Winter Well

While I work on new stuff, you get new stuff. This retro review is from May 20, 2013.

The review copy for this anthology came from the publisher via LibraryThing.

Review: Winter Well: Speculative Novellas About Older Women, ed. Kay T. Holt, 2013.Winter Well

It’s a feminist collection, right? The publisher’s name, Crossed Genres, seems like a pun on “crossed genders”. And all the writers are women, right?

Well, yes and no. Crossed Genres seems, from my research and having read two of their collections, more a literary crossbreeding program to produce new and vital offspring than a feminist project. Here, three of the four stories are science fiction. The remaining one is fantasy.

Yes, all the authors are women. Yes, there are what I would broadly interpret as “progressive” and “feminist” themes and issues which show up in these stories. Frankly, my interest in seeking out either in science fiction is limited, but I like thematic science fiction collections enough that I’ll put up with most any theme.

My prejudices on the table, my short verdict on these stories, none by authors I recognized, was that half of them work well enough for me to call them good and even the others are not flawed enough to call bad.

The specifics?

The bookend stories were my favorite.

The first is “To the Edges” by M. Fenn. It’s almost as if the setup was established using the Checklist of Progressive Cliches and Tropes. Non-white protagonist and husband? Check. Married Gays? Check. Corporations using terrorist outrages – which they probably committed – to take over cities and run them like military states? Check. Dangerous GMO crops? Check. Yet … Yet, the violent and broke America of bankrupt cities and anarchic country sides strikes me as too plausible – even if I envisage the path there very different from Fenn’s. Heroine Zed and her husband lose their City of Chicago jobs and decide to follow her vanished sister to her uncle’s farm in the wilds of Iowa and wipe their identities from the Cloud where most of cyberspace has migrated to. I appreciated the journey from Chicago and, having spent some time in the Loess Hills of Iowa, appreciated its use as a story ending. And I appreciated, despite the psychic tinge of precognitive dreams and the possibilities of the dead still having souls of a sort in the Cloud, Zed’s attempt to build a new community in this new Old West.

The other story I particularly liked was “The Second Wife” from Marissa James. A fantasy set in a Mayanesque world (I say Mayanesque because, while none of the details of culture and setting seemed off, I’m far from an expert on the Mayan), it follows Lady Akam, the titular character. Second wives are women marked by jaguar-spotted skin and possessing a magical power in their blood. They are not there to bear children for their husbands but to be sorcerers and advisors. The story opens with Akam’s third husband being decapitated by her soon to be fourth husband, Tupil. An ambitious lord, he wants her to clairvoyantly spy on a group of men approaching from the south. He wants to know their intent. When one turns out to be imbued with not only an odd determination and sense of destiny but some other unusual properties, she hatches a plan to change the trajectory of her put upon life and that of Tupil’s first wife to whom she has grown close. My only complaint with the story was that I thought the eventual nature of the relationship between that man from the south and Akam was a bit predictable and not enough emotional groundwork was laid to fully justify that plot development.

Copper” by Minerva Zimmerman begins with what seems a joke: private insurance investigator Meredith is informed her uterus has been stolen. But it’s not a joke at all. And theft of her frozen uterus from the warehouse where it is supposed to by cryonically maintained until implantation sets off a crime plot involving some quite plausible technological extrapolations and a disturbingly realistic world where most citizens are monitored for a variety of reasons by entities public and private. I think it needed to be a bit longer to fully explain some of the personal relationships and the nature of the Ballard enclave in the story’s future Seattle. The uterus, of course, raises the question of a family and children, and the story does touch on the nature of family loyalties and loyalties apart from the family. A near miss of a story for me.

I never really got past the setup of Anna Caro’s “This Other World“. It seemed unrealistic and founded on an ideological embrace of the value of the alien – quite literally here since its heroine is not only married to a woman but an alien one at that. Vonika is a human living on the world of the Kamish. She is an architect who has achieved a level of respect in that she is a teacher. However, war between Kamish countries threatens her world, and there is the demand of her wife that she undergo the Ha-Ran. It’s a ritual undertaken by the Kamish in their older years that, via social pressure, instruction, and chemicals, alters the brain to a psychic communitarianism. That conflict – to lose one’s individuality to please a lover – was well done. The other part of the story I liked was the important character of Bar-temah, another human living on this alien world and one of those immigrants out to stridently prove just how much he has embraced the mores and values of his new home. Those two parts of the story kept me from getting completely bored though I think this story could have been a bit shorter.

All the stories have women at the point in their lives where one set of options – children or love – are nonexistent or fading options. But they still have the power and will to steer their lives and shape the worlds around them.


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