A Noob’s Trip to Bordertown

Welcome to Bordertown has one of those covers that makes you want to read the book in public so everyone around you sees how awesome it is, and you by proxy. It’s all mad city, midsummer night magic…a motorcycle and ivy. Maybe if you’re lucky, someone yells “BORDERTOWN LIVES!” and you make a new friend…because they get it. They know.

I have not always known.

This was my first trip to Bordertown.

How did I miss twenty-plus-years of shared-world fantasy anthologies and novels? The Borderland series was the brain-child of Terri Windling, at the dawn of what we now call urban fantasy. Windling had a vision of myth, folklore, fantasy and music combining to create a dystopian metropolis populated by elves and humans for teen readers. When you start an anthology series with the likes of Charles de Lint, Ellen Kushner and Emma Bull, let alone art by Phil Hale, you are epically winning. So the Borderlands were born, and they have had a cult following ever since.

I mean, geez, who wouldn’t want to go to a city on the border between the Realm and the earthen world? Yes, we’re talking about the Faerie Realm, but you shouldn’t use the term fairies—ever. Not unless you want to get busted up by pointy-eared, long-legged elf hotties who prefer to be known as Truebloods.

Humans and elves that don’t want their own worlds settle for that something between—Bordertown. Everyone is a runaway and there’s just enough unreliable magic to keep one and all happy. Think of it as a teenage rock and roll Never Never Land with equal possibilities of enlightenment and muggings.

You might believe that because Bordertown is filled with kids and all of the stories are centered on teens or early twenty-somethings that Welcome to Bordertown is only for young adult readers. Well, you’d be wrong. Granted, my only downbeat reaction, and a very selfish one at that, stemmed from having too many years behind me to flee to B-Town (were I ever able to find it—you can never seem to get there the same way twice, and the journey can be as simple as singing your way, or as hardcore as jumping off a train). The average Bordertown resident—at least, in the squalid Soho district where most of the stories are set—is between twelve and twenty. So I’m too old to live in Bordertown. So what? I can read about it.

There is literally too much awesome going on in this anthology to mention, but here are a few of the standouts. Some are stories and some are poems….

I had a lunatic grin going the whole time I read Terri Windling and Ellen Kushner’s title story, “Welcome to Bordertown.” It was my favorite. I loved the Mumford and Sons, Joe Strummer-name dropping, Lord Buckley-reviving, magical-machinery, music-worshipping guts of it. Trish has been in B-Town for thirteen days, only it’s been thirteen years in the world and her little brother Jimmy isn’t so little anymore. He’s come to find Trish and bring her back home. Trish’s experience, well everyone’s experience in Bordertown, reminds me of the song “Journey to the End of the East Bay” by Rancid. Tim Armstrong sings, “…he said this is a mecca, I said this ain’t no mecca man, this place is f—-ed. Three months go by, he had no home he had no food he’s all alone…” Bordertown is what you bring to it. To quote someone else entirely, “There’s no fate, but what we make for ourselves.”

Cory Doctorow’s “Shannon’s Law” brought me to a whole different level of nerding out. See Shannon’s making the Internet in Bordertown. All the Internet is is a bunch of packets of information sent from one location to another, and in Bordertown “…if parts of the route travel by pigeon, flashing mirrors, or scraps of paper cranked over an alley on a clothesline, that’s okay with the Net.”

“A Voice Like a Hole,” by Catherynne Valente wasn’t so much about Fig making her way in Bordertown as it was living the runaway life before she got there. Fig sees in fellow runaway, Maria, what she wants to be:  “I guess that’s what you look like when you do it right, when you’re sixteen and on the road, and you don’t write poems, but poems get written about you.” It is easily the most beautifully written story in the anthology. It throws a brick at your heart and then makes you better. I stutter when I talk about it and I’ve been talking about for days. If you’ve ever felt like you’re “doing it wrong” and on the outside of even the outsiders, this story’s for you.

And then there’s the effortless, thoughtful poetry of Amal El-Mohtar. “Stairs in Her Hair” is accessible, but by no means simple. El-Mohtar based her harshly gorgeous poem on a similarly named illustration by Rima Staines and then worked with Valente to connect “A Voice Like a Hole” to the poem. Yep, watch your poetry interludes, folks, because sometimes they’re segues.

Okay, I’m going to calm down. I am not going to go through this whole anthology piece by piece. But I could. Every story is a good story. Every poem, something to share. But I will mention a few more: like Alaya Dawn Johnson’s “A Prince of Thirteen Days.” Who knew that a story about a girl who wants to have sex and fall in love with a talking statue could be so charming? I don’t even know if I should get going on Will Shetterly’s “The Sages of Elsewhere.” Okay, I will, because if I had to recommend any three stories as the kings of Bordertown Kong, Shetterly’s would be right after Windling/Kushner and Valente. My bookshop lovers, Shetterly’s giving you a word-hug. Wolfboy finds himself in a bookman’s fight over a Shakespeare-spewing, pocket-sized tome.

By the time I got to Tim Pratt’s “Our Stars, Our Selves,” I was thoroughly infatuated with every vicious and kind soul that lived in B-Town and meeting “Allie Land, lesbian future rock star for hire,” sealed the deal. Then at work, I found myself singing Jane Yolen’s “A Borderland Jump-Rope Rhyme” to the tune of “Miss Mary Mack.” And my head nearly exploded in WTF-awesome when I read Holly Black and Cassandra Clare’s Scarlet Pimpernel-inspired “The Rowan Gentleman.”

Home. I want to go home. And I want that home to be Bordertown.

If I can’t live there, well, the fantastic part of Welcome to Bordertown is that even when you’re done reading it, the backlog of B-Town will keep you busy. There’s an entire series to get to. Then you can cool-comb the books themselves for what the authors are hiding. I lost count of everything I need to read that was mentioned in Welcome to Bordertown – like Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and Moonheart by Charles de Lint. If that isn’t enough, rabbit-hole yourself in the music and art of the Borderland Series website. The music sub-page allows editors and fans to interact about bands whose sound fits Bordertown—like Katzenjammer, Flogging Molly and Faun. Don’t let your Bordertown experience stop when you finish the last page. Interaction can be as important as the words on the page. Like Terri Windling said in the Introduction, “Community, friendship, art:  stirred together, they make a powerful magic.”

When Patty Templeton isn’t throwing herself from trains, trying to get to Bordertown, she’s writing historical fantasy, updating her Livejournal or working at an awesome library.


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