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WesternSFA
Dangerous Women
Edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois
$32.50, Tor, 784pp
Release Date: December 3, 2013
This is a hefty tome and yet I sped through it so very fast. There were so many great stories to read that I just had trouble putting it down. The contributing authors are: Joe Abercrombie, Megan Abbott, Cecelia Holland, Melinda Snodgrass, Jim Butcher, Carrie Vaughn, Joe R. Lansdale, Megan Lindholm (aka Robin Hobb), Lawrence Block, Brandon Sanderson, Sharon Kay Penman, Lev Grossman, Nancy Kress, Diana Rowland, Diana Gabaldon, Sherrilyn Kenyon, S.M. Stirling, Sam Sykes, Pat Cadigan, Caroline Spector and George R.R. Martin. What a stellar cast of some of the most popular writers today! The theme was simply: dangerous women. So every story featured a woman who was, in some way, dangerous. Some were straight fiction with nary a hint of SF or fantasy. So, here we go….

Joe Abercrombie’s offering is a western with a female desperado in desperate straits. A nice, tight little story, well-written.

Megan Abbott wrote of a desperate mother who doesn’t know what she wants, and the bewildered and terrified father of a missing child. Nicely plotted and a bit distressing.

Cecelia Holland revisits Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine and her husband King Henry but the focus of the story is their daughter, Nora, who wants to be either a hero or a king, or both. This one put me right into the era and yet the little girl’s perspective could be contemporary, as well.

Melinda Snodgrass gives us a real SF story of exotic aliens and sex. The protagonist is in lust with a forbidden alien, maybe it’s love, hard to say. But then this is also a suspense tale where the aliens have a hidden agenda.

One of the jewels in the book for me was Jim Butcher’s tale. Told from the viewpoint of Molly, Harry Dresden’s apprentice, it is pure Butcher/Dresden. We knew Molly had fallen on hard times with Harry’s death, but this puts us right into her life, such as it is. She has to try to save Thomas, Harry’s brother. And her Auntie Lea of the Sidhe, might be helping…or not. Don’t peek at the end, Butcher left us a present.

Carrie Vaughn departs from her usual fare and gives us a story of a Russian fighter pilot in WWII – a woman. This was a great story, not SF or fantasy.

Joe Lansdale gives us a Karate-Kid-type story but it was very good.

On to Megan Lindholm’s fantasy story and one of my favorites in this collection. This is about old women fading away. Sarah’s old friend Linda is crazy and missing. Sarah worries about her and she worries about her own mind. Her son wants to move her to a ‘home’ as if the one she was in wasn’t safe. And Sarah does begin to doubt her sanity when the fog and mist outside her house begins to show her people and places that are not real. Until she saw the little girl and belief shifted a bit in her mind. She decided the mist was opening a window to somewhere else and she would send things through – food, clothes and books to that little girl. But everything changes when her grown children decide they can do with her what they will which includes cleaning everything out of her house in preparation for moving her – and her will and opinion mean nothing to them. They have only her best interests at heart, of course. Anything is better than having her life taken from her by her own family so she decides to take her chances in the mist. Great story!

Lawrence Block’s story was creepy and disgusting but somewhat insightful. What does a killer think about himself?

Brandon Sanderson had a great story and since I’m unfamiliar with his work, I wonder if it’s part of a series. It is so well-plotted and characterized. A woman manages a way-station in a wood where dangerous creatures threaten humans unless kept at bay. And there’s a typical plot of her being manipulated by a man who is more interested in money and control but doesn’t appreciate what she really is. The world-building was great, particularly for a short story.

Sharon Kay Penman had a great period piece that harkens back to woman’s primary power – the power to birth – and the typical male dependence on possession and heirs.

Lev Grossman gave us a fun piece about a group of young would-be witches playing the usual college pranks. But when one head-strong little witch thinks she’s smart enough to outwit her professors, she finds herself running for her life from a ghost.

I enjoyed a charming story from Nancy Kress about a post-apocalyptic world where only strong, vital and fertile people are valued and many people have reverted to a hunter-gatherer existence. This story is from the viewpoint of a middle-aged woman acting as Nurse/Doctor to a roving band of people. As the band takes up residence in a particular place, the Nurse is confronted with memories of stories from her grandmother. And when some of the youngsters find old technology that still works and come to her for understanding, she is faced with a difficult decision. The technology is a recording device and the recording is of a ballet class. And the question becomes – is survival the only consideration in life? And what lengths might a person need to go to in order to insure beauty will still exist?

Diana Rowland has a cautionary tale placed in New Orleans . In this existence, the Mississippi River has changed course and abandoned New Orleans . The city is degenerating into complete corruption. And one woman decides it does matter what happens in her city.

And then came Diana Gabaldon. Diana is riding a wave of popularity which is sure to become a tsunami when her new TV show on Starz hits in June. And her fans can’t get enough of her Outlander stories; so it was almost expected that her short story entry would be set within the Outlander story. This one takes place when Jamie and Ian are very young men…and still virgin. As young men, both are very interested in divesting themselves of this condition but aren’t sure how to go about it. They are hired to convey a young Jewess to her betrothed but lose her. In the finding, they discover the young woman is anything but innocent and circumstances convince them they might be better off remaining…virgin.

Sherrilyn Kenyon has a story that she claims, in the first line, to be based on a true legend. Clever words. A group of young treasure seekers come to a ghost town in Alabama ; a town named for a Creek woman who was driven out of her general store. The woman laid a curse on the town; that it would eventually be gone and only gravestones would remain. But a legend persisted that her gold was still buried in an unmarked grave with her husband’s remains. One of the group, Creek in her ancestry, is a bit of a psychic and gets a first-hand view of life on the frontier as a Creek woman. After trying to get her friends to leave the poisoned ghost town to no avail, she then has to confront the shade of the dead woman and convince her to release the curse. Men may die with a curse on their lips, but women have a way of enforcing it from beyond the grave.

S.M. Stirling writes great alternate history tales and I’ve dabbled in one or two of his books so I know this story is placed within one of his worlds, the Change series, I think. In this post-apocalyptic Oregon , people have found structure and comfort in adopting customs from the medieval world, a la the Society for Creative Anachronism. In this tale, a woman leader is called upon to pronounce sentence on a rapist. She is fully aware of how much the world has changed and why things must be done differently but neither the rapist nor the community where the crime took place has come fully to terms with the changes. It was a nice soliloquy on a warm summer day.

Sam Sykes has another cautionary tale that warns that the beast we fear might feel the same for us. It was an okay story; I didn’t care a lot for it.

I had trouble with Pat Cadigan’s story. It took place in a nursing facility and had some confusing story about nurses drugging patients to make them better…I think. I read it twice and still didn’t get it. But since I found at least two slang terms derived from the gaming and computer culture that are not yet in common speech, it might be that I also missed the point of the story.

Caroline Spector has often contributed to George Martin’s Wildcard series and I totally loved her contribution set in that universe. In the Wildcards universe (for those gentle readers who haven’t yet had the pleasure), people infected with the alien wildcard virus have three consequences: they die, they turn into grotesque creatures (a Joker), or they end up with a ‘power;’ an enhancement of a sense or an unnatural ability (an Ace with a great power or a Deuce with a useless power). In this story, a woman with an Ace power and a history of being a heroine is being targeted by someone. Someone is hiring low-life Aces to attack her friends and family. But the dangerous woman in this story isn’t our heroine; it’s her friend who has always hid behind her own power, a way to keep the world at bay. This woman was pushed enough that she finally became a force to be reckoned with; which goes to prove that one should let sleeping dogs lie.

And finally…George R.R. Martin himself. In this book he takes us to the world of Westeros, the land of Fire and Ice, but generations before the events in his Game of Thrones stories. It’s not too different, actually; people are fighting for the right to sit on the Iron Throne. Martin relates the events later characterized as the Dance of the Dragons wherein we learn the fate of the last dragons of the Targaryens. It is presented as a historical account and is fascinating reading; particularly of interest to anyone involved in his Fire and Ice series, either the books or the TV show. ~~ Catherine Book

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