Shadows Beneath – The Writing Excuses Anthology contains stories written by the Writing Excuses podcast hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells. Each is an established writer, and this anthology is a result of a few of their podcast episodes where they discussed ideas, critiqued their works, and then put everything together into this collection.
“A Fire in the Heavens”, by Kowal, is very light fantasy or science fiction. It is obviously set in a different world (this is confirmed in the “making of” section). The story was very well paced and believable, and left me wanting more from that world. Katin was was a very interesting character, my favorite from this collection.
“I.E. Demon”, by Wells, brings the legend of gremlins to life in the wilds of Afghanistan as we follow a group of soldiers on a dangerous mission. When everything starts falling apart, the main character comes up with a unique way out of their dire situation. This one was fun to read, though I found it to be the weakest of the stories here. It was still interesting and kept my attention. I could easily identify with the characters, too.
“An Honest Death”, by Tayler, gives us an interesting twist on tales of Death and just what really might be on “the other side”. Cole is a very like able character who does his job and does it well, and he and his team must figure out how to deal with Death and its implications on their future employment.
The final work, for which the cover art was chosen, is “Sixth of the Dusk”, by Sanderson. As anyone can tell you if they have read my past reviews of Sanderson’s works, I am constantly amazed at the variety of different worlds dreamed up by Sanderson.
This story is no exception, with its rich, deep world and interesting characters, and this story only scratches the surface of the possibilities. I would love to see more about this dangerous world, the shadows of the deep, and The Ones Above, even if only done through short stories like the Instrumentality of Man series by Cordwainer Smith.
Beyond the stories, we come to the most interesting thing about this collection. Each of the stories has a “making of” section in the last half of the book where you can see the process from brainstorming the idea to fleshing it out into a viable story idea, critiquing of the draft(s), and then see the difference between the first draft and the final short work. A couple of the stories even have multiple drafts shown. This part is going to be of biggest interest to budding writers, but I found it very interesting despite my lack of interest in writing fiction.
Shadows Beneath – The Writing Excuses Anthology is just amazing all around, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of the short stories. I highly recommend it to everyone, and be sure to check out their podcast, too.
Release Date: June 28, 2014 (USA)
Publisher: Dragonsteel Entertainment
Language: 1 (occasional minor)
Violence: 2 (gun violence, gremlin mischief, some fighting, some death (also some Death))