or outsiders, or “other”), who feel real and relatable. Struggling things like with poverty, gang violence, relationships, art and music, etc. defines the majority of the stories — not slaying archetypes of evil. (Although there are some excellent, interesting villains, too.)

    • In terms of dealing with things like magic and mythology, it strikes an unusually good balance. Not much in terms of power fantasy or magic as deus ex machina, but it also doesn’t feel demythologizing, or like an indictment of our sense of the mysterious and magical. These stories have a moral weight and a sense of realism in the way they approach human behavior, but not at the expense of the sense of wonder.

    So, if you have any tolerance for fantasy at all, I recommend giving these books a shot. I say start with Bordertown,, although it’s not as available as one might like. (Man, this deserves a reprint ASAP.) You’ll have an easier time finding The Essential Bordertown (which is also very good), or Welcome to Bordertown (which I assume is good, even though I haven’t read it yet; I have a copy, but I kind of want to save it for later).

    Update

    Here’s my advice for getting into the series, in two versions:

    Version one: buy everything. Some of this stuff is not even remotely in print, but track that shit down and buy it anyway. Totally worthwhile.

    Version two: buy what’s in print. Here’s the order I would do that in: Essential Bordertown, Elsewhere, NeverNever, Welcome to Bordertown. The middle two are Will Shetterly’s novels, and in publication order, they come before Essential Bordertown. They’re awesome, but because the shared world-ness defines Bordertown, I think it’s better to start with an anthology.