Mannetje, mannetje Timpe Te,
botje, botje in de zee,
mijn vrouwtje die heet Ilsebil,
ze wil niet zoals ik wil.
Van de Visser en Zijn Vrouw in De Sprookjes van Grimm,
Van Holkema & Warendorf, 1984
O man of the sea!
Come listen to me,
For Alice my wife,
The plague of my life,
Hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!
The Fisherman and His Wife in Grimms’ Fairy Tales.
Puffin Books, 1971
Before I started this blogging lark, if you’d come to me and said ‘Listen in three years you will read a short story anthology filled with nothing but stories inspired by the concept of fish AND you are going to really enjoy it,’ I would have thought you’d lost your mind. Indeed I hardly read anthologies and come on, an entire anthology pf fishy stories? Who would think of that and then publish it? Well, Carrie Cuinn would and did. And what’s more, I really did enjoy this anthology tremendously. Who knew, past me, who knew?
So, 33 stories inspired by fish, what do those look like? Perhaps not unexpectedly, there are several stories inspired by the fairy tale of the fisherman and his wife and several folk and mythological tales from around the world. But there are also fish in space, magical fish familiars, adventure fish and even a narcissistic eel. All of the stories are surprising, even if not all of them worked as well for me. To shake my anthology reviewing format up a little, I’m going to review my favourite stories individually.
Paul A. Dixon – One Let Go
A layered story about choices, crossroads, and wisdom that resonates down the years. I love the separate stories Dixon manages to fit into this gem of a story. At the heart of it is the history of a magical talking salmon, how he chose to stay out to sea instead of traveling upriver to the spawning grounds to procreate and die, how he’s seen the world’s oceans and has finally found his way back to his birth river. But it is also the story of the boy Ian, who catches the salmon together with his grandpa and the choices they make when the salmon offers them a deal: release him in exchange for wisdom. But it is also the story of the man Ian, who has to decide whether he’ll settle down to raise his son or get back out on the highway and freedom. All three stories end in choices, but only one of those choices is revealed to the reader, the others are implied only and how the reader interprets them is largely up to her. I loved the thoughtfulness of the story, its layering and its build-up to the end. I know what I hope Ian chooses to do in the end, but the fact is I’ll never know and my hopes are based on the person I am and how my life looks. I think others might wish him to make a different choice.
Andrea Zup – Maria and the Fish
A variation on the magical, boon-granting fish, I loved the prolonged interaction between Maria and the Fish. There is an absolute smugness to Maria, which instead of making her unsympathetic, is rather endearing and the Fish’s vindictive interpretation of her wish is fabulous. There is a sense of fun and whimsy to the story and a snarkiness to the dialogue that is highly entertaining. It ends on a perfect note and left me with a smile on my face.
Corinne Duyvis – The Applause of Others
I adored this story almost as much for its setting as its narrative. It’s set in Amsterdam and is written not with the eye of a stranger but someone familiar with the city and its character, who knows to look beyond its tourist trap façade to its everyday magic. I loved how Duyvis incorporated details about Dutch life and culture without signposting them, dropping in names and features. The connection between Floor and the narcissistic eel is fascinating and disturbing and its ways of seemingly taking revenge on those who ignore it, threaten it, or take attention away from it is very fitting both as its a fish and due to the eternal Dutch struggle against the encroaching sea. This is the first time I’ve read a Dutch speculative author and I can’t wait to read more from Duyvis.
April L’Orange – Quick Karma
Orange’s Quick Karma may just have been my favourite story out of the bunch. I adored the characters and the premise. Wizards and familiars, a reincarnated gold fish, a wizard-in-training, a roller-derby playing roommate, and that only covers half of it. The tone and pace of the dialogue was quite snappy and the pacing overall was very good. I really enjoyed the story and the resolution. Quick Karma also felt as a fantastic set-up for a series and I’d love to read more about Merritt, Davey, and Susan!
Andrew S. Fuller – A Salmon Tale, 2072
This is a gorgeous, post-apocalyptic tale, cast in the mould of a mythological origin tale. I absolutely adored it. From the glimpses of society’s collapse to the rebuilding of life in a new setting and the importance of traditions therein, it struck a perfect note. It’s also a tale of man helping nature reclaim her natural state, taking down man-made structures and setting her free. I loved the cadence of the writing. I actually read this one out loud to my daughter as she was fussing and despite stumbling on the pronunciation of the Native American words and names, the rhythm of the sentences carried beautifully. It’s a beautiful story with quite a hopeful ending.
Suzanne Palmer – Lanternfish in the Overworld
Sometimes the journey is as important as the destination and for the little lanternfish who needs to deliver a massage to the Overworld it’s a big journey indeed. I loved the richness of Palmer’s ocean setting and the way the different fish interacted. The eventual moral of the story was beautiful and the ending lovely. It felt like a fairy tale, a tale you could read to children too and I really loved it.
These six were my favourites, but all of the stories were interesting, even those I didn’t end up liking much. The idea behind FISH is an interesting concept and the stories found within show the versatility of the genres collected under the umbrella of speculative fiction. Cuinn and Taylor have gathered together an interesting and talented bunch of authors and created a memorable reading experience. As with their previous release, In Situ, Dagan Books have published another interesting and beautiful anthology; one that doesn’t just contain beautiful words, but beautiful art as well. If you like short fiction and are looking for a quirky and unique collection of stories, you can’t go far wrong with FISH.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.