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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, Fun Reading
I'm not a reader of SciFi and Fantasy, but I was persuaded to pick up this book after a review on NPR and I have no regrets at all. If I could assign this collection of short stories a flavor, it would be Bitter-Sweet. The theme that runs throughout the book is loss, but with hope.

The opening story, "26 Monkeys.Also the Abyss", alone is worth the price of...
Published on October 13, 2012 by A. Gaynor

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some of the stories are worth a read
Kij Johnson's At the Mouth of the River of Bees is the first collection of short stories that I've read from a single author. The stories are of various lengths and writing styles, and they all have some supernatural or paranormal aspect in their plots. The quality of the writing is excellent, but I had mixed feelings about the diverse assortment of tales. I found...
Published on December 22, 2012 by LewFer


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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, Fun Reading, October 13, 2012
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This review is from: At the Mouth of the River of Bees: Stories (Kindle Edition)
I'm not a reader of SciFi and Fantasy, but I was persuaded to pick up this book after a review on NPR and I have no regrets at all. If I could assign this collection of short stories a flavor, it would be Bitter-Sweet. The theme that runs throughout the book is loss, but with hope.

The opening story, "26 Monkeys.Also the Abyss", alone is worth the price of admission as we follow Aimee and her troupe of monkeys as they travel the Northwest as carnival nomads in an old bus, her charges performing a trick that Aimee doesn't understand, but accepts. The story line is clever and told in vignettes, not unlike viewing a slide show.

Other standouts include "Fox Magic", where a vixen falls in love with a human and creates an alternate universe where she appears to him to be a beautiful woman who resides in a grand manor. It is not an original theme by any means, but Kij Johnson's story telling is masterful enough to make the story feel fresh. The title story, "At the Mouth of the River of Bees" is a classic tale of love, loss, and hope as Linna, with her aged dog, discover a river of bees while on a road trip with no destination and she is driven to follow the 'river' to its end.

Among the remaining stories, I would have to count "The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles" as a favorite because of its simplicity and I would guess that in this case Ms. Johnson just let the story tell itself as she put the words down. "Wolf Trapping" is a haunting tale of obsession; "The Man Who Bridged the Mist" also deals with obsession, but on a human level.

Of the remaining stories, "Spar" is the most confusing due to its density. My first reaction was, "Huh?", and I was ready to pan it as the worst of the collection. But as I write this I can see that I was reading the story too literally; Ms. Johnson actually creates a capsule of isolation and deprivation and lets us ride along. The story only stands out because I found it to be so different from the others but not by any means worse, and maybe among the best.

So whether or not you are a reader of Fantasy Fiction, I can only say, without reservation, buy this book. There is only one caveat; be careful reading it in public if you tend to get emotional over a character or a story, or at least keep a box of tissue close at hand.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kick Butt Collection of Stories, November 14, 2012
This kick-butt collection of short stories does Kij Johnson proud. "26 Monkeys" is a funny little story of stupid animal tricks, and "At the Mouth of the River of Bees" is the story of a woman and her old dog going on a road trip, and "The Man Who Bridged the Mist" is the story of an engineer who builds a bridge over a monster-infested river. All of these stories have in common animals in one capacity or other, and many of the other stories in this collection also have to do with animals. It is a successful gambit for Ms. Johnson, as her animals are fully realized characters who bring the stories to life.

Heavy-duty emotionalism is Ms. Johnson's subject matter in this collection, and many of these stories pack an emotional wallop, either funny or contemplative or very, very sad. Another reviewer said have a box of tissues handy for this collection, and I have to second that recommendation. "At the Mouth of the River of Bees" nearly made me weep, and "Fox Magic" struck me as terribly sad as well. Some of Johnson's characters get what they want, some grow and learn, some suffer losses and gain little from them. This collection will engage you, it will push you, it will wring your heart. If you want stories that move you, this is your collection; if you like stories that are cerebral and cool, this book won't do it for you.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect., November 13, 2012
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This review is from: At the Mouth of the River of Bees: Stories (Kindle Edition)
Loved this collection so frigging much. Rarely any dead spots (Schrodinger's brothel? Wasn't sure about that one) but almost entirely beautiful, gentle, heartbreaking and strange. Somehow manages to make everything from bridge-building, to castaway jelly alien sex, to the stories cats tell each other, specific, sad and wonderful. Though you may feel a little bad about being a dog-owner, afterwards.

Plus, I basically want to marry the title of the collection, so there's that.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars INCREDIBLE COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES, March 30, 2013
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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED 5/5 STARS
Paul Genesse
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stellar collection of literary sci-fi and fantasy, November 26, 2012
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I'm a big fan of books from Small Beer Press, so it's no surprise that I fell in love with this excellent collection. Johnson is a brilliant storyteller, weaving mythical and science-fictional tales about humans and animals, science, technology, love, and grief. While I often find that a lot of good sci-fi is buried in lousy prose, that's not the case here--Johnson knows her craft and writes clean, marvelous sentences and descriptions that bring to life even the most unusual aliens and magical beasts.

I enjoyed so many of these stories, but the one that really blew me away was "Names for Water," a very short piece that starts out simply, with a girl running to class--yet ends light years away in a mystical journey that demonstrates the elegance of a great story as much as the hope of technology. The title piece made me cry, which is rare for a short story. "The Man Who Bridged the Mist," which won a 2012 Hugo award, is also here, and several others in the collection were nominated. A must-read for fans of sci-fi, fantasy, and myth/fairy tales.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some of the stories are worth a read, December 22, 2012
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LewFer (San Francisco, CA USA) - See all my reviews
Kij Johnson's At the Mouth of the River of Bees is the first collection of short stories that I've read from a single author. The stories are of various lengths and writing styles, and they all have some supernatural or paranormal aspect in their plots. The quality of the writing is excellent, but I had mixed feelings about the diverse assortment of tales. I found some of them to be quite enjoyable and memorable: 26 Monkeys Also the Abyss, The Horse Raiders, The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles, Wolf Trapping, At the Mouth of the River of Bees, and The Evolution of Trickster Stories. There were also a few that I disliked, namely Ponies (incredibly clever, but disturbing for me), Spar (I found it violent and without a satisfying conclusion), and Story Kit (confusing and too much work). The other stories were not as memorable. My favorite short story is The Man Who Bridged the Mist. The characters are colorful and true to life, in an innovative world setting with a strong, intriguing plot. Honestly, I wish this one story had been made into a novel. Yes, there is quite the eclectic mix in this anthology. Most of them are worth the read, there are a few clunkers, and also a few gems. Check it out if you're so inclined, but don't put it at the top of your To-Do list.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A wondrous mix of magic, fantasy, and deeply human emotions that's hard to pigeonhole - and all the better for it, December 14, 2014
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This review is from: At the Mouth of the River of Bees: Stories (Kindle Edition)
I knew nothing about Kij Johnson before reading At the Mouth of the River of Bees, but this incredible short story collection is enough to make me a fan for life. Johnson's stories are hard to pigeonhole easily; some feel like fantasy or science-fiction, but with such craft and literary finesse that they don't feel like simple pulp exercises. Others feel more like historical works, but are filled with such whimsy and creativity that they don't fit there either. And yet, that ability to transcend genres and expectations is half of the pleasure of River of Bees; the other is the way Johnson treats her themes, often forcing her characters to confront enigmas without obvious meaning and grapple with their own place in the world, or upending a way of life and watching as they attempt to rebuild. Sometimes, those enigmas take the form of magic tricks that baffle even the magician performing them; other times, they occur as natural phenomena as beautiful as they are utterly incomprehensible. Sometimes, the world being destroyed is that of a tribe whose isolation is shattered by a tribe of barbarians; other times, it's a cat who is forced to undertake a great journey after her house is destroyed. Whatever Johnson creates, she fills with life, depth, and richness, allowing her characters to experience both the wonder of their lives and the uncertainty that comes with being forced to confront things they never expected. But more than that, she does it all with humor and genuine emotion that makes every story resonate. There's the confused magician of "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss" who is haunted by her inability to understand where her vanishing monkeys go every night during her show. There's the confused john of "Schrodinger's Cathouse," where a silly pun turns into something both entertaining and bewildering. There's "The Man Who Bridged the Mist," who upends an entire way of life and has to come to terms with how he's shaping the world without ever meaning to. And then there's the woman tracking the source of a literal river of bees in the title story, who undergoes a truly remarkable journey in a way that left me in awe. There's not a truly bad story in At the Mouth of the River of Bees; yes, there are a couple that didn't work as well for me ("Spar" feels more like a short piece of something much bigger and a little provocative and edgy for its own sake, while "The Horse Raiders" feels like it's only just coming together when it ends), but even the weakest are filled with great writing, wonderful moments, beautiful images, and astonishing bits of wonder that are hard to forget. And at its best - the title story, "The Man Who Bridged the Mist," "The Empress Jingu Fishes" - River of Bees transports you to whole new worlds and places you with characters who soar, even in their brief pages. It's a wonderful collection, and it's enough to guarantee that I'll be checking out more Johnson after this.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, beautiful, July 24, 2014
The stories in this collection cover a range of genres, and many of them don't fit neatly into any single genre. A few are clearly science fiction, another few are straightforward fantasy, and I guess still others more or less fit into the categories of fabulist fiction or magic realism. But there's no genre-name that's both specific and general enough to characterize all the stories in this collection.

Not that such labeling really matters. I just have a book-reviewer's yearning to say something like "Kij Johnson is the best writer of ____ that I've ever read" -- and I don't know quite what to put in that blank.

Oh well; I guess I'll have to settle for saying that Kij Johnson is among the best writers of short stories I've ever read. Her stories are written with tremendous grace and technical skill, but more importantly, they're written with a vast sensitivity to human feelings. These are stories that take the reader to strange and wonderful places, and use that strangeness and wonder to show us things that lie inside of us, in our deepest core. As all great fiction does, they speak to us about what it is to be alive and human and a part of the world. There were a couple of pieces that rubbed me the wrong way ("Ponies," "Story Kit") or that seemed pretty light-weight and dispensable ("My Wife Reincarnated..."), but the amazing, deeply moving quality of all the rest simply overwhelms those few misses.

I read this book's Kindle edition, but this will be one of those books that I buy a hard copy of as well, just so I can have it in my bookshelf, where its binding will peer out at me at random moments, reminding me of a wonderful reading experience, reminding me that there is great art in the world.
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5.0 out of 5 stars High Craft: Wonderful Stories of Yearning ... and More, March 6, 2013
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I engage with stories - long or short - that resonate with that energetic space within me where lies the yearning and desire to Unfold and Become ... all that I Am and can Be. I hugely enjoyed this collection in all kinds of enjoyments of reading. There are a couple of stories that I love, due to these terms of engagement, and all of them I enjoyed engaging with. Additionally, for writers and aspiring writers, there is much here to learn about 'craft' and 'techniques'.

In a nutshell, there are 18 tales, originally published across the span 1993 - 2012 (one published here for the first time) and their collective scope, taken together, is 'broad'. I like 'broad' in a story collection. That does mean that there are some stories that I may not 'like'. Which is true here. Even those ones I don't feel resonant with or enjoy as story I do engage with as writing, quality writing, and can learn from.

The standout story for me is "The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles". This story is a true treasure; and it would make a most wonderful (short) animated film. The central character is Small Cat, whose home (ideal for the tribe of cats who commune and dwell together) is destroyed by earthquake and fire. And so Small Cat embarks on a journey and a quest ... to find. Always yearning, and never giving up the heroic goal, through both danger and support, Small Cat does find what she journeyed a thousand miles for. My Spirit danced as I read. I cried a little. I can't and don't ask for more.

Similarly, the story "The Man Who Bridged the Mist" also enticed me to dance within and with it. It is set in "Empire", where all the people seem to me to be of goodness (this is not an explicit declaration of the story), and all communities are ones of goodness. Kit is the architect of the bridge that is essential for Empire and Rasali is a ferrywoman who ferries across the river of mist, inhabited by fish and "Big Ones" - very dangerous work. It begins 'quietly'. Then, it stays 'quietly'. It is long, and so I had time to wonder; "how will it end?". And the story progresses - quietly - and I wonder again the same question. Which intrigues me greatly. And so I let myself be drawn into the story. At the end of the story (which is told across five years or so) Rasali makes a commitment to her yearning - to further, And Kit also. Very beautiful. Plangent, with the wistfulness that sometimes accompanies our relationship to our own yearning.

Other stories are very different. Some edgier. Some 'experimental'. "Wolf Trapping", another high, is 'about' our understanding of other sentience. The morality of the scientist, Richard, conflicts with the yearning of Addie, who is developing a relationship with a pack of wolves way beyond the experience and comfort of science. The opening story is wonderfully Ray Bradbury-esque, and is its own trueness. I mean this as a compliment of lineage. "Ponies" scared me in the same feeling way that reading the classic "Mimsy were the Borogoves" did all these years ago. And more good reading besides all these named. I have focused on 'yearning'. I read it in other stories here too. But then, yearning calls to me. You may equally love and like these stories and not experience them as ones of yearning.

Finally ... to return to writers and aspiring writers. There is lots of craft and techniques here. I distinguish the two. One of the highest of the high, for me, is when a story is written such to tell itself and it seems like it is not through the intermediation of these thing called words, but rather, it just flows into the imaginal mind. Frictionless. Telling. That is high craft. Both "The Cat Who Walked ..." and "The Man Who Bridged ..." were that for me. Straight telling into. Let me repeat. That such telling is high craft.

Be quiet and patient with these stories. And ... "The Cat Who Walked ..." is a treasure.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Animals, Compulsions, and Oppressed Women, December 15, 2012
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Sometimes an author needs a collection to redeem them with readers, a second chance to change a bad first impression..

My first experiences with Johnson did not warm me to her. I had read two of the stories here before. One, the award winning "Ponies", left me unmoved. The other, "At the Mouth of the River of Bees", I had forgotten all together.

But a successful collection can give an author another chance to make their case, another chance to impress, another chance to make a future customer and reader. And Johnson managed to do that with me.

Johnson's work, at least here, seems to feature two main themes: the relation of the human with the alien - usually presented in the special case of humans' relations to animals - and people moving under the force of mysterious compulsions. There is also a minor third theme of the indignities suffered by women throughout history.

There are a lot of animals in these stories: monkeys, foxes, cats and cat-like monsters, horses, bees, wolves, ponies of peculiar composition, and dogs.

"26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss" has one of those characters with a mysterious compulsion - to buy a strange primate act she sees at the Utah State Fair for one dollar. For the next four years, she watches the monkeys vanish during their act, go somewhere else in space and time. There is the mystery of how and why this is done - perhaps under the direction of the oldest, dying monkey. And there is the mystery of why her younger lover stays with her.

"Fox Magic" uses a medieval Japanese setting similar to Johnson's novels Fudoki and The Fox Woman. It's a long fairy tale about a female fox who develops a love for a young samurai lord and takes steps to magically bring him into her world. Since I'm not a lover of fairy tales, it didn't do much for me. However, "The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles", in a similar Japanese setting, charmed me with a story of a young kitten forced to roam the world after her home in Edo burns down after an earthquake.

Three year old Sarah has a cat too, sort of, in "The Bitey Cat", also one of my favorite stories in the collection. She knows Penny the Bitey Cat is really a monster in disguise, and one not terribly nice to her or anybody else. It's a nice riff on the theme of the protective imaginary friend or spirit that a young child turns to in traumatic times, here the divorce of Sarah's parents.

I found "At the River of the River of Bees" a lot more charming and moving the second time I read it - and it wasn't just the parochial interest of having lived around some of its eastern Montana settings. Its narrator has a compulsion to take her sick dog on a spur of the moment drive east where she eventually encounters the wonderful, punning, literalized abstraction of the River of Bees and feels the need to follow it to its source. It's a rumination on what we owe our pets.

To me, "Wolf Trapping", another of my favorite works here, was sort of a look at the pathological side of humans' love for animals. A wolf researcher doing field research in early winter in the Rockies encounters a disturbed young girl who wants to live like a wolf and is disgusted that she still needs a hatchet to substitute for their teeth.

If animals, especially our pets, are to be seen as sort of aliens that we share the earth with, two other stories can be seen as culminations of Johnson's use of this theme. "The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park" is after the Change which made mammals, including the ones we keep for pets, able to speak. And, while pet owners often claim they wish their pets could speak, the reality turns out to be much different. It was another one of my favorite stories. However, if pets are just domesticated aliens, "Spar" is Johnson's most startling take on alien encounters in the collection. Forced to take refuge in an alien lifeboat after a starship accident, she finds herself locked in continual sexual contact, with an alien. Raped and raping, violated and satisfied, hers is an existence unredeemed and unbroken by anything like communication. I'm not sure the ending works. I suspect Johnson may be going for something like the "white captive" stories that fascinated 17th and 18th century Americans, tales of women kidnapped and forced to live among Indians and how the ordeal forever altered them.

If so, that wouldn't be a theme alien to this collection. There is an undercurrent of put-upon women, a recasting of women's dire fate in history into the future. "My Wife Reincarnated as a Solitaire - Exposition on the Flows in My Spouse's Character - The Nature of the Bird - the Possible Causes - Her Final Disposition", with its witty, 18th Century English diction, tells of a man disapproving of his wife's spending and sexual appetite. And he's also clueless that his wife is having an affair with the local vicar. Eventually she escapes her marriage.

Escape is on the mind of the heroine of "The Horse Raiders" too. She has to contend with forces of an empire which kill her nomadic clan and kidnap her because of her knowledge of horses - an animal dying out on the rest of the planet. Her tale of resistance and compromise is reminiscent of conquered women through the ages. Being on the losing end of history and still surviving conquest and rape and the destruction of your civilization is womens' past and some womens' future in "Dia Chjerman's Tale", a story of endurance and not triumph. And "Ponies" seems a parable about the tendency of women to attack women in their moment of happiness.

There are some odds and ends that don't fit easily in any of the above categories. "Names for Water" has an engineering student taking strange cell phone calls. It's an ok story helped along by poetic language, here Johnson's typical present tense prose. "Schrodinger's Cathouse", rather like "Spar", is a story I'm ultimately not sure worked in providing a satisfying ending or thematic conclusion, but the trip was interesting. Playing on the famous metaphor of quantum indeterminacy, its narrator can't tell whether the object of his sexual desire is male or female even during their intimate moments. Lust, Johnson seems to say, can be narrowly focused on an individual and not a gender. "Chenting, in the Land of the Dead" is an Oriental fable of a Chinese scholar who decides to die early to be certain of a governorship in the afterlife. It has a twist ending but is nothing special. The titular character of "Empress Jingu Fishes" is a fascinating, semi-mythical figure in Japanese history and said to have conquered Korea. Johnson transforms the story into explicit fantasy by making her a shaman of the gods, one who has the power to clearly see the details of her future life. "The Man Who Bridged the Mists" was another story I found pleasant enough but nothing special except in the relationship between a bridge builder and the ferrywoman he is going to render obsolete. Finally, "Story Kit" was perhaps my very favorite story, a modernistic collage eventually linking writing maxims and techniques, the protagonist's divorce, and the mythic story of Dido and Aeneas. (And Johnson seems to follow one of the given writing rules in her stories: no adverbs.) It's a look at the alchemy that can transform a writer's personal life into a satisfying story.

So, while my conviction that the genre awards science fiction and fantasy readers and writers love have anything to do with real significance or lasting quality, I do have a better appreciation of Johnson, and she will be a name I remember and look forward to in the future. She's an accomplished stylist of the fantasy story.

[Review based on copy provided by publisher.]
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