Pros: Hilarious topic and some truly standout stories
Cons: A couple of shallow stories; as always in anthologies, variable quality
Rating: 4 out of 5
Review book courtesy of Penguin Group.
I’m growing rather fond of the anthologies edited by Denise Little—The Trouble With Heroes is the third one I’ve read, and I’ve definitely enjoyed all of them. Of course they still have the typical anthology issue: since the stories vary by topic, theme, and author, you’re pretty much guaranteed not to love the entire selection.
This time, the topic is the all-too-unknown down-side of heroes. We see them as mythical, wonderful figures. But what do their loved ones and helpers see them as? Who gets to see them when they’re cranky, or do their laundry because they’re always off saving the world? And what happens when a hero’s PR makes them out to be something rather different than he really is? This is a theme both hilarious and poignant, as the tales in this book reveal…
The Trouble With Heroes includes 22 stories by such wonderful authors as Jean Rabe, Laura Resnick, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A few don’t delve very far beyond the hilarious or the most simplistic aspects of their topic, and those are my least favorites (although they’re still fun!) as they’re a bit shallow and unmemorable. I think the best stories hit the funny-bone but still manage to touch on something a little deeper or more lasting.
Kristine Grayson’s Geeks Bearing Gifts explores the world of internet dating, and what happens when a very unusual and unexpected client decides to take advantage of a small, geek-oriented dating website. David H. Hendrickson’s Beloved takes on the Biblical tale of David, from the point of view of one of King Saul’s daughters. In another ancient tale re-told, Pauline J. Alama’s Honey, I’m Home gives a hilarious accounting of the dialogue between Odysseus and Penelope upon his return home, and her take on his absence.
Adrian Nikolas Phoenix gives us The Horror in the Living Room, a must-read for any Lovecraft fans out there. What if Lovecraft were writing his stories as a cover for saving the world from horrifying monsters, and what kind of woman would dare to be his housekeeper? Another twist on a relatively modern tale is Terry Hayman’s Reclaiming His Inner Ape, in which we see what happens after King Kong’s demise. Laura Resnick’s The Quin Quart presents Camelot-meets-Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. In it, Guinevere is a sallow, blunt, intelligent Welsh woman with low poll numbers, and Arthur and Merlin hire the sons of Lot—the Quintessential Quartet—to make over her image. With, of course, long-lasting and highly entertaining repercussions!
Mike Moscoe’s Take My Word For It: Bad Idea! provides a rather odd and surprising take on a legend of a queen who kept Hercules as a slave. I loved parts of the ideas behind this one, but the tone fell a little flat for me. Similarly, while I loved the idea behind Annie Reed’s For a Few Lattes More, in which a woman meets a stereotypical cowboy who doesn’t quite save her day, it seemed a bit too obvious and contrived. In contrast, Phaedra H. Weldon’s Inspiration takes on the same theme with more finesse and style. A modern-day corporate woman is attacked by a mugger in the park, and a legendary figure jumps in to save the day. Only she’s rather accustomed to having to save herself and doesn’t trust a big naked guy with little wings on his back. But when her “hero’s” enemy arrives, she realizes that heroes do have a purpose and a place, even in today’s world.
Jean Rabe’s Merry Maid was one of my favorite offerings in this book. Maid Marian takes on a most unexpected role in the legend of Robin Hood, and Robin turns out to be something rather different as well. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling it for you, but I’ll just say that I was quite surprised and thought Rabe carried out her take on Marian quite beautifully! Robert T. Jeschonek’s Ballad of the Groupie Everlasting is right up there with Rabe’s work, exploring the life and work of the muse Terpsichore and the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamlin. My other favorite work from this anthology is Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Clay Feet, a tale in which a museum curator faces off against a god over the provenance and proper destination of his statue!
Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s The Problem with Dating Shapeshifters is a gorgeous, rather mythical exploration of what it might have actually been like to be one of those poor women Zeus was always hounding after. Steven Mohan, Jr.’s The Problem with Metaphors provides a second, incredibly different take on Zeus’s amorous nature, from the point of view of an astronaut. And Dayle A. Dermatis’s If the Shoe Fits is a funny (and rather ingenious) semi-modern twist on Cinderella, in which we find out why that shoe was really so important to everyone.
As always, while there were a few stories that didn’t resonate very strongly with me, there were some that blew me away. And overall the quality is quite good—even the stories that didn’t stick with me were ones I enjoyed at the time. Certainly this is an unusual topic with a wealth of material, and many of these authors mined it to great results.