Monday, June 24, 2013

Oz Reimagined edited by John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen

L. Frank Baum's Oz seems to have regained quite some popularity recently with hugely successful musicals (Wicked) and a big new release film (The Great and Powerful Oz) hitting out screens not all that long ago. The anthology Oz Reimagined seems to be riding that wave.

The idea, as the title suggests, is to revisit L. Frank Baum's magical world and characters with a different spin on it. Like most anthologies Oz Reimagined has hits and misses. Unfortunately I found this particular collection to have more misses than hits.

The original story has a whimsy about it that has seen it endure over the years and remain a popular modern fairytale for generations. The stories for the most part had difficulty capturing that lightness and sense of wonder. Oz is an unreal world and a number of the stories seemed to want the real world to intrude far too much on the fantasy.

As I said Oz is a modern day fairytale and this collection is definitely not for children. A number of the stories were disappointing. More than one of them seemed to be part of a larger concept and were cut off quickly when they reached their page limit, which made for a frustrating read as I got impression there was more story there than I was being told. I especially got this with Seanan McGuire's contribution Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust. A Meeting in Oz by Jeffrey Ford was quite an unpleasant tale and I doubt I would have included it in the anthology if it had been up to me. Dale Bailey's City So Bright was similar and it really didn't reference the original work at all.

There were however a few stories that did work for me. One was Tad Williams The Boy Detective of Oz. That may have been because it tied into his Otherland version of Oz and featured Orlando Gardiner from Otherland and I've always liked him as a character.

Ken Liu's The Veiled Shanghai, giving Oz an Asian flavour and setting, was very clever and quite well done.

Jane Yolen had an interesting spin on the whole thing with the first person Blown Away, which told the story of Oz as it may have really been. I felt it was the best written story in the collection.

Orson Scott Card's contribution: Off to See the Emperor gave us food to think about in telling how Baum's son may have had the experience that led his father to create Oz in the first place.

My favourite story of the lot was the final entry: Jonathan Maberry's Cobbler of Oz. That one nailed the feeling. It was a delight, an Ozian fairytale created a story within a story and it's protagonist Nyla the flightless Winged Monkey reminded me very much of Dorothy herself. A pleasure to read from start to finish.

Oz Reimagined is a valiant attempt, but unfortunately too many of the stories seem to understand what Oz means and can't capture the spirit of the original.

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