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Archive for March, 2013

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AT THE MOUTH OF THE RIVER OF BEES (short story collection) by Kij Johnson

This is an incredible collection of stories by one of the best short story writers on the planet. She’s won practically every major fantasy and science fiction award and been nominated for all of them multiple times. If you want to read some amazing short fiction, this is a collection you must have. Her work is often featured in the years best collections and her skill at crafting beautiful and thought provoking stories is second to none.

I’ve been a fan of Kij Johnson since I attended one of her writing seminars at Gen Con in 1998 and have read many of these stories before, but I found a lot that I hadn’t read. Having them all in one perfectly packaged book was awesome. Small Beer Press did a great job.

It’s hard for me to describe all eighteen stories in the collection, but I’ll go over a few of my favorites.

26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss was first published in Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine in 2008 and if you haven’t read this Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy award winning short story, you’re in for a treat. The premise is crazy: a woman buys a traveling monkey show . . . because she must. It’s deep, amazing, and will get in your head for a long time. It’s still in mine years after first reading it.

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Spar, originally published in Clarksworld in 2009, won the Nebula for best short story, and this one will blow your mind. It’s a science fiction nightmare about a woman who is trapped with an alien for a very long time. It’s a chilling story. I hear people talking about this one at writer gatherings all the time. It’s that good.

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Fox Magic, originally published in 1993 in Asimov’s, and won the Sturgeon Award. It became the basis for the award winning novel, Fox Woman from Tor, which I fell in love with. This is the legend of kitsune, the magical fox who became a woman and seduced a Japanese samurai lord. I loved this story and especially the novel. Fox Magic is incredibly beautiful and poignant. If you love it, read the novel for sure.

Wolf Trapping first appeared in Twilight Zone magazine in 1989, and I’d never read it before. The story is about a wolf researcher who meets a strange, feral woman who is trying to become part of a pack of wolves. The ending will leave you sick and in shock.

The Empress Jingu Fishes is a great story about a woman who can see the future, and goes through the years ahead with the bitter knowledge of what’s going to happen to the people she loves. Fascinating.

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The Man Who Bridged the Mist won the Hugo and Nubula award for best novella, and I found it to be beautifully crafted. It reminded me of the world I created for my Iron Dragon series a little, with the mists surrounding the land, so I loved that aspect, and was captivated all the way through.

The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change, won the World Fantasy Award, and I can see why. I hadn’t read it before and loved it. The story is about a woman who becomes close to a pack of dogs after “the Change.” Dogs (and all the mammals) gain the ability to speak and it throws off the whole world. Dog lovers will be very touched by this one, I think. I know I was.

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Ponies, won the 2010 Nebula award for best short story, and I was fortunate enough to hear Kij read it at World Fantasy soon after it came out on Tor.com. This tale is an allegory about growing up, although this one is in a world where all the little girls get pretty winged, talking ponies, but if the girls want to be part of the popular crowd they have to, shall we say, make some changes to their beloved ponies. This is such an awesome story and when I read it in this collection, I heard Kij, in my mind reading it like she did back at World Fantasy, like she was reading a sweet story to kids, when in truth it’s a nightmare.

There are a lot of other great stories in this collection, and I’ve savored them, letting the beauty of the words, and the expertise of the writing wash over me. The technical brilliance is one thing, but the way some of the stories stick with me is uncanny.

The title story, At the Mouth of the River of Bees, was a new one for me as well, and I saved it for last. It was about a woman (the same one from the Trickster stories) who is on a journey across the country with her old German Shepherd dog, who is dying. They run into a roadblock, the Bee River is flooding, but it’s unlike any flood you’ve ever heard of, and the main character is drawn to find the source of the flooding. It’s a journey of the heart and the mind.

Kij Johnson has a way of getting you to believe 100% in whatever world she creates, and then slips in some fantastical concept, like a river of bees stopping traffic, and it makes perfect sense.

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Learn more about this amazing writer here or find this collection on Amazon.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED 5/5 STARS
Paul Genesse, Author of the Iron Dragon Series and Editor of The Crimson Pact Series

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Fire Season by David Weber and Jane Lindskold

(very minor spoilers)

This is the second novel about Stephanie Harrington and her treecat companion, Lionheart, set on the fascinating treecat home world. I hadn’t read the award winning first book, A Beautiful Friendship by David Weber, and came to this novel as I’m a fan of author Jane Lindskold’s short fiction and her novels (Through Wolf’s Eyes, Thirteen Orphans). You don’t need to read the first book in this series, A Beautiful Friendship, to understand this one, as I was never lost, but I’m sure it would be good to start at the beginning.

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A Beautiful Friendship on Amazon

If you’re a reader of David Weber’s Honor Harrington novels, I think you’ll enjoy this prequel novel series. Fire Season is set a few hundred years before Honor was born, and this is not a space opera with lots of the big battles Mr. Weber is famous for. It’s a coming of age novel, mostly written to appeal to teenaged readers (12 and older), about a brilliant young woman growing up on an alien planet, who just happens to be the first person to ever bond with a treecat. The telepathic, empathic, six-legged (hexapedal) catlike creatures with long tails—two of their six legs have actual hands on them—are the stars of the book.

I found the most fascinating aspect of Fire Season to be the relationship between fifteen-year-old Stephanie and the treecat who adopted her. Lionheart is what Stephanie calls him, but his true name among the People (the treecats think of themselves as The People), is Climbs Quickly.

The treecats are telepathic with each other and empathic with humans, so communicating with humans is quite difficult for them, though they can read human emotions very easily and affect them in some minor ways. The treecats think that humans make all sorts of funny mouth sounds, use hand gestures, and isn’t it sad they can’t speak to each other with their minds and have to rely on such poor communication methods?

It was hilarious and awesome when two treecats were communicating telepathically with each other and one treecat noted how well the human (Stephanie Harrington) had been trained by Climbs Quickly. The big question in this book is if the treecats are intelligent enough to be considered sentient by the human scientists.

Climbs Quickly can read Stephanie’s emotions and enjoys her “mind-glow” very much. I loved reading the chapters from Climb’s Quickly’s point of view, and it was fascinating how the human scientists are trying to determine if the treecats are a sentient race, while the treecats are trying to understand if they should avoid the humans who have come to their world, or if they should interact with them more.

The book has the feel of an un-contacted tribe of native Americans first coming into contact with a highly civilized group of Europeans. That would be Europeans who are not trying to enslave or destroy them. What a concept. There are a lot of great messages in this book that will get younger and older readers thinking.

Fire Season is naturally set during the dry season when forest fires often rage across the mostly tree-covered world. Stephanie Harrington, and her big brother friend Karl, are provisional rangers with the forestry service, and they participate in watching out for fires and sometimes fighting them, and of course rescuing animals caught in the path of the flames.

Much of the book is dedicated to Stephanie becoming an adult. She has to learn to interact with kids her own age, a very difficult thing for a genius introvert, and of course deal with her well-meaning but socially clumsy parents. I think teens will easily connect with Stephanie, as she’s a very well drawn character.

I highly recommend this book to teen animal lovers—especially young women—and to fans of the Honor Harrington series who want to see where the treecats came from. This is a good starting point for younger readers, and I think this would be a great gift to a friend or relative that you wanted to expose to science fiction. It kept my interest throughout, had a good conclusion that wrapped up nicely, and I’m excited to read the sequel, Treecat Wars.

View it on Amazon: Fire Season by David Weber and Jane Lindskold
Highly Recommended, 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Paul Genesse
Author of the Iron Dragon Series

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