Last year, the same four novellas were nominated for Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards. My favorite of those four was The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson (the eventual winner of the World Fantasy Award). I wanted to try more stuff written by that author, and an Amazon search revealed At the Mouth of the River of Bees: Stories, a collection of 18 (!) of Kij Johnson’s short stories. Yahtzee.
I was not disappointed by the purchase. With eighteen (!) short stories, the book has more content than many anthologies that contain entries from multiple authors. The stories in the book aren’t all wispy little things; the paperback version of the book clocks in at around 300 pages. And it is packed with award-winners! “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” won the World Fantasy Award, “Fox Magic” won the Theodore Sturgeon Award, “Names for Water” was a Locus Award finalist, “Spar” and “Ponies” each won the Nebula Award, and “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” won the Hugo and Nebula Awards.
The variety of stories in this collection is staggering. Johnson generally writes lush, beautiful, descriptive prose, but some of her stories are intentional experiments in opposition to that style (“26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” and “Spar”). She writes folklore-ish and mythological tales of animals (“Fox Magic” and “The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles”) just as well as she writes George Saunders-esque literary explorations – with speculative trappings – of modern issues (“Ponies”). The stories run the gamut from science fiction to fantasy to just plain experimental strangeness (“Story Kit” and “Schrodinger’s Cathouse”). There are even a variety of Point of Views: some first person, some third person. There is not really a clear “theme” that runs through all of the stories, but I guess they generally concern relationships and connection to others, through communication and empathy. Or the lack thereof.
I would encourage anyone that wants to explore some of the best speculative short fiction that has been written in the last few years to pick up this book. You won’t be disappointed.
My rating: 5 stars