Monday, March 29, 2010

The Mammoth Book of Time Travel Romance

Poor Lars here is a refugee from the Waxed Shirtless Era

The title: The Mammoth Book of Time Travel Romance
The author: Trisha Telep (editor)
Publication: Running Press, 2009
Got it from: MEC, Xmas 2009

Ah, time travel romance. When done right, it's so thoroughly enjoyable. When done wrong, it's oh so wrong.

I feel like I've been reading a lot of romantic short stories lately, and I have to say it's not an easy thing to do well. In the space of about a twenty or so pages you have to introduce your characters and make the reader believe in them and root for their romance. What makes a romance short story really excellent is making the reader feel as though she's seeing all the necessary parts. For instance, there were a number of stories in The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance that I read last year that were part of a full-length series, and they all fell flat because of the confusing number of characters and unexplained world-building. An author should always assume that the reader is coming to the short story fresh, with no previous history of the characters or the world they inhabit. Short stories should always be able to stand on their own, even if the characters appear in fifty other novels. [End of two cents]

The twenty or so stories in this anthology varied in quality, from good to mediocre to huh? I didn't feel that any of them were worthy of my re-read list, but I did find a lot to amuse me. The hands-down best-written of the bunch was "Stepping Back" by Sara Mackenzie, who proves she's got more writing experience than many of the other authors in this anthology. Her story involves a woman in rural Australia (interesting location!) who is trying to piece together her connection to an abused woman living in the area in 1905. Interestingly, her short story barely has any romance in it and feels like it belongs more in a paranormal or straight time-travel anthology. Jean Johnson's "Steam" was my favourite, a lighthearted and funny steampunk story about a man who discovers sexy pictures of a bespectacled, Edwardian-era woman in his attic and puts together a time machine to meet her, with hilariously predictable results. Another highlight was "Future Date" by A.J. Menden about a kindergarten teacher who can't find a good man and is forced to join an online dating service where men from the future date women from the past. This was the only story that I wish had been book-length because I thought the logistical details would have been fun to tease out. The most truly romantic award definitely has to go to Gwyn Cready's "The Key to Happiness," and I can see why it was chosen to open the book. A woman at a wedding meets a mysterious older man who claims to have been in love with her all his life and that his younger self has, in fact, just been introduced to her as her future husband's best friend. The man has come to warn her about her future if she doesn't follow her heart.

Other stories, like Michelle Maddox's "The Eleventh Hour" have interesting concepts (a woman who helps a little boy is saved by his older self traveling from the future) but the stories fall flat on weak characterizations. Some stories get mired by too much technical jargon or would have been better suited to paranormal fantasies ("Time Trails," "The Walled Garden," "Iron and Hemlock.") "Lost and Found" by Maureen McGowan, about an acid-tripping hippie who keeps waking up on the same day in different years
introduced me to the only romance "hero" I've ever been repulsed by and the "romance" in the story felt genuinely creepy.

Overall, I was left with the impression that the book as a whole could have been a lot better. For starters, I wish authors would consider doing time-travel romance set in different eras besides the already oversaturated market of 18th-century Scotland (can you say Outlander rip-off?) and the 19th century American West. One of the best time-travel short stories I've ever read was set in Puritian New England - now that's unusual! I also wish the stories had dealt strictly with time-travel. That seems like enough to deal with without having to throw in all kinds of other elements like fairies and shape-shifters. Still, I'm willing to forge ahead with The Mammoth Book of Irish Romance (a recent purchase) and am seriously eying The Mammoth Book of Special Ops Romance. One thing you can say about me as a reader is that I'm eternally optimistic that next time things will be better.

If not, I can always go back in time a few months and fix things, right?

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