Villains Victorious - Martin H Greenberg & John Helfer (eds)
I've always had a soft spot for stories where the bad guys win. There are generally only two ways you can go with that: dark or funny, both my favourite flavours of fantasy. This is (no!) an entire collection of tales about victorious villains, all seemingly written especially for this anthology, and I was expecting to find at least one great story here, despite the lack of big-name authors involved. Unfortunately, it was all a bit disappointing.
While there are no real turkeys, there's nothing that particularly stands out, either. The first and last stories in the collection are definitely the best - it starts off with Tanya Huff's All Things Being Relative, where an evil queen is dictating her life story to a scribe. It's pretty funny and has some beautifully understated writing that only hints at the details ("I dealt with the council in the usual manner, then had the carpets cleaned"), but a few of the jokes seem forced and the ending is rushed and very trite. Slightly better is the closing story by Peter Crowther, about a world infested with superheroes and supervillians; it avoids the clumsy jollity of many of the other stories, but has a Message rather than a plot so isn't as satisfying as it should be.
Also of note is The Mould of Form by Rosemary Edgehill - written in authentic-sounding 17th-century English, it tells of the origins of a famous literary villain. However, it all seems rather contrived, and as the whole point is to reveal which villain he is, and it's not a villain I particularly care about, the effect was wasted. The wooden spoon goes to Tim Waggoner, whose Horror Show is an unconvincing tale of a Tim Burton-esque movie monster coming to life. All the rest are fairly mediocre - a Sherlock Holmes story marred by the author's insistence on showing off his Celtic knowledge; a well-written but dull tale of domestic drama in Depression-era America; a nasty but overly preachy story about the murder of abortion doctors in a near-future dystopia. None of the dark stories are dark enough, and the funny ones are all somewhat trite and forced. For a good dose of triumphant villainy, I recommend you avoid this and look elsewhere.