I have just finished reading this collection of short stories by Piers Anthony. It contains a total of 21 stories, varying widely in theme. From precocious children to horror & torture, this collection has it all. Each story is accompanied by autobiographical notes by the author regarding the background of the story, like how he got the idea for a story or how many times it made the rounds of publishers before finally seeing publication.
Now I've read such collections by other authors such as Isaac Asimov & Arthur Clarke and have always loved the chance to get a peek into the author's mind. Depending on the author, the notes about a story can be as funny/thought provoking as the story itself. I didn't like this particular one though.
Regardless of the quality of the actual stories - and they are quite good - the paragraphs about the stories themselves, seem whiny to me. Almost every introduction comes with the obligatory it was rejected this many times and goes on in a similar vein. Normally that's not so bad, in fact it just goes to show that perseverance is one of the necessary qualities an author needs if he/she hopes to succeed. However it does get tiresome after a while, especially when it is punctuated with retorts at the editors who rejected said stories. Once or twice, it's all right, I mean this is the author's chance to take a dig at the 'misguided' (to his mind at least) editors, but Piers Anthony just goes on and on and on!
That being said, on to the stories themselves. If it is possible to describe the collection in one word, that word would be - Bizarre. Some of the stories are quite disturbing and I wouldn't recommend reading to just everyone. Possible To Rue, Toaster, Wood You? and Beak By Beak are simple stories, dealing with children & animals. Others such as On The Uses Of Torture and In The Barn are quite graphic and not for the faint of heart.
One characteristic of all the stories, however, is the sense of the unexpected. Nothing is as it seems and everything could be anything at all. All of the stories have some sort of 'twist' in the end, some good, some bad (happy ending-wise) but always shining a different light on things. If nothing else, these stories are a testament to the author's imagination and unique perspective. They'll make the reader think. Which, as far I'm concerned, is one very important goal of science fiction.
Verdict: Disturbing and quite graphic, but once you get past that, incredibly well-written stories.