— October 2014

Note: This post was imported from an old content-management system, so please excuse any inconsistencies in formatting., October 2014

“Daughter of Necessity” by Marie Brennan
“Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch” by Kelly Barnhill
“The Girl in the High Tower” by Gennifer Albin
“Nuestra Senora de la Esperanza” by Carrie Vaughn
“This Chance Planet” by Elizabeth Bear
“A Kiss with Teeth” by Max Gladstone

Reviewed by Martha Burns

In The Odyssey, Penelope says that when she’s finished weaving a burial shroud, she’ll pick a new husband, but the ultimate aim is to keep her suitors from bothering her, hence she weaves during the day and picks apart her work by night. In “Daughter of Necessity” by Marie Brennan, Penelope searches for the happy ending to her fate by weaving and unweaving various outcomes. This retelling gives Penelope more agency than in the original, while also leading the reader through the way things might have gone given Homer’s portrayal of the various suitors. Part of the satisfaction of the story is Brennan’s fidelity to the original text, and part is that we know how it will end and we’re waiting for Penelope to find that solution. What remains unstated is the unlikelihood of that happy ending ever occurring from Penelope’s limited perspective. The story shows how a powerful imagination can help one survive.

Like many widows before her, Mrs. Sorensen returns to some of the interests she’s set aside during her marriage. In “Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch” by Kelly Barnhill, Mr. Sorensen’s allergies and infertility meant that his wife wasn’t able to have the family she wanted, which for her is a household that includes mice, raccoons, dogs, cats, a cougar cub, and Bigfoot. The tone is light and playful without being silly and we see how Mrs. Sorensen’s love of nature affects the small community she lives in. Largely, they’re supportive if occasionally incredulous (save three Roald Dahl villainess busybodies). The village priest is moved by Mrs. Sorensen’s new relationships and understanding of the joys and pains of her marriage, a rich response that contrasts nicely with the sweet simplicity of most of the story.

“The Girl in the High Tower” by Gennifer Albin gives the basics of a world and a mythology before the release of the last volume in her Crewel World series, which, based on this story, will delight readers who enjoy female-centered young adult fiction. Loricel was chosen to be in charge of Arras’s Spinsters, who manipulate time and space, but when it is her turn to name her successor, she decided she can’t do that to a young girl. It’s a hard job, part of which involves grisly organ transplants to keep the lead Spinster in working order. Loricel thereby becomes the rescuing fairy godmother in a sense, but she’s not above being helped by the next generation. Judging purely from this story, Arras is a rich fantasy world in which the bad guys are terribly bad and the good guys are terribly good. Whether that gets in the way of full enjoyment I can’t say, but I am looking forward to finding out.

“Nuestra Senora de la Esperanza” is set in George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards universe, which has been going strong for over 25 years. It’s an intriguing idea since various authors have set stories in this universe. Carrie Vaughn‘s story, the most recent, tells the story of Ana Cortez, who has powers that allow her to move earth and is recovering from the aftereffects of using that ability to bury an army. As a way to heal, she searches for her maternal grandmother in Mexico, who is a partly plant-based creature. The source of these abilities in not spelled out in this story, but to make a long story short, aliens are involved in modifying genes and it all has something to do with cards (Aces are the ones with superpowers and Jokers are deformed creatures and so on). The particulars of the universe are a distraction because it is hard to focus on Ana’s pain and her journey to restoration when one keeps asking oneself, Why cards? There is something jarring and not quite right about Ana in this world and one wonders what she would have been like if she hadn’t appeared in what is essentially someone else’s story.

Sometimes you save the dog, sometimes the dog saves you, but, generally, it’s mutual, which is as it should be since humans and dogs have developed over thousands of years to help out one another. “This Chance Planet” by Elizabeth Bear is a thoroughly entertaining and emotionally satisfying story set in a future Russia. Petra, our hero, needs a way to get money to finish her engineering degree and her boyfriend suggests she incubate a liver to get money, but not for her degree, but for his band. Petra, in a separate plot strand, meets a preternaturally clever dog who rides the metro during the day to keep warm and when the parts of the story come together, I will let you guess who does and does not survive in this particular triangle. Told with a voice that is both smart-assed and smart, the story is a joy from beginning to end and, even after the story ends, you cannot but smile when you imagine how life will go on for Petra.

Not your usual Halloween tale starring a vampire named Vlad, “A Kiss with Teeth” by Max Gladstone shows that hiding who you are from those you love deforms everyone. In addition, the story has amusing and telling asides about humanity and even offers a glimpse into the dehumanizing horror of being a schoolteacher. While the story is very strong, it is also composed of very short and choppy sentences, which get in the way of full enjoyment, especially since the story isn’t only told using these sentences, but Vlad speaks in them as well. They serve a purpose in both instances, both to portray the way in which the vampire has to slow himself down to pass as human and to emphasize Vlad’s foreignness, but the rhythm isn’t varied often enough. In addition, the same imagery (camellias and mints) gets used too often, though thankfully we do not get blood and pennies comparisons, which ought to be banned from all future vampire stories. Those stylistic points aside, this is a layered and memorable vampire tale.