I had not heard of the shared-world of Bordertown before this book crossed my Last Short Story desk. It’s a wonderfully rich arena for such a venture; there are, I think, two other anthologies of short stories set in this world, and a novel (maybe more? not sure).
Bordertown is just that. A town on the border… between mortal world and Fae. Neither magic nor technology work properly. Mostly the people who get there are teens, frequently runaways looking for a better – or at the very least different – world; they come from both sides of the border, and in Bordertown they make some attempt at living together. Some stay, some leave. At the time of this anthology, no one new has arrived for about thirteen days. Which turns out to be thirteen years in the mortal world. Lots of things have changed in those years: the internet, for a start. So this anthology continues the theme of human/Fae interactions, adding in what might change in Bordertown with the new technologies and everything else that goes with it.
I have a few favourite stories from Welcome to Bordertown (edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner).
Terri Windling and Ellen Kushner open the anthology with the eponymous story. Windling was one of the originators of the world, so it seems appropriate, and it also introduces some of the issues of the thirteen-year ‘disappearance’ of Bordertown. Jim’s sister went to Bordertown thirteen years ago, and for that whole time the family has heard nothing – until they receive a postcard from her. Jim goes searching for his sister, and allows the reader – especially the new reader – to experience arriving in, and exploring, Bordertown. It’s a fascinating experience, and made me fall in love with the whole concept. And the story itself – of Jim’s search and his experience in Bordertown, tied with his sister Trish’s experiences as well – is a lovely one, with colourful and entertaining characters. Some of those characters recur in later stories, which is one of the lovely aspects of shared worlds and one that I imagine is particularly hard to manage.
The second story of the anthology is Catherynne Valente’s “Voice like a Hole,” which is not the most flattering description, but apparently appropriate for Fig. Her attempt to get to Bordertown goes awry for various reasons, so much of the story focusses on her life in the mortal world. Fig is an absorbing, prickly character, and her experiences are difficult and sometimes troubling. It’s a difficult story, but a wonderful one nonetheless.
Vampires and werewolves feature in Janni Lee Simner’s “Crossings.” Actually, to be more accurate the fascination with vampires and werewolves is the focus of the story, more than those characters themselves. Analise wants to love a vampire, while her best friend Miranda loves werewolves. They go to Bordertown in search of true love. By itself, this story outline suggests a rather knowing look at the current teen craze for vampires and werewolves, and it certainly is that. Simner adds, though, sub-narratives of alienation and the migrant experience, girl friendships, and the power of story itself. I didn’t think that the prose quite kept up with the ideas, but it’s an ambitious and thought-provoking story.
“Elf Blood” is the title of Annette Curtis Klause’s story, and it’s another that tends towards the unpleasant. It too is a different take on the idea of vampirism, as well as on the desperation that can drive people to great and terrible lengths. Written in the first person, it’s uncomfortable-making to say the least, because the narrator is just not that nice and being with her all the time is… unpleasant.
Finally, Nalo Hopkinson contributes “Ours is the Prettiest,” a story where Bordertown takes on a surreal New Orleans-feel (I think; if I’m defaming New Orleans or the ideas of another culture, my humble apologies…). The focus of the story is not on Bordertown itself, but rather on the interactions and relationships of three women – Gladstone, Beti, and Damiana – as they navigate the difficulties of love and friendship in the emotionally fraught atmosphere that is Bordertown. As with many of the other, best, stories in the anthology, it’s not an easy story – the characters are not necessarily approachable or understandable, and Hopkinson takes her own sweet time to explain certain aspects of the narrative (in a clever, engaging way, of course). It is, though, a wonderful take on Bordertown, and what it might offer people with a variety of histories and views on the world.
One of my favourite words in the entire world is liminal. Welcome to Bordertown plays with liminality, as well as character and voice and stereotype.