Before we decamp at Gavagan’s or Callahan’s (or even Lady Sally’s), we probably passed through high school. Edited by Nancy Springer, this 1999 anthology heads out to the prom, SF and fantasy-style.
Title: Prom Night
Editor: Nancy Springer
Original Publication Date: May 1999
Fantasy and SF writers provide off-beat takes on the final ritual of North American high schools. These prom dates prove a mixed lot; some contain extraordinary beauty, while others waste your time. Most are merely mediocre. Tim Waggoner’s “Meeting Dad,” for example, opens the collection with a rather silly encounter between teenage Romeo and spell-casting parent. Waggoner’s strangely antique style may appeal to older readers of genre, but I found Springer’s decision to put it first baffling. However, the first through the door are not necessarily King and Queen of the Night, so I persevered, and found…..
The best stories appear in the second half of the book. Michael Hemmingson’s “Solid Memories Have the Life Span of Tulips and Sunflowers” is a well-written story that twists on the uncertainties of our recollections. Richard Parks’ “Borrowed Lives” uses a similar concept, but to even better results, with its tale of an old photograph that sends a man fluctuating between alternate versions of his past.
Larry Walsh’s “Lunar Cycle” may not be a masterpiece, but its satire works. It tells the tale of the strange, unexplained effects the moon has on the adolescent citizens of a future lunar colony, and the attempts adults make to control the lunatic youth. Despite the futuristic satellite setting, the society will seem familiar to most readers. Lisa S. Silverthorne’s “Music to Her Ears” deals with an elderly couple’s Twilight Zone-like connection to the 1916 Promenade. The ending is entirely predictable, but Silverthorne’s deft handling of the situation makes it worthwhile.
Other stories deserve honourable mention. Stephen Gresham’s southern gothic piece, “The Strangest Passion the World has Ever Known” rates for sheer Charles Addams weirdness. The prom dreams of a Depression era proto-Goth and her dermatomyositic sister, who travels about in a baby carriage, at least make for novel reading. The final entry, “The Executioner’s Prom Night Song” by Billie Sue Mosiman proves an interesting, if not entirely original take on time travel, the prom, and the Butterfly Effect.
Lorelei Shannon’s “Peggy Sue Got Slobbered,” ruins what humour and power it might have had by giving away the story’s premise in the first paragraph: a curse turns prom-goers into dogs. It also shares with several of the other weaker entries a setting based on the mass media’s version of high school, rather than any real secondary school. The transformed students and teachers would have been a lot more amusing if they’d been drawn on reality, and then thrust into their unusual situation. Fred Saberhagen’s “The Senior Prom” takes place in an alternate reality where the sexual revolution never ended. Sexual proposals occur even more casually than in Huxley’s Brave New World or a convention consuite, but true love is taboo. It’s an illogical satiric premise that worked passably when Saturday Night Live used it in a sketch two decades ago, but it’s wasted here. “Omar’s One True Love” by Gary Jonas reads like an episode of Buffy gone bad. The notion of the boy who will do anything to get a beautiful prom date has potential, but it never engaged me. Omar’s date rejects him at the story’s conclusion; you may find that you sympathize entirely with her.
As this is an anthology of work by many writers, so I will dispense with the usual rating system. If you’re looking for some short stories to read, you’ll find a few good pieces in here.