Ever since I ran across my high school library's actually kind of impressive collection of Golden Age science fiction anthologies, I've made a habit of snapping up anything that caught my fancy. Anthologies are a great way to discover new stories and authors, even if the stories are decades old. Anthologies have led me to everyone from Alfred Bester to David Drake, and I rarely regret picking one up.
So naturally, when Larry Correia announced that he had submitted a story for the Urban Allies collection, I had to take a gander.
Urban Allies is a collection of short stories from notable names in the urban fantasy genre, but with a twist: each of the stories is a collaboration between two authors. The authors sit down and throw some of their most notable characters at each other, purely for the hell of it. The results are, well, interesting.
Most of the stories follow a common format: Character X from famous series meets Character Y from another famous series as they work together to solve a problem. Sometimes, the problem is as simple as poachers hunting mythical critters for sale on the black market, or solving a murder. In other stories, nothing less than the fate of the world is at stake.
Some of the worlds mesh more cleanly than others. Joseph Nassise's Templar Chronicles, for instance, works well with Sam Witt's Pitchfork County. The characters share a common goal, and their worlds are similar enough that it doesn't come across as contrived. Larry Correia's Monster Hunter International and Jonathan Mayberry's Joe Ledger series also jive well together.
Where it starts to fall apart ever so slightly is when you combine worlds that are clearly incompatible, such as Jeff Somers's Ustari Cycle and Stephen Blackmoore's Eric Carter series, where the characters come from such different worlds with such wildly different systems of magic that the only plausible explanation is alternate universe. Part of the fun of the whole concept is to have the different characters come together, and having them only able to yell at each other from different planes of existence sort of stretches the concept in not altogether pleasant ways.
It doesn't help anything that the tone of the stories varies wildly as well. Some are comparatively lighthearted romps, while others get seriously dark and twisted, and yet others are pure action. The transitions are often quite jarring, a problem that could have easily been solved by changing up the order so that they have a chance to gradually fade from whimsical field trip in the woods to junkie blowing his brains out after he finds out his future.
Also, while I'm nitpicking, it's kind of expected when you pick up an anthology that you're going to be dealing with characters with established backstories. That goes without saying. However, it's common practice to take a little extra time to introduce the characters to readers who might be unfamiliar with them, rather than just plunking them down with little to no explanation of who they are or how they got there.
Don't let my nitpicking throw you off, however. Despite it's flaws, Urban Allies is a fun read, and even if some stories work better than others, there's not a stinker to be found. Whether you want to see familiar characters in a new setting or you're looking for new reading material, it's an excellent collection and a fun little experiment that definitely rewards the reader.