Unlike the previous anthology I read, this is a book with a certain thematic idea by different authors, rather than a collection of work by one author. So if you like (or don’t like) the author of one story, just move on to the next and see where it takes you. The book is separated in two parts with three sections each. Trafficking in Magic involves Distribution, Services, and Point of Sale, while Magicking in Traffic is divided into Directing Traffic, Bad Roads, and Changing Lanes.
We begin with a poem that I very much enjoyed, “The Roadseller’s Trade” by E. Grace Diehl. We have someone selling a road to a boy and going through the bartering process. And a road cannot be bought with money, no, it’s a sacrifice that’s needed. “It won’t do if you won’t miss it, boy. A payment’s got to sting.” (When presented to Ale, she said it reminded her of the peddler in the beginning of Aladdin.)
Trafficking in Magic
“A Favor Has No Price” by Sara M. Harvey – This was well-written and enjoyable. There was good world-building, and the story stands on its own, but I would be interested to see what came before and what will come after the story.
“White Feathers” by Heather Stearns – Surprisingly violent for a tale about a goose, and the baddies break a cardinal rule.
“Pennies from Hell” by Darrell Schweitzer – We (Chuck) meet an old friend (Jim) in a tacky bar, and he proceeds to tell us a story about a mutual acquaintance (Joe). For some reason, I love the language in this! And the tale is intriguing. Just how lucky is that lucky penny?
“Ghost Diamonds” by Scott Hungerford – There’s a black market for everything, it seems. Loved ones, diamonds, loved ones that have become diamonds. We follow Joani in her attempt to reach and rescue her dear Aunt Zillah. And the ending could give you a cavity, it’s so sweet!
“Share” by Rhonda Parrish – Here we have androids without the metal – they are flesh golems, made to obey orders. But sometimes programming has a glitch… It’s good, but I feel that this one is missing something, and I’m not sure what it is.
“Across the Darien Gap” by Daniel Braum – I had no idea of the existence of the real Darien Gap, so I learned something! This is sadder than the other ones. I didn’t really enjoy it as much, but not everything can be happy and fun.
“Only a Week” by Joyce Chng – This takes place in a Chinese city sometime in the future. The futuristic elements seem a bit off to me, like they were added after the fact to turn this into futuristic fantasy rather than just fantasy. Here we have a cautionary tale of confirming and following directions. And after reading, I’m wondering if our kindly grandfather was not more specific on purpose…
“Slight Changes” by Manny Frishberg – Magic makes an appearance in two forms here – in the slight of hand we’re familiar with as well as real magic. Jackson enters the story by the first, performing rigged card tricks to swindle people out of their money. He gets a stage show gig, so he wanders into a magic shop to pick up some new tricks. And it is here he finds the second kind of magic, and it’s not just the kind used for tricks.
“Strawmen” by Megan Arkenberg – In this world, some people are basically Mystique from X-Men and can turn into other people. The Strawmen will do so for money. The proprietress of the Strawmen business makes a mistake – it’s never a good idea to lie to someone like that.
Magicking in Traffic
“And Everyone Goes” by Deborah Grabien – This was a bit depressing for me, and may hit a little too close to home for some. Charlie is a little boy with special needs who is sitting in yet another therapy session. He is not paying attention to the adults, though, he is focused in the traffic light outside. And Charlie is special, indeed, because while he may not talk, he starts to discover he can do some pretty amazing things.
“Boney Fingers” by Deirdre M. Murphy – Anna is busking with an added boost of magic. She’s not just trying to make money, no, she has a job to do. And we get to see her in action. There could be more here – it’s very short, and we’re missing a lot of the back-story. Maybe it could have been added, but maybe it would have been too much. I guess that’s part of the problem with short stories!
“War Beneath the World” by James Enge – Good old Vergil (from Dante’s Inferno) has been told to “go to Hell” once more, and being a good citizen, he goes. Everyone has been having terrible dreams, so he has been sent to stop them. What he finds is a war among the dead, and he sets out to stop it, somehow. I liked it – there were parts that were funny, and parts that made me think, too.
“Slowpoke” by Pauline J. Alama – Rod is driving in his Hummer on his way to a ski resort, and he’s stuck behind a slow VW bus (with changeable bumper stickers!) There’s no passing on bad country roads, but Rod tries to pass the slowpoke anyway. He tries.
“And the Deep Blue Sea” by Elizabeth Bear – “The end of the world had come and gone. It turned out not to matter much in the long run. The mail still had to get through.” Harrie is trying to make a special delivery across the wasteland that America has become. Her time is running short, because she’s made a deal that’s coming due soon, but there is a possibility of negotiation. The explanation on how America went to shit is pretty good, and I appreciate the acknowledgement that people on road trips have to pee sometime.
“Squirrels for Kali” by M.C. DeMarco – This was fairly short, and kind of odd. Tony has joined a carpool to get to work, and it’s the fastest around, but at what price?
“Soul Responsibility” by D.W. Carlson – I quite liked this one. It has similar elements to the first story, “A Favor Has No Price” if it was set in a different alternate reality. We’re definitely in the future here, and products for some reason need footnotes about their trademarks. Two college-age kids are transporting goods that they probably should not be. Once again there is good world-building, and a lot of the magical elements made sense. It is a complete story, too – while it could go on, I’m okay with where it ended. (As a bonus, the word “mildewed” looks really weird.)
“Slow Down” by Richard Rider – Pip is driving along when the monkey ornament hanging from his rearview mirror tells him to slow down. So he does. The monkey is the only “magical” element in this story, and it could be written off as a figment of Pip’s imagination, as someone or something to talk to. It also took me a few pages to figure out that Lindsay is a guy.
“Middle-Aged Weirdo in a Cadillac” by George R. Galuschak – Here we have – you guessed it – a seemingly middle-aged weirdo in a Cadillac, who is just trying to find the Interstate. It’s a nice light end to the book, and is kind of sweet, in a way. (And why does everyone always pick on New Jersey?)
Overall, I enjoyed the book. There was a good variety, and I enjoyed most of the stories. As for the ones I didn’t enjoy, well, everyone has different tastes. Would I recommend it? Absolutely!