AT THE MOUTH OF THE RIVER OF BEES (short story collection) by Kij Johnson
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.
Learn more about this amazing writer here or find this collection on Amazon.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED 5/5 STARS
Paul Genesse, Author of the Iron Dragon Series and Editor of The Crimson Pact Series