Book: The Mammoth Book of Extreme Fantasy

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Mike Ashley

IN MY PREVIOUS ANTHOLOGY, The Mammoth Book of Extreme Science Fiction, I defined “extreme” as those stories that took a basic idea, whether simple or complicated, and developed it to some extreme, beyond what the reader might normally expect. I’ve used that same basis here.

However, whereas the content of a science fiction story is limited by the rules of science (no matter how much the author may try and bend them), in fantasy there are no limits other than those which the writer himself may impose. So while science fiction is the literature of the possible, no matter how extreme, fantasy is the literature of the impossible, which means it’s pretty extreme to start with.

And that’s the fun of this anthology. In all of the stories, the authors have taken a fantastic idea – and I mean fantastic in both its senses – and then seen how far they can push it. My one criterion is that they must still be readable stories. I did not want anything that was incomprehensible.

All the stories here are straight narratives. It’s the ideas and how they are developed that are extreme, and though the authors have applied a certain logic as a hand-brake on their imagination, that doesn’t stop them taking things beyond the impossible.

The kind of ideas you will encounter include:

And those are the relatively straightforward ones.

In recent years, ever since the phenomenal success of Lord of the Rings, fantasy has become associated in many peoples minds as relating solely to wizards and elves and dwarves in worlds where magic works. This overlooks that vast wealth of fantasy fiction that has been appearing for centuries, much of which has nothing to do with elves or fairies.

Fantasy is the most liberated form of fiction. It allows the writer to free their own and the readers’ imaginations and go for broke. In fantasy anything can happen, anything at all. In fantasy reality gives way to the unreal.

The challenge to the writer is to make it into a meaningful story which the reader can still understand and which could even seem real, no matter how extreme. There are stories here, even the most extreme ones, which manage to suspend the readers disbelief enough that, for a moment, you believe it could happen. And that’s one of the pleasures of fantasy. For that moment as the story engulfs you, you can live in the world of the impossible. Masters of fantasy in the past have included H G Wells, John Collier, Algernon Blackwood, H P Lovecraft and Stephen Vincent Benet – none of whom wrote about elves and fairies. However, for this volume I wanted to include stories primarily by the modern masters. Over half the stories have been written in the past ten years. The oldest story is by William Hope Hodgson who was so forward thinking that the story reads as almost contemporary. Contributors include those masters of the unusual and bizarre Orson Scott Card, Peter Crowther, Paul Di Filippo, Rhys Hughes, R A Lafferty, Michael Moorcock, Christopher Priest, Michael Swanwick and Howard Waldrop.

As with the previous volume I have presented the stories in sequence from the least to the most extreme, so your imagination can expand as you work through the book. Dip in at a later story at your peril! However, in order to bring you back safely into this world the final story serves as a form of digestif, allowing a mental calming down. But otherwise, the brakes are off. Prepare yourself for a wild and exuberant ride.

Mike Ashley
November 2007

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