At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson
Small Beer Press, Easthampton, MA 2012
It is unusual to come across a collection of stories that is emotionally deep and, at the same time, chilling and even horrific. I have loved Johnson’s writing since I read The Fox Woman years ago and ordered this book as soon as I heard about it. Not keeping up with fantasy publications, none of these were familiar to me. I find them difficult to describe. Most feature animals, there are aliens and most feature humans in all their strange and convoluted glory.
All moments are this moment. Past and future jumble together: Jingu cannot say which is which. And because everything — sorrow and anger and love and grief — is equally immediate, she finds herself strangely distanced from her own life. It is as though she listens to a storyteller recite a tale she has heard too many times, the tale of the empress Jingu. From The Empress Jingu Fishes, page 109.
Built with elements of folk and fairy tales, mythology and science fiction, the stories bend and twist out of those forms and enter what I consider the realm of slipstream. Some are are made of memory and there are often stories within stories. Johnson travels to unfamiliar places, even for fantasy. I find myself wanting to follow her, as long as I am sure I know the way back.