Edited by Nancy Springer, this 1999 anthology features fantasy and SF takes on the final ritual of North American high schools. The cover decorates the book nicely, with tuxedoed and prom-dressed elves, demons, and reptiloids. The prom dates within 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, and those who persevere will find some worthwhile tales.
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 tale that twists on the uncertainties of our recollections. Richard Parks’ "Borrowed Lives" uses a similar concept, but to even better results, with its account of an old photograph that sends a man fluctuating between alternate versions of his life.
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. Tippi N. Blevins’ goofy piece, "The Ancient Order of Charming Princes," at least generates a few laughs. Stephen Gresham’s "The Strangest Passion the World has Ever Known" rates mention for its sheer Charles Addams weirdness. The prom dreams of a Dracula-obsessed, Depression era proto-Goth and her dermatomyositic sister, who travels about in a baby carriage, at least make for a novel reading experience. The final entry, "The Executioner’s Prom Night Song" by Billie Sue Mosiman proves an interesting take on time travel, the prom, and the Butterfly Effect.
Other stories aren’t nearly so memorable. Lorelei Shannon’s "Peggy Sue Got Slobbered," which reads very much like the revenge fantasy of a spurned teen, 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 Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World or a convention consuite, but true love is taboo. It’s a 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. It’s tale 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 you sympathize far too easily with her.
Fantasy in mundane settings has an uneven history. It includes works such as L. Sprague De Camp's Tales from Gavagan's Bar and Spider Robinson's Callahan books. Prom Night doesn't rank with the best of this already mixed crowd, but it includes some worthwhile reading.
A variation of this review, by this author, first appeared at Bureau42