Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Trio of Fantasy Stories by Women: Elizabeth Bear, Alyssa Wong, and Ursula Vernon

"The Bone War" by Elizabeth Bear begins with a fascinating premise. A wizard woman, Bijou,  uses magic jewels to bring the bones of long-dead creatures back to life, called “artifices.” She is hired to animate a pile of gigantic bones, the first dinosaur skeleton ever discovered, on behalf of a natural history museum. Working for two years, she finally accomplishes her task.

Bijou is said to not have much use for people, and she’s constantly annoyed with everyone who speaks to her. More than once, “[She] contemplated the insufficiency of her retainer.” Despite the magical ornamentations, she comes off as a crotchety old woman who wants us to get off her lawn, rather than a darkly powerful character. Is this the “war” the title refers to? Apparently it is, as Bijou spitefully names her creation after two of the scientists who have strong opinions about what they imagine the dinosaur should look like.

This story first appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Sept./Oct. 2015.


I read most of the May/June 2014 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, because it contained many of my favorite authors. But, oddly, I overlooked “The Fisher Queen” by Alyssa Wong, which I recently learned is a finalist for the World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction. Better late than never.

Lily works on  a fishing boat in the Mekong Delta along with her father. They catch many species of fish, but the strangest are called “mermaids” because of their slight resemblance to humans. It’s a family joke that Lily and her sisters are daughters of mermaids. But one day they catch a fish that talks, and it smiles at Lily and says, “daughter.” Unable to resist, Lily sneaks down to the hold, where the mermaid is confined. Author Wong’s tale is a rather fine reversal of the Celtic fairy tale of the salmon of knowledge. The mermaid offers Lily a wish in return for her freedom. The only catch is that Lily must agree to be bitten. And, like the Fisher King of Arthurian legend, she will carry the wound forever. Highly recommended.


Having just attended MileHiCon 47 in Denver, I had the pleasure of seeing Guest of Honor Ursula Vernon, but I hadn’t yet read her 2015 Nebula Award-winning story, “Jackalope Wives.”

In the high desert, magical women who are a cross between jackrabbits and antelope dance at night by firelight. Men find them irresistible.

Here we have another story with a grumpy old grandmother, this one stuck with the results of her grandson’s botched attempt to catch himself a jackalope wife. Instead of burning her rabbit coat, he’s pulled it out of the fire prematurely, and the girl has turned only half-human, a monster. The grandmother takes the jackalope/girl out into the desert to try to return her to her natural surroundings, searching a long time for the “right place” to make a sacrifice to the desert spirits. The Father of Rabbits appears and just happens to have a spare jackalope skin. Will the girl decide to return to being a jackalope, or become fully human? “it’s easier when you have a choice,” the grandmother says, revealing that she’s been there before herself.

A beautiful story, although I would also recommend Ken Altabef’s “The Woman Who Married the Snow” (July/August 2013 F&SF)

“Jackalope Wives” first appeared in Apex Magazine, and is available free on the website. It is a finalist for the World Fantasy Award 2015, Short Fiction

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