With the constant drumbeat of hit superhero films — mostly recently the huge international hit Wonder Woman, which opened on Friday — I’m surprised there’s not a lot more attention to superheroes in print. But there is the occasional anthology, like the brand new Behind the Mask, which looks at “The hopes and dreams of our cape-clad heroes. The regrets and longings of our cowled villains. That poignant, solitary view of the world that can only be experienced from behind the mask.” It contains original short fiction from some of the top writers in SF & fantasy, including Kelly Link, Carrie Vaughn, Seanan McGuire, Lavie Tidhar, Sarah Pinsker, Cat Rambo, and others. It’s available now in trade paperback from Meerkat Press.
The authors in this collection, both established and new, are all dexterous and wonderfully imaginative, each deserving of their own form-fitting uniforms and capes. Some of the stories pulse with social commentary, like Cat Rambo’s whimsical and deft “Ms. Liberty Gets a Haircut” and Keith Rosson’s haunting “Torch Songs.” Others twist the genre into strange and new territories, like Stuart Suffel’s atmospheric “Birthright,” Kate Marhsall’s moving “Destroy the City with Me Tonight,” and Adam Shannon’s reality-bending “Over an Embattled City.” Some punch with heart and humor, like Matt Mikalatos’s satisfying “The Beard of Truth” and Chris Large’s adventurous “Salt City Blue,” while others punch with bite and grit, such as Michael Milne’s evocative “Inheritance,” Aimee Ogden’s poignant “As I Fall Asleep,” and Jennifer Pullen’s heartfelt “Meeting Someone in the 22nd Century.” Some of the stories feature characters who might not be superheroes in the traditional sense, yet are heroic nonetheless, such as Sarah Pinsker’s imaginative “The Smoke Means It’s Working” and Stephanie Lai’s majestic “The Fall of the Jade Sword.” Some shine a unique, captivating spotlight on supervillains, like Keith Frady’s dramatic “Fool” and Carrie Vaughn’s romantic “Origin Story.” Some are somber, ponderous works, where our heroes consider their impact on the world, like Lavie Tidhar’s regret-tinged “Heroes” and Nathan Crowder’s resonant “Madjack.” Others tread more light-hearted waters, with heroes adjusting to the sometimes-comical, sometimes-stressful life in the public eye, like Seanan McGuire’s entertaining “Pedestal” and Patrick Flanagan’s lively “Quintessential Justice.” And then there are the softer, quieter moments between heroes, as they navigate their extraordinary lives in their own unique ways, such as Ziggy Schutz’s tender “Eggshells” and, of course, Kelly Link’s captivating “Origin Story.”
Behind the Mask was published by Meerkat Press on May 16, 2017. It is 290 pages, priced at $16.95 in trade paperback and $8.95 for the digital edition. Order at your favorite online retailer or at the Meerkat website.