Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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The best fantasy writer in the world . . .

. . . is clearly Patricia McKillip, right? Right!

I bring this up because of this post by Kristen over at Fantasy Book Cafe.

Can you believe that Kristen had NEVER READ ANYTHING by Patricia McKillip? Me neither! Has everybody read the Invisible World collection by this time? I have, even though, like Kristen, I am not normally interested in short stories and have trouble reading more than one at a time.

It’s very interesting to see which short stories popped out for Kristen.

Just as a reminder, here’s a list of all the short stories in the collection, many of which I hadn’t read before:

Wonders of the Invisible World
Out of the Woods
The Kelpie
Hunter’s Moon
Oak Hill
The Fortune-Teller
Jack O’Lantern
Knight of the Well
Naming Day
Byndley
The Twelve Dancing Princesses
Undine
Xmas Cruise
A Gift To Be Simple
The Old Woman and the Storm
The Doorkeeper of Khaat

Kristen picked out “The Kelpie”, “Naming Day”, and “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”

I loved all of those, but you know which one was absolutely hands-down my favorite? “Oak Hill”. It instantly made me want to steal the protagonist and some aspects of the setting and write a novel, if McKillip isn’t going to. Which, seriously, I wish she would!

If you’ve read the collection, which is your favorite?

And whether or not you’ve read the Invisible World collection, what’s your favorite McKillip of the novels? I’ll start: Without question, the two greatest Patricia McKillip novels ever written are . . . drumroll . . .

THE BOOK OF ATRIX WOLFE

and

THE CHANGELING SEA

I’ll be interested in seeing which ones the rest of you pick!

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12 Comments The best fantasy writer in the world . . .

  1. Elaine T

    I was mildly appalled that someone who loves fantasy had never read McKillip before, or seemed familiar with the Dancing Princesses fairy tale, especially given how many times it’s been retold recently.

    Favorite story from that collection…? Hard to choose, and it’s not just what pops out because I’d read some before. I think my very favorite late short of hers is the one about the lady in the tower, which isn’t in this collection. Of ones read just in the collection either Knight of the Well or Hunter’s Moon.

    Favorite early short McKillip: THROME.

    Favorite novel? Toss up amongst FOOL’S RUN, ATRIX WOLFE and SORCERESS & CYGNET, and RIDDLE-MASTER. Not that CHANGELING SEA isn’t really good, it just doesn’t hit the same resonances for me as these.

  2. Kristen

    “Oak Hill” is a good story, too. Just out of curiosity, what was your favorite story after that one? There were so many good ones.

    Thanks for mentioning your favorite novels by McKillip. The Changeling Sea seems to be out of print, but I’ve definitely got my eye on The Book of Atrix Wolfe for my next book by her.

    Elaine T. – After reading McKillip for the first time, I agree that her books are an appalling omission from my reading, and am definitely planning to read more by her! Thanks for adding some of your favorite McKillip novels to the list as well. Fool’s Run is one I hadn’t heard about before, and that sounds good too (although it appears it’s also one of those sadly out of print books).

  3. Mary Beth

    I’ve read several McKillip short stories scattered throughout anthologies — I have no idea where I ran into the Twelve Dancing Princesses one, but I remembered Val as soon as Kristen mentioned him — but I had no idea about the Invisible World collection. Clearly I must rectify this!

    I agree with both Rachel and Elaine on ATRIX WOLFE, but I’m also going to throw in a vote for SONG FOR THE BASILISK. I’ve always loved that one. I read FOOL’S RUN recently and loved it, but I had even a stronger sense than usual that I really didn’t quite get what was going on…

  4. Elaine T.

    SONG has been haunting me since rereading HOUSE OF SHADOWS, I think because of the bone flutes in both. I will reread it soon.

    FOOL’S RUN is a lot between the lines, isn’t it? Would it help if I mention Orpheus?
    It helped me.

    It’s one of the few books that features music where the music comes across as honestly special and important. In most books that try to use music-magic, I don’t feel the music or the magic, it just comes across as a plot device.

  5. Rachel

    Probably “The Kelpie” was my second pick from the short story collection. I know I like a happy ending and that means that several of the stories didn’t appeal to me as much. And I’d read several before and didn’t pay as much attention to them this time around, including “Naming Day” and “Knights of the Well”.

    I did think the sudden attitude adjustment of the stalker-guy in “The Kelpie” felt not-quite-right to me. I really did think he was pretty evil, and then suddenly not so much. I think that would have worked better in a novel or novella, where the possibility that really he was not such a bad guy could have been signaled a bit more clearly.

    FOOL’S RUN is McKillip’s only SF novel, and I loved it — I need to re-read it again, though. It definitely is one where at the end, you ask yourself, “Wait, what just happened?”

  6. Elaine T

    “FOOL’S RUN is McKillip’s only SF novel, and I loved it — I need to re-read it again, though. It definitely is one where at the end, you ask yourself, “Wait, what just happened?””

    Or if you’re my husband, you say, “Nothing happened!” I love him dearly, but we definitely have different tastes in books – at least, as far as McKillip. I thrashed around trying to explain it, but so much is done by implication, it’s really difficult to pull out and verbalize.

    McKillip also has the MOONFLASH duo which are SF, but juveniles, not adult.

  7. Craig

    As you know, I am prepared to listen respectfully to those who think Tim Powers is the greatest living American fantasist: the two are so different that it’s hard to compare them.

    The Changeling Sea is my preferred choice for an introduction to McKillip (it’s short, and if you don’t like it you won’t like her stuff), but I resist calling it one of her two best: I don’t think it’s clearly better than the Riddle-Master trilogy or the Sorceress and the Cygnet.

    I love Fool’s Run, maybe even more than it deserves.

    Atrix Wolfe certainly started off her late period books with a bang and is almost certainly the best of them — though I would listen to arguments for a few of the others, and might myself have put Alphabet of Thorns first immediately after reading it.

  8. Rachel

    Oh, yeah, that’s true, the Moonflash duo ARE SF, aren’t they? Somehow I hadn’t thought of them that way, because Moonflash itself really feels like a fantasy except right at the end.

    Has your husband read Patrick Lee’s trilogy, starting with The Breach? Because, whoa, does stuff ever happen in *those*.

  9. Rachel

    The Changeling Sea is so much shorter, which is a plus for it; it’s so tightly plotted and every single element works so beautifully. For me, it’s just a tiny, perfect gem of a story. I passionately love The Riddlemaster trilogy, but I don’t think it’s as perfect.

    For me also it’s a tossup between Atrix Wolfe and Alphabet of Thorns for best-ever, but I thought the perfect ending of the former beats the slightly abrupt ending of the later.

    I *really* need to re-read Fools’ Run. It’s been years, but I know I loved it!

  10. Elaine T

    On the Kelpie story, I took the villain’s sudden change as a response to the shock of events. I would predict, if he were a real person, not a character, that he’d promptly backslide as the memories of the events fade, especially should someone else catch his eye. If he stays obsessed with the one woman, she’d whap him with a cluebat when he starts backsliding.

  11. Maureen E

    Quite late on this, but couldn’t resist adding my votes for OMBRIA IN SHADOW and THE SONG OF THE BASILISK. And practically everything else, but those two are huge favorites.

  12. Rachel

    Yes, definitely it was the sudden shock. I like the idea that he’d probably have slid back toward his AWFUL behavior if the book had been longer — I would have found him much more believable if he’d realized the error of his ways / backslid / got whapped good and hard with a clue bat / and only then began a more lasting change.

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