Friday, June 14, 2013

Oz Reimagined

I was at the library, getting ready to make print-outs (I have very bad luck with home printers: they always seem to mess up on me), when I noticed a book on the shelf: Oz Reimagined: New Tales from the Emerald City and Beyond. Thanks to John Bell, I'd already heard of the book, but didn't have a huge urge to buy it.

I'm not sure which camp I'm in. While I do feel like shouting "People have 're-imagined' Oz to death already! Why do MORE OF IT???" I often do check these versions out anyway, and sometimes I really enjoy them.

Well, since I wouldn't have to lay down money for this one (as long as I returned it by the due date), I decided to give it a shot.

The book is available as a paperback, an audiobook, a Kindle edition, or you can get each story as an individual Kindle e-book.

A rather nice introduction by Gregory Maguire opens the book, and is followed by fifteen short stories by different authors, each presenting a "re-imagined" version of Oz. As you can already guess, each story needs to be taken on its own. Not every story will be loved by everyone. As such, a number of these stories contain profanity and references to sex, so young readers should steer clear of this one.

The Great Zeppelin Heist of Oz by Rae Carson and C. C. Finlay is almost "Oz canon"-worthy. Aside from having Scraps appear (and a disturbing union of witches at the end), it would work as how the Wizard tried to defy the Wicked Witch of the West shortly after his arrival. A rather good story, anyway.

Emerald to Emerald, Dust to Dust by Seanan McGuire almost works as a follow-up to Oz as we left it with Baum, just kind of ... corrupted. Ozma has turned her priorities to politics rather than friendship, and Dorothy and Jack Pumpkinhead are among the people she's kicked out of the palace because they proved to be too much of a liability. A now adult Dorothy lives with her girlfriend Polychrome and serves as the new Wicked Witch of the West. Dorothy and Jack are called to investigate a curious murder. A rather fine story that only made a few disturbing twists on the Oz we all know and love.

The Lost Girls of Oz by Theodora Goss takes a similar route. A young American woman finds her way to Oz, just like a number of other girls who have wanted to run away from home. But Oz is not just a refuge. Ozma has bigger plans now. Think Queen Ann of Oogaboo-type plans... Again, Oz with a disturbing twist.

The Boy Detective of Oz by Tad Williams is almost an Oz story, and would work fine, except they make it clear that it's not actually Oz where the story takes place. It's a simulation where a ghost of a boy detective named Orlando lives. (I think Mr. Williams has been watching a bit of Doctor Who.) Omby Amby is found mysteriously decapitated and it's up to Orlando to find out what happened. A fine story, and would be better if it wasn't for the needless references to how it's all a simulation.

Dorothy Dreams by Simon R. Green finds an elderly Dorothy, who visited Oz only once, in a nursing home when she suddenly finds herself back in Oz, and there is some explaining that needs to be done. It's a sweet story, but not very substantial.

Dead Blue by David Farland is a rather weak re-imagining. The Cyborg Tin Man is smelling his human parts rot as he waits to be rescued by Dorothy, who has just killed the Wicked Witch of the West and decides to take her place. And that's pretty much it.

One Flew Over The Rainbow by Robin Wasserman basically sets the story of The Wizard of Oz into a mental institute. Corrupt caregivers and other unpleasant patients fill the roles. Also includes rape and drug use. Definitely one for the kids to skip over.

The Veiled Shanghai by Ken Liu is a welcome change of pace. Again, it retells The Wizard of Oz, but rather cleverly sets it in Shanghai by offering a fantasy version of the May Fourth Movement. The reworking is quite clever indeed and very charming.

Beyond the Naked Eye by Rachel Swirsky sets the events of The Wizard of Oz as a competition being watched from the Emerald City by a panel of judges. While it's an interesting take, reminiscent of The Hunger Games or Doctor Who's Vengeance on Varos, overall, this one feels rather uninspired.

A Tornado of Dorothys by Kat Howard maintains that the events of The Wizard of Oz are recurring, with a new Dorothy arriving, taking the role of the new Wicked Witch of the East, until one Dorothy decides to change it. Really, I was reminded of the webcomic Namesake, which I much prefer.

Next up is Blown Away by Jane Yolen. I was cynical approaching this one, as I'm rather aware that Yolen has fallen rather out of love with Oz, despite loving it as a child. Told from a farmhand's perspective, there's no Oz here. There are two tornados: the first blows away Dorothy's dog Toto, killing him. A neighboring taxidermist stuffs the dog which Dorothy pulls around after her in a wagon. (Creepy!) Later, Dorothy is caught in the house during another tornado, which blows it and her away, leaving her missing for a long time. However, Dorothy has instead joined with a circus and makes some odd friends.

City So Bright by Dale Bailey offers a cruel vision of the Emerald City after an industrial revolution, the worst aspects of which are made clear when a worker falls to his death, and his friends' first thoughts are that they don't envy who's got to clean that up.

Somewhat controversial is the next story, because it's by Orson Scott Card. He's made it very clear that he's in opposition to efforts for equality for LGBT people, however, the Oz fan base is largely composed of such people, yours truly included.

His story, Off To See The Emperor, is set in Aberdeen during the time the Baum family lived there. Frank Joslyn Baum (the eldest of the Baum boys) is the main character, who meets a girl named Theodora, commonly called "Dotty." She takes him on a mysterious trip into the country to meet the Emperor of the Air—the plot closely mirroring The Wizard of Oz—as she looks for her late mother's missing ring. Frank's recount of the story is supposed to have inspired his father to write the first Oz book. It's actually not too badly done, I must admit.

But since Card made it historical fiction, I was bothered by his making serious errors about Baum's life in Aberdeen. According to his story, Baum wrote the "Our Landlady" column for The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, when in fact, Baum ran the entire paper, which was not—as Card leads us to believe—the town's main paper. Also, he can't help but have Theodora tell Frank that his father hates the Indians, which I've pointed out is not a fair assessment of the situation. (I do not take historical fiction lightly, particularly when it's about people I've researched.)

A Meeting In Oz by Jefferey Ford has Dorothy return to Oz after years of living as an adult, only to find the population nearly decimated because Ozma tied the welfare of her land to Dorothy. A very disturbing story, and as another review notes, all talk, no show.

Finally, the excellent story The Cobbler of Oz by Jonathan Maberry closes out the book. The story tells how the Silver Shoes came to be as a young girl winged monkey named Nyla asks a cobbler for a pair of shoes. Her wings are too small to fly. A very sweet story that can easily work with the Famous Forty with a deliciously wicked twist at the end. (It took me a moment to understand the twist, but that made it all the better.)

Overall, if you're still interested after my review, check the book out. If you like getting stories for your Kindle, you can search "Oz Reimagined" on Amazon to find the stories individually, if you'd prefer to read just a few of them.

Will I get my own copy? Maybe.

1 comment:

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Looks like my library has it, too.