REVIEW: The Trouble with Heroes edited by Denise Little (22 Authors)

Saturday, August 7, 2010 13:00
Posted in category Review

Book CoverLiviania’s review of The Trouble with Heroes edited by Denise Little (no website found)
Fantasy anthology published by DAW 3 Nov 2009

What do heroes do in their downtime? It’s an interesting premise that’s suppose to serve as the basis of the stories in the fantasy anthology The Trouble with Heroes. Unfortunately, most authors barely touch on the premise. Fortunately, most of the stories are still charming and funny. Plus, the anthology was unexpectedly female positive.

Geeks Bearing Gifts by Kristine Grayson

Is Eros a hero? He shows up more than once, so he must be. Still, I don’t think being a god necessarily makes one a hero.

Overall, this story didn’t wow me, but I did like Bethanne, who is above all a businesswoman. She runs Eros.com, a dating service for hetero- and homosexual geeks. Then Cupid-in-disguise walks through the door, looking to use the service. Kristine Grayson created an absorbing voice for Bethanne, which meant I hoped for a happier ending.

Grade: B-

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The Horror in the Living Room by Adrian Nikolas Phoenix

Adrian Nikolas Phoenix plays fast and loose with history by turning H.P. Lovecraft into a hero instead of an insane man who couldn’t market his work. The story is told through the point of view of Augusta Howard, his highly capable and cool-headed housekeeper. Phoenix’s descriptions of the things that visit Lovecraft’s home made me laugh, which in turn made me partial to the story.

Grade: B+

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Take My Word for It: Bad Idea by Mike Moscoe

Heracles cross-dressing is one of the classic episodes in Greek mythology. It’s almost too funny to be true. Mike Moscoe’s pacifist Queen Omphale is no fool. She knows that Heracles killed the last monarch who made him complete impossible tasks. So while he’s under her control, she’s going to keep him out of the way and out of trouble with women’s work.

Omphale sells this story, because you really can’t be a fool when you’re dealing with the Greek gods. (Plus, Heracles cross-dressing is a classic for a reason.)

Grade: A

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Merry Maid by Jean Rabe

The first three stories are comedies, but if “Merry Maid” is a comedy, it’s a black one. Maid Marian followed Robin Hood willingly, but she’s starting to get disillusioned. He keeps most of the money he steals and frankly, he smells. She’s getting tired of it.

Jean Rabe’s take on the Robin Hood legend is original and coherent, if not quite my thing.

Grade: B

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The Problem with Dating Shapeshifters by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (no website found)

I’ve read several short stories by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, since she’s a regular in Firebird anthologies. The narrator of “The Problem with Dating Shapeshifters” is unlucky enough to catch Zeus’s eye. Anyone whose read even a little mythology knows how that story goes.

I like Hoffman’s prose, which flows easily. I also loved her interpretation of Hera, as well as the story’s ending.

Grade: A-

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Reclaiming His Inner Ape by Terry Hayman

What happened to Sam and Mary’s relationship once she was no longer a damsel-in-distress, captured by King Kong? Terry Hayman’s diction sets the mood well, evoking the feel of the classic movie. I enjoy stories that look in at couples after the happily ever after, and liked where he went with Sam and Mary.

Grade: B+

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For a Few Lattes More by Annie Reed (no website found)

Terri, a Starbucks barista, frequently serves a cowboy who lives in a nearby park. This story is one a few that shows heroism in action instead of a hero off-duty. It also drops the character’s epiphany on the reader’s head like an anvil. I’d Annie Reed’s story more if it had any subtlty.

Grade: C

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Beloved by David H. Hendrickson

“Beloved” tackles the Bible. David eventually married Saul’s younger daughter, but was first offered the hand of his eldest. This story follows Merab as she tries to help David and Michal get together. David H. Hendrickson’s Merab has a wry humor that livens up the story.

Grade: B+

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Inspiration by Phaedra M. Weldon

A jogger is rescued by Oberon, King of the Fairies, which leads to a conversation between two people with very different sensibilities. I would’ve preferred if the story stuck to the conversation instead of involving another attacker, especially because it leads to a very corny speech. Like “For a Few Lattes More,” “Inspiration” lacks subtlty.

Grade: B-

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Honey, I’m Home by Pauline J. Alama (no website found)

Penelope is pissed that Odysseus took his sweet time coming home and then slaughtered everybody despite the fact she had everything under control. It’s an interesting take on The Odyssey, but Pauline J. Alama’s prose didn’t really capture me. She attempts the Homeric cadence, but in my opinion the end result leans a little more towards parody than pastiche.

Grade: C+

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Ballad of the Groupie Everlasting by Robert T. Jeschonek

“Ballad of the Groupie Everlasting” is a retelling of The Pied Piper through the point of view of Terpsichore, the muse of music.  (Another story with an odd choice for a hero.)  I found the story underwhelming and thought Robert T. Jeschonek’s choice to use modern diction was a misstep.  It does have a strong ending, however.

Grade: C+

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The Quin Quart by Laura Resnick

This is another high concept short.  The Orkney brothers serve as expies of the hosts of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and take on Queen Guinevere’s image.  I’m a sucker for anything to do with the Matter of Britain.  Oddly, “The Quin Quart” made me sympathize with all of my least favorite characters (like Lancelot) and dislike my favorites (like Gawain, who always gets robbed in modern retellings).  Laura Resnick’s story wasn’t quite my thing, but I enjoyed how she played with her subject matter.

Grade: B

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How Jack Got His Self a Wife by John Alvin Pitts

Molly, who just killed a giant and a witch, encounters Jack fighting a bear.  “How Jack got His Self a Wife” is a little odd, but does contain an amusing courtship.  Cute, but mostly forgettable.

Grade: C

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If the Shoe Fits by Dayle A. Dermatis

“If the Shoe Fits” is a modern retelling of Cinderella, featuring Ella the business management student who borrows some awesome shoes from her Aunt Sheila.  It lightly skewers a few fairy tale conventions, but the shoe definitely fits for Ella and Prince Rupert.  The ending was easy to see coming, but still funny.

Grade: B+

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Big Man’s Little Woman by Dory Crowe

Tiny Acacia and Paul Bunyan grow up together and fall in love, with her serving as the brains of the operation.  Then Lucette comes along.  I find the premise squicky, but the story is fairly inoffensive.

Grade:  C+

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Boldly Reimagined by J. Steven York

This was my dad’s favorite in the anthology, and I must admit that it’s a highlight.  Diana Mallock is a staff-writer on a new fantasy drama series loosely based on Jason and the Argonauts.  During concept development, she quickly realizes that the show is going to be sexist and terrible.  It satirizes the industry well, making it perfect for anyone who has watched a terrible adaptation of a beloved work (or just terrible television in general).

Grade: A

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Roxane by Peter Orullian

Cyrano de Bergerac romances a prostitute Roxane, and teaches her a lesson about judging appearances.  I’m not big on romances where people are nasty to each other and thus didn’t love this one.  It did get one of my favorite Police songs stuck in my head.  I suppose whether that is a plus or a minus depends on the person.

Grade: C

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A Long Night in Jabbok (or, Who, Exactly, Is in Charge Here?) by Janna Silverstein (no website found)

This is another biblical story, focusing on Rachel wrestling a stranger in the night.  Rachel and Yaakov are stumped by the ineffable nature of God, leading to a frustrating conversation.  I liked the exploration of the Bible as an authored text.

Grade: B-

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Love in the Time of Car Alarms by Ken Scholes

Superheroes!  Have I mentioned before that I love superheroes?  “Love in the Time of Car Alarms” takes on the classic question of the girl who gets constantly stood up by the hero in his schlub guise.  This story does contain an active act of heroism, but I’ll let it slide.

Grade: B+

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The Problem with Metaphors by Steven Mohan, Jr. (no website found)

I wasn’t big on this one.  It was creative, but I’m not sure it succeeds in its experimentation. Nor does the tone fit well with the rest of the anthology.  I will give Steven Mohan, Jr. props for the silly things the computer says when it goes haywire.

Grade: D+

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If I Did It by Allan Rousselle

Medea tells her version of the events that led to the death of her children and Jason’s new lover.  Whereas “The Problem with Metaphors” was too ambitious, I think “If I Did It” doesn’t play around enough with the base story.  The writing was competent, but it wasn’t exciting.

Grade: C-

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Clay Feet by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Museum employee Harper has an encounter with Mercury, messenger and thief, on the matter of a statue featuring his likeness.  “Clay Feet” served as a good closer – clever dialogue and interesting questions about the intersection of the classical world with the modern.  Of course, Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a highly capable author, so a good story isn’t surprising.

Grade: A-

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The Trouble with Heroes was an affable anthology, funny and female-positive.  A few of the stories were misses, but not particularly terrible misses.  The thing that weakens it most was the lack of a standout story.  There were some that I enjoyed quite a bit, but none that make the anthology a must have.

Livianias iconOverall Grade: B-

Summary:
These 22 all-new tales pay tribute to the true heroes-the people who enable and put up with heroes. From what it’s like to be Hercules’ wife (complete with an appearance by Hercules in drag) to the trials of H.P. Lovecraft’s housekeeper, from the perils of being King Kong’s girlfriend to the downside of dating a shapeshifter, this anthology turns heroism on its head, revealing the behind-the-scenes drama, as opposed to glorious rescues. From the Pied Piper’s power trip to David acting like a giant you-know-what after slaying Goliath, these stories show heroes in all their ignominy and shine a light on the unsung faithful standing in their shadows.
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