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Circus: Fantasy Under the Big Top

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Introducing stories of circuses traditional and bizarre, futuristic and steeped in tradition, joyful and heart-breaking! And among the actors you will find old friends, be they sad clowns or free-spirited gymnasts, as well as new ones - mammoths, mechanical piano men, and things best not described at all. Come in, come all, and enjoy the literary show unfolding!


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Introducing stories of circuses traditional and bizarre, futuristic and steeped in tradition, joyful and heart-breaking! And among the actors you will find old friends, be they sad clowns or free-spirited gymnasts, as well as new ones - mammoths, mechanical piano men, and things best not described at all. Come in, come all, and enjoy the literary show unfolding!

30 review for Circus: Fantasy Under the Big Top

  1. 5 out of 5

    Courtney

    It's... an anthology. Some good stories, some not so great. I reviewed each in my statuses as I read, so you can look there if you want summaries. The title doesn't really fit - there weren't many stories I'd consider fantasy in the collection. I think Sci-fi or dystopian won out in numbers, actually. Some horror, cyberpunk, a few steampunk. Oh, and a couple of Fantasy, mostly at the start. The horror stories (Queen of Sheba & the Phantasy Grotesque stories were the most memorable, and were well It's... an anthology. Some good stories, some not so great. I reviewed each in my statuses as I read, so you can look there if you want summaries. The title doesn't really fit - there weren't many stories I'd consider fantasy in the collection. I think Sci-fi or dystopian won out in numbers, actually. Some horror, cyberpunk, a few steampunk. Oh, and a couple of Fantasy, mostly at the start. The horror stories (Queen of Sheba & the Phantasy Grotesque stories were the most memorable, and were well written. Which is suitable, given the creepy cover chosen for this 'fantasy' anthology. Queen of Sheba has an old-fashioned horror tale feel to it, while the Phantasy Grotesque one is more modern (I'm not very familiar with the show Dexter, but some parts of the story reminded me of what little I know of it - the 'dark other' or whatever it's called the char. uses to excuse/explain his actions). The werewolf one wasn't bad either, though the creepy factor died off pretty quickly in exchange for the character's soul-searching. Smoke and Mirrors (one of the few Fantasy stories) was good as well - definitely a world I'd like to see more of. I'd almost recommend skipping the first story, though - I found it so dull it almost put me off reading the anthology.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Like most short stories gathered in a collection I've read, there were some stories I liked more than others. Despite being terrified of clowns I do find circuses interesting and have always been curious about what exactly it is that draws people in, why some choose the circus as a professional career, and so on. I love short story collections like this because it helps me discover authors I may have never come across before and this collection ranges from the hilarious to the horrific. My favor Like most short stories gathered in a collection I've read, there were some stories I liked more than others. Despite being terrified of clowns I do find circuses interesting and have always been curious about what exactly it is that draws people in, why some choose the circus as a professional career, and so on. I love short story collections like this because it helps me discover authors I may have never come across before and this collection ranges from the hilarious to the horrific. My favorites were "Calliiope: A Steam Romance," "The Vostrasovitch Clockwork Animal and Traveling Forest Show at the End of the World" "Making my Entrance Again with the Usual Flair" "Phantasy Moste Grotesk" "Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus" and "The Aarne-Thompson Classification Revue".

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Like most anthologies, this one was a mixed bag, the included stories reprints from a number of venues. Some of the stories did interesting things with narrative and structure (some more successfully than others), and all of them strove for a degree of artistry, which I appreciated. Of the stories, I liked Kij Johnson's "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss" best. Felicity Dowker's "Phantasy Moste Grotesk" was a truly horrifying horror story, vivid and disturbing. I also liked "Scream Angel" by Douglas Sm Like most anthologies, this one was a mixed bag, the included stories reprints from a number of venues. Some of the stories did interesting things with narrative and structure (some more successfully than others), and all of them strove for a degree of artistry, which I appreciated. Of the stories, I liked Kij Johnson's "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss" best. Felicity Dowker's "Phantasy Moste Grotesk" was a truly horrifying horror story, vivid and disturbing. I also liked "Scream Angel" by Douglas Smith, "The Quest" by Barry Longyear, and the profanely comical "Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus" by Neal Barrett, Jr.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    This is a anthology of fantasy/horror stories that center around the big top. As with any anthology, you love some, like some and hate some. I loved “Circus, Circus”, “Phantasy Moste Grotesk”; liked “Smoke and Mirrors”, “Making My Entrance Again With My Usual Flair”, and “26 Monkeys”; disliked “The Quest”, and “Welcome To The Greatest Show in The Universe”.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Hestia

    26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss by Kij Johnson

  6. 4 out of 5

    Catie Mcginnis

    This book was Pritty good, but there were only 2 stories in here that really interested me and kept me reading. It also seemed that a lot of the stories weren’t even related to circus stuff either.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Maryjane Coons

    there were only a few really good stories In my opinion.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ab

    As with any anthology, some stories work for an individual more than others. Some stories grip you, and some evade your snares. Some stories embrace you, while others feels like a kissing a dead fish. In any case, this was quite a wonderful collection. Just think about it -- the range of what "circus" tales can actually be is quite vast -- optimistic, hopeful and childlike; dark, life-wasted in a circus, sideshow freaks mistreated, etc.; otherworldly, creatures making up the show from places out As with any anthology, some stories work for an individual more than others. Some stories grip you, and some evade your snares. Some stories embrace you, while others feels like a kissing a dead fish. In any case, this was quite a wonderful collection. Just think about it -- the range of what "circus" tales can actually be is quite vast -- optimistic, hopeful and childlike; dark, life-wasted in a circus, sideshow freaks mistreated, etc.; otherworldly, creatures making up the show from places outside Earth, etc.; humorous and adventurous through trials of young adulthood to a life in the trade, etc., and many more unexpected aspects of this particular story focus. I'll just share some excerpts that caught my eye: From: "Welcome to the Greatest Show in the Universe" by Deborah Walker: "Jinkers entered the lapis lazuli palace of Nebuchadnezzar. She remembered the sense of awe that had struck her, the majesty of the spectacle had overwhelmed her twenty years ago. ... But now, as Jinkers walked through the palace, she didn't feel the same. She watched the punters stare in wonder at the spectacle of their collective past. She wanted to share their experience, to recapture the emotion she'd felt all those years ago. But all she could see was a facsimile of reality. When she looked at the throne, she didn't marvel at the luxury of wealth, instead she saw the cost of the gold plating and remembered the builders' overpriced estimates. ... She saw through the illusion of history. Her administrator's eye had spoiled the magic and the fantasy." --sound familiar to anyone? Perhaps like that job everyone says, "it must be so fantastic to work there!" but you've seen behind the velvet curtain and the Great and Powerful Oz is after all just a man. From: "Making My Entrance Again with my Usual Flair" by Ken Scholes ... for absolute hilarity, really reminded me of Douglas Adams: "When we crossed into Oregon, the monkey woke up. I knew this because he asked me for a cigarette. I swerved to the shoulder, mashing the brakes with one clown-shoed foot while hyperventilating. 'Just one,' he said. 'Please?' I couldn't get out of the car fast enough. After a few minutes of pacing by the side of the road, convincing myself that it was the result of quitting the booze cold turkey, I poked my head back into the car. 'Did you say something?' I asked, holding my breath. Silence. Releasing my breath, I climbed back into the car. 'I didn't think so.' I started the car back up, eased it onto the road. I laughed at myself. 'Talking monkeys,' I said, shaking my head. 'Monkeys can't talk,' the monkey said. Then he yawned loudly. I braked again."

  9. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    Circus (Fantasy Under the Big Top), edited by Ekaterina Sedia, is a collection of 20 short stories that all have a circus or carnival theme. Based on the cover, I was expecting stories that mashed horror and clowns together, but nothing could be farther from the truth. This book was a mixed bag for me. Only a small number of stories made me feel something. The rest were ones that I'll probably never think of again. I liked the story Smoke and Mirrors by Amanda Downum, and will definitely seek ou Circus (Fantasy Under the Big Top), edited by Ekaterina Sedia, is a collection of 20 short stories that all have a circus or carnival theme. Based on the cover, I was expecting stories that mashed horror and clowns together, but nothing could be farther from the truth. This book was a mixed bag for me. Only a small number of stories made me feel something. The rest were ones that I'll probably never think of again. I liked the story Smoke and Mirrors by Amanda Downum, and will definitely seek out other work by this author. Downum created an atmosphere that instantly resonated with me, riding that line between depressing and beat that I really like, as a witch and conjure man face down a demon. Scream Angel by Douglas Smith was my favorite story from the bunch, mixing action with dystopian space travel to great effect. It felt like these characters belonged to a larger, more developed world than some of the other stories in book, which may be true--this may be a world that he has written about before. I've never read anything by Smith but will make it a point to read more of it in the future. Other standouts were Circus Circus by Eric M Witchey in which a bruja makes a young boy's wish come true, Phantasy Moste Grotesk by Felicity Dowker which tells the saddest story of addiction and love in the book, and the Aarne-Thompson Classification Revue by Holly Black which is a light fun read about a werewolf girl who is looking for a place to belong. The rest of the stories in the book weren't badly written, they just were not for me. Books of themed short stories are always like that though--mileage will vary depending on the tastes of the reader. That being said I'm glad I read the book, but found myself bored for much of it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Naberius

    Like many collections, I found I enjoyed some of the stories here more than others. I originally picked up this book because I have always had a fascination with circuses and carnivals. I've always been curious about the kinds of people who tie their lives to a circus, and also find the history of circuses and carnivals to be interesting. I also ordered this book for my library's collection and snapped it up when it hit the shelf ...... I'll be returning it tomorrow to give other people the oppo Like many collections, I found I enjoyed some of the stories here more than others. I originally picked up this book because I have always had a fascination with circuses and carnivals. I've always been curious about the kinds of people who tie their lives to a circus, and also find the history of circuses and carnivals to be interesting. I also ordered this book for my library's collection and snapped it up when it hit the shelf ...... I'll be returning it tomorrow to give other people the opportunity to check it out. The stories range from the fantastical to the horror-tinged. My personal favorites among the stories were Amanda Downum's Smoke and Mirrors, Vanishing Act by E. Catherine Tobler, Circus, Circus by Eric M. Witchey and 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss by Kij Johnson (which involves a woman who buys an act with 26 monkeys who vanish, from a suspended bathtub, onstage). It was also nice to re-read a story by Douglas Smith called Scream Angel -- I had read and reviewed Smith's book of stories, Chimerascope a while back, and had enjoyed it. One of the best things about short stories is that they can introduce you to an author you've never heard of, without being committed to an entire book. As I said, I didn't love every single story here, but I found the overall collection to be good.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dana Cordelia

    This was certainly an eclectic mix of stories, and ran the gamut from pretty good to wonderful and back to pretty good, with a lot of wiggle room in between. I was expecting a lot more horror and fantasy (especially since "fantasy under the big top") was a prominent tagline) and kept getting lost in the middle of the book, where a seemingly endless array of sci fi and steampunk awaited me. I like both of these genres just fine, but I suppose I was mostly in the mood for stories like Amanda Downu This was certainly an eclectic mix of stories, and ran the gamut from pretty good to wonderful and back to pretty good, with a lot of wiggle room in between. I was expecting a lot more horror and fantasy (especially since "fantasy under the big top") was a prominent tagline) and kept getting lost in the middle of the book, where a seemingly endless array of sci fi and steampunk awaited me. I like both of these genres just fine, but I suppose I was mostly in the mood for stories like Amanda Downum's "Smoke & Mirrors," Felicity Dowker's "Phantasy Moste Grotesk," and Holly Black's "The Aarne-Thompson Classification Revue" (all of which were excellent.) The electronics and steam were fine, as well, but far and away the greatest was "Study for Solo Piano," by Genevieve Valentine. All in all this was a good collection - took me longer than usual, partly because my schedule's been nuts and partly because I wasn't always in a headspace to read its contents. But I'm glad I did (the last few stories are some of the best) and I'd recommend it to fans of futuristic fantasy.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Ah, this is why I buy anthologies. This is a good selection of stories. Will you love 'em all? No, but they're all good, in one way or another. This collection deals with circuses of a fantastical nature, but it's not all fun and games in the midway. These circus things are dangerous. Get your cotton candy or funnel cake but keep an eye on that clown...that one...right there. He's not right. It's definitely a fun read. Of course a common thread like circuses is a license for surrealism. There are Ah, this is why I buy anthologies. This is a good selection of stories. Will you love 'em all? No, but they're all good, in one way or another. This collection deals with circuses of a fantastical nature, but it's not all fun and games in the midway. These circus things are dangerous. Get your cotton candy or funnel cake but keep an eye on that clown...that one...right there. He's not right. It's definitely a fun read. Of course a common thread like circuses is a license for surrealism. There are a lot of weird things in this book. However this is an opportunity to show us some insights into ourselves. Circuses are themselves metaphor...they show a caricature of the human condition Not necessarily for insight or enlightenment, but sometimes just for fun. That's a lot like this book. Some of the stories are philosophical but some are just for fun. So find a good seat and watch the acrobats and the elephants and the clown-droids, the robot tamers...

  13. 4 out of 5

    A.C. Wise

    Circus: Fantasy Under the Big Top does a wonderful job of presenting variations on a theme without falling into repetition, or rehashing old tropes and cliches. None of the stories left me completely cold (as can sometimes happen with anthologies), and there were a few truly standout tales in the bunch, namely E. Catherine Tobler's Vanishing Act and Genevieve Valentine's Study, for Solo Piano. I also very much enjoyed Scream Angel by Douglas Smith, Making My Entrance Again with My Usual Flair by Circus: Fantasy Under the Big Top does a wonderful job of presenting variations on a theme without falling into repetition, or rehashing old tropes and cliches. None of the stories left me completely cold (as can sometimes happen with anthologies), and there were a few truly standout tales in the bunch, namely E. Catherine Tobler's Vanishing Act and Genevieve Valentine's Study, for Solo Piano. I also very much enjoyed Scream Angel by Douglas Smith, Making My Entrance Again with My Usual Flair by Ken Scholes, and Courting the Queen of Sheba by Amanda C. Davis. Of the stories I'd read before, I was happy to see 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss by Kij Johnson, which absolutely stands up to a re-read and Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus by Neal Barrett, Jr. If you happen to be a sucker for circus tales (which I am) this anthology is well-worth picking up.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lacie Carmody

    Though I don't usually read anthologies, this one was assigned to me for a class and the collected stories here are both diverse and enjoyable. With the theme of the circus being interpreted in a variety of manners, this collection definitely has something for every science fiction or fantasy fan out there with the perfect amount of horror thrown in. This is a collection I definitely recommend checking out. Though I don't usually read anthologies, this one was assigned to me for a class and the collected stories here are both diverse and enjoyable. With the theme of the circus being interpreted in a variety of manners, this collection definitely has something for every science fiction or fantasy fan out there with the perfect amount of horror thrown in. This is a collection I definitely recommend checking out.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    My favorites: “Vanishing Act" by E. Catherine Tobler “The Vostrasovitch Clockwork Animal and Traveling Forest Show at the End of the World" by Jessica Reisman “Study, for Solo Piano" by Genevieve Valentine “Making My Entrance Again with My Usual Flair" by Ken Scholes “26 Monkeys, also the Abyss" by Kij Johnson “Courting the Queen of Sheba" by Amanda C. Davis “Circus Circus" by Eric M. Witchey “Phantasy Moste Grotesk" by Felicity Dowker My favorites: “Vanishing Act" by E. Catherine Tobler “The Vostrasovitch Clockwork Animal and Traveling Forest Show at the End of the World" by Jessica Reisman “Study, for Solo Piano" by Genevieve Valentine “Making My Entrance Again with My Usual Flair" by Ken Scholes “26 Monkeys, also the Abyss" by Kij Johnson “Courting the Queen of Sheba" by Amanda C. Davis “Circus Circus" by Eric M. Witchey “Phantasy Moste Grotesk" by Felicity Dowker

  16. 4 out of 5

    Katey

    This is a book of short stories, all involving the circus. I'll pause while you digest that. I'll admit, I skipped one or two, and the vast majority of what I've read I've already forgotten, but there was a story or two in there that really struck me. Dealing with animal extinction, futuristic living, how your actions determine the path you're on...as I said, some have stayed with me. And I sort of wish the most gruesome of those would leave me. This is a book of short stories, all involving the circus. I'll pause while you digest that. I'll admit, I skipped one or two, and the vast majority of what I've read I've already forgotten, but there was a story or two in there that really struck me. Dealing with animal extinction, futuristic living, how your actions determine the path you're on...as I said, some have stayed with me. And I sort of wish the most gruesome of those would leave me.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Circus is a fantastical anthology with stories within all containing the theme of circuses or sideshow acts. Each tale is very different than the next, so it is imperative readers keep an open mind to fully enjoy the new worlds that are introduced. Some were better than others, but then that is the case with most anthologies. But I definitely recommend it for any fantasy lovers out there or anyone with a taste for the truly bizarre.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Cecilia Rodriguez

    A collection of short stories with the central theme or location relating to the circus. Two of the stories in the collection fall into the Steampunk genre: Calliope: A Steam Romance by Andrew J. McKiernan, and Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus by Neal Barrett, Jr. My favorite story was: Circus Circus by Eric Witchey. However the all time best fiction story about circuses is: Ray Bradbury's: Something Wicked This Way Comes. A collection of short stories with the central theme or location relating to the circus. Two of the stories in the collection fall into the Steampunk genre: Calliope: A Steam Romance by Andrew J. McKiernan, and Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus by Neal Barrett, Jr. My favorite story was: Circus Circus by Eric Witchey. However the all time best fiction story about circuses is: Ray Bradbury's: Something Wicked This Way Comes.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Garryvivianne

    Awesome & sometimes VERY strange circus stories by different authors. Many different takes on the circus, sometimes amusing, sometimes nostalgic, but oftentimes very bizarre. Loved the story about the disappearing monkeys! And absolutely LOVED the spooky clown on the cover of this book! (I don't like clowns!) Awesome & sometimes VERY strange circus stories by different authors. Many different takes on the circus, sometimes amusing, sometimes nostalgic, but oftentimes very bizarre. Loved the story about the disappearing monkeys! And absolutely LOVED the spooky clown on the cover of this book! (I don't like clowns!)

  20. 5 out of 5

    schmoozie

    There were some stories I liked better than others, but overall the writing was so-so. I guess it was a disappointment after reading The Night Circus, which was extremely well-written and more carefully crafted. Some of the stories in this book came across as first drafts.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michael Jacoby

    A perfect example of why not to choose a book by it's cover. I picked this up a couple years ago for what I thought was going to be some good circus themes horror stories. One of them was. It was decent but not what I was expecting. If you like circus themes themes give it a whirl. A perfect example of why not to choose a book by it's cover. I picked this up a couple years ago for what I thought was going to be some good circus themes horror stories. One of them was. It was decent but not what I was expecting. If you like circus themes themes give it a whirl.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tyrannosaurus regina

    For such a specific theme, there are a huge variety of stories in this anthology. I don't think there were even any I disliked, though I'm not sure there were any I loved either. Certainly a high calibre of work, in a subgenre that rarely fails to entertain. For such a specific theme, there are a huge variety of stories in this anthology. I don't think there were even any I disliked, though I'm not sure there were any I loved either. Certainly a high calibre of work, in a subgenre that rarely fails to entertain.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Charles

    Interesting, but not gripping.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Skuli Saeland

    Ólíkar sögur sem eiga það sameiginlegt að tengjast sirkus með einu eða öðru leyti. Margar ágætar og eftirminnilegar en þær voru eiginlega of ólíkar og tætingslegar til að mynda einhverja heild.

  25. 4 out of 5

    B. Zelkovich

    An interesting assortment of stories, most notably "Scream Angel", "Circus Circus", "Smoke & Mirrors", and "Study, Solo for Piano". An interesting assortment of stories, most notably "Scream Angel", "Circus Circus", "Smoke & Mirrors", and "Study, Solo for Piano".

  26. 5 out of 5

    Christel Grady

    As with most anthologies, there were stories I loved and stories I felt ambivalent about. All in all, a great random library find for me!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rhi

    Abandoned- I just didn't have the time for it, but I'll probably pick it up in the new year. I did like what I read, however. Abandoned- I just didn't have the time for it, but I'll probably pick it up in the new year. I did like what I read, however.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Some good stories, some really creepy ones. Some thought-provoking.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Loved most of these stories. There were only a few I thought weren't very good. One, "Scream Angel" by Douglas Smith, I truly adored. I would love to hear more of that world some day. Loved most of these stories. There were only a few I thought weren't very good. One, "Scream Angel" by Douglas Smith, I truly adored. I would love to hear more of that world some day.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

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