Urban Green Man

Edited by Adria Laycraft and Janice Blaine

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes


Themed short story collections have made quite a comeback in recent years, from steampunk to premonition to weird western, there is a flavor for every palette. And contrary to a few years ago when the pundits predicted the death of the short form, these anthologies seem to be selling reasonably well. As a short story writer, I am thrilled with this development. Two of the most popular genres in recent years has been Urban Fantasy and Dark Fantasy. If you are a fan of either of these, Urban Green Man should be high on your wish list.

With an introduction by urban fantasy superstar Charles de Lint, Urban Green Man comprises thirty one stories and poems from both top and up-and-coming writers of speculative fiction. For this review I'm not going to delve into every story, but here is a sampler:

In "Evergreen" by Susan J. MacGregor, a woman sits at a crossroads in her life between job and law school, uncertain and vulnerable. An ill-conceived fling with a nature spirit leaves her trapped as a cedar woman where she and her tarot-reading grandmother must fight tree-cutters for her very life.

Two lab-coat wearing researchers, static in their existence, get invaded by foliage from the attic above in "Sap and Blood" by Martin Rose. One has the courage to explore upstairs. The other follows...and discovers a primordial, dangerous world that threatens to trap him forever.

A six-year-old girl befriends an "imaginary" friend in "The Green Square" by DVSDuncan. Her father plans to tame the overgrown garden of the abandoned house he purchased, if only he can find his daughter...

Many of the stories feature people being driven into the tree-world, often with frightening consequences. Nature is depicted as a good but wild, frightening entity, one men and women best beware. Many stories suggest nature is fighting back against mankind's invasion. "The Grey Man" by Randy McCharles,  pits a green woman (symbolizing nature) against a grey man (symbolizing urbanization) in a duel to the death. Other stories seethe with a sensual undercurrent, as in the flash story "The Gift" by Susan Forest, a tale of honky-tonk dancing, alcohol and passion. 

Urban Green Man has a very nice mix of adventure-type stories and dark fantasy/romance. One of the highlights for me was the detective story "Cui Bono" by Nebula award winner Eric James Stone. A mysterious couple of shady origins offers the hero $500 an hour to find their missing great-great-grandfather, the Green Man. I was also excited to find a story by New Myths assistant editor Nu Yang called "The Ring of Life", about a family whose destiny is tied to a tree and its spirit.

About the only negative I found was in the introduction itself. Urban fantasy legend Charles de Lint draws the connection between the modern green man legends and paganism. He quotes someone called the West Yorkshire Pagan John saying that the green man is the masculine side of the divine, and goes on to encourage acolytes to develop their own rite and rituals. "Nobody knows what the Druids actually did. They died out long ago and...in the end, you have to make it up. Though perhaps a better way to state that is you have to follow your heart." I should be grateful for de Lint's honesty. Some of the green movement had indeed slipped from scientific argument to made-up religion, eschewing fact for faith, and it's refreshing that someone in their midst actually admits that. But in reading a collection of short stories I prefer to enjoy the ride without being evangelized. Fortunately, the stories themselves draw the line somewhere between pure fun and fun with a message. I was entranced.