At the Mouth of the River of Bees

by Kij Johnson | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 9781931520805 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingGoryDetailswing of Nashua, New Hampshire USA on 6/13/2019
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1 journaler for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Thursday, June 13, 2019
I got this slightly-battered softcover from an online seller, for another release copy. This is a truly marvelous collection, some very dark indeed, some whimsical, and some heart-breakingly lovely... I'll be on the watch for more work by this author.

Among my favorite stories here:

"26 Monkeys Also the Abyss", a tidy surreal/magic-realism tale about a troupe of very special performing monkeys and the people they interact with.

"Fox Magic", based on the Japanese fox-spirit myths, but blending those with some lovely, poignant, and very disturbing aspects: the man whom the fox-woman falls for is subject to a kind of magical glamour, making him believe he's spent years in luxury with his beloved while in fact he's been living in the dirt and cobwebs of a ramshackle building for a few days...

"The Bitey Cat" is about a young girl and her beloved pet - who may be more than it seems. Or perhaps it's just a child's interpretation of scary events?

"The Horse Raiders" - oh, my goodness. This one, set on a unique planet with an unusual ecosystem, sketches an entire culture in the pages of a short story; two cultures in fact, one of them conquering the other. The first is a fascinating tribe that raises horses and dogs, not unusual for a nomadic people, but these have lovely relationships with their animals, especially with the intelligent and loyal dogs. The second, also nomadic, are closer to historic Mongol hordes in the way they take what they want and slaughter the rest - horrifying and tragic. But then (and this is all in a short story, mind you) we learn why they're so desperate, and we (as well as the survivor of the first tribe) get to know them - reluctantly and bitterly, yet believably. This one really impressed me, tragic as it was overall, and there is some hope in the conclusion. But it's so rich in detail that it felt like a novel!

"Dia Chjerman's Tale" is bleak-SF, the story of spaceships manned by piratical men who've systematically captured and enslaved women for generations - brutality sketched out clearly, and then given a neat twist in the final paragraph.

"At The Mouth of the River of Bees", the title story, is nothing short of awesome. I loved this so much it's hard to describe! Sure, in part it's because it had to do with beloved pets who are nearing the ends of their lives, a subject guaranteed to tug at my heart, and the way it's handled here had me sobbing aloud (not in a bad way, mind), but it's much more than that. It opens with a woman getting stung by a bee - one sting on her hand, nothing traumatic, but enough to motivate her to take her beloved, aging German Shepherd Sam on a road trip. And it's while on the road, many miles from home, that she winds up behind a barrier due to the river of bees up ahead... Um, OK? Turns out that actual rivers of bees are a known phenomenon in this world; most people just wait them out, waiting the hours or days until the river has passed and the roads are navigable again. But some decide to follow them... The story includes some lovely scenes of Linna and Sam with the other folk waiting for the river to pass, and it introduces her choice to follow the bees as an eccentric but accepted choice:

"She laughs, suddenly ashamed. 'How can you be so calm about this? I know this is all insane, and I'm still doing it, but you - '

'This is Montana, ma'am,' Tabor says. 'Good luck.'"

Where the bees go and what happens when Linna gets there I'll leave for the reader to discover. But oh, I loved this story!

"Ponies" is a sharp little chiller, elegant and nasty, about little girls and their beloved sparkly ponies, and the bonding rituals needed for those who want to "belong". {shudder}

"The Man Who Bridged the Mist" is a longer story than most here, set in a world where a kind of "mist" that is not solid but also not water-vapor flows through certain channels, dividing the lands. There are people who ferry boats across the mist, though that takes skill and daring - and timing, to avoid the huge creatures that dwell in the mist. And the story focuses on an architect who's been tasked with bridging the mist in one key place, with plans to do more. Fascinating world-building here and some really nice characters.

"The Evolution of Trickster Stories" - this one was tough; it's about dogs in a world where they can tell their own stories, which are often tragic, and even though a human does her best to help some of them, there's not an unequivocally happy ending.

Other stories include a disturbing look at a lost spacefarer trapped in a rescue pod with an alien, an amusing spin on the concept of Schroedinger's Cat, and "The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles," a story that was expanded into the standalone novel Fudoki.

Released 1 mo ago (6/18/2019 UTC) at Little Free Library, Newbury Beach in Newbury, New Hampshire USA

WILD RELEASE NOTES:

I left this book in the charming Little Free Library with its view of Lake Sunapee on this beautiful day; hope someone enjoys it!

[See other recent releases in NH here.]

*** Released for the 2019 Pollinator Celebration release challenge. ***

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