The story was that some people had learned to read again.—-line from “The Tip of the Tongue” by Felicia Davin.
That most conventional of female archetypes, the bride, figures in several of the unconventional stories in “Heiresses of Russ,” the 2016 edition of the best Lesbian speculative fiction of the year, edited by A. M. Dellamonica and Steve Berman and published by Lethe Press.
Leading off is the first of several award nominees, (Nebula nominee, shortlisted for the Hugo and Tiptree awards) “Grandmother-Nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds,” by Rose Lemberg. A story of gender fluidity, magic and deepnames where men and women live separately and nothing, even snakes, is what they seem. As is often the case in a magical world.
Benjanun Sriuangkaew’s “The Occidental Bride” is set in a future of guidance routines that take the form of cranes, and implants that regulate behavior. Heilui, a woman bought and sold for her mind, meets the biochemist who has purchased her as a wife.
“And We Were Left Darkling” by Sarah Pinsker, deals with people having dreams of children who exist and grow only in the minds of the dreamers. Then, inexplicably, the children show up.
“The Devil Comes to the Midnight Café” by A. C. Wise, has a more conventional, contemporary setting, or as conventional as a smoky jazz/blues club can be with a romantically inattentive superheroine battling a demon for the affections of her lover. Actually, a very sweet story.
“The Deepwater Bride,” by Tamsyn Muir plays a little at first like a Lovecraft-influenced episode of “The Addams Family,” with a macabre family exchanging quips. A wonky sense of black humor pervades young Hester Blake’s narration of the impending doom of her town, which she can foresee, and the intended sacrifice of the title bride who Hester starts having feelings for. The story is rightfully a multiple award nominee.
“Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong, involves Jen. Jen is a succubus of sorts who seeks out men; thieves, muggers and the like to satiate her hunger and absorb their essence. But when she absorbs a killer, her hunger becomes stronger than she can handle. This may jeopardize her relationship with Aiko, who “smells like everything good in the world” to Jen’s enhanced senses. But Aiko is unaware of Jen’s needs and she is in danger of becoming prey to Jen’s unearthly hunger. Another story worthy of its nomination for (and win of) the Nebula.
“Eliza, tell me your secret.”
“Fabulous Beasts” by Priya Sharma, grabs the reader from the opening line and doesn’t let go. A scene of transformation is vividly evoked in this winner of the British Fantasy Award.
The sea is full of mystery and in Melissa Scott’s “The Wollart Nymphs,” Thomasina Wright pursues the mystery of the disappearance of one of a trio of ships designed by her father. The ships have a special hull which may allow them to circumvent time to a degree. The story moves clipper fast with the feel of a pulp adventure story with a scientist father, disguises and even a magician!
“The New Mother,” by Eugene Fischer, plays with biology. Not much can be revealed about this one without spoiling the early startling revelation of the plot. Excellent. Tiptree Award winner.
Felicia Darvin’s “The Tip of the Tongue” spotlights an Earth where reading has been prohibited. Nanobots enforce illiteracy and even signs on shop fronts are painted over. A resistance group tries to re-train themselves to read starting with a single book.
“When Can a Broken Glass Mend?” by Sanya Taaffe begins with another bride, this one who marries a demon when she was in the age of dress-up and letâ€™s pretend. The story then moves ahead several decades when the demon returns in a story with the flavor of a fairy tale told in a sparse four-and-a-half page. Like at least one other story it previously appeared in Lethe’s “Daughters of Frankenstein.”
Faith Mudge’s “Doubt the Sun” closes the collection in fine style with a tale of a near-future and an ambitious girl who builds an android out of cast off parts. They build a relationship and the story jumps between the years in a disjointed fashion.
One other story, A. Merc Rustad’s “Where Monsters Dance” was reviewed earlier in this monthly column for its appearance in the anthology “Transcendent.” Like all the authors represented in “Heiresses,” it is well worth a read.
All in all, this latest addition to this Best Of series is a fine addition which bodes well for the future.
Jeff Baker blogs about writing and reading sci-fi and horror and other sundry matters around the thirteenth of every month. His fiction appears (under a couple of different names) in places like the upcoming QSF anthology “Renewal.” He appears on Facebook as “Jeff Baker, Author.” He also blogs and posts fiction at http://authorjeffbaker.com. He lives in Wichita, Kansas with his husband Darryl.