Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
Title: Warrior Wisewoman 3
Editor: Roby James
I'll admit, when I first received this book and looked at the title, I was slightly
concerned that I was getting into part three of a Conan-style fantasy that I hadn't
dived into before . . . but it was recommended by a friend, so in doing my friendly
duty I had to give it a shot. And then I looked a little closer at the cover (and
remembered that my friends are pretty intelligent people). Vera Nazarian's classic
busts of women against a star-filled backdrop, with some sort of satellites in the
foreground, hinted at a bit more than She-Ra and the Power of Grayskull.
The enclosed tip sheet (thank goodness for advance readers and marketing copy)
and Roby James's introduction explained the purpose of the book a lot better: the
Warrior Wisewoman books are meant to be the sci-fi sisters to Marion Zimmer
Bradley's Sword and Sorceress fantasy anthology series. Both feature stories with
strong women in prominent speculative roles, but on opposite ends of the
spectrum. James comments in her introduction that over the years she has been
impressed with the increasing number of male authors who "make the cut" to get
into the final WW table of contents. This, the third installment, has the largest
percentage of male authors by far.
True as that may be, who-wrote-what was not my first priority when I opened the
cover and dove in -- I just wanted to be impressed by good stories. I have to say, I
The first hurdle any reader of sci-fi encounters is the world-building. In novels, it
sometimes takes entire chapters to explain the world, the climate, the politics, and
the foreign races. Only after these is the reader allowed to get to the point. A short
story does not afford that luxury. I was curious as to whether or not 1) the authors
would be able to pull it off, and 2) I would be able to read more than one story in a
sitting without being confused as to which world I was in at the time.
My hat's off to James and her stable of authors -- I read the book from cover to
cover in only a few sittings, and each story still stands out in my memory. There
were nineteen stories spread across roughly three-hundred pages, and while maybe
one or two of them felt too short, none of them struck me as too long. The stories
were set in suitably complex sci-fi worlds, but they were all strong, emotional,
character-driven stories. The female theme carried throughout, dealing with every
aspect from nurturing and empathy to war.
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Stand-out stories for me -- though ask me tomorrow and my mind might have
changed -- included "The Truth One Sees" by Kathy Hurley, which involves a
tarot deck and a fortune teller whose abilities let her see beyond the veil to the
phase-shifted aliens with which her fellow humans unknowingly share their planet.
"Natural Law" by Alfred D. Byrd concerns the dilemma of a compassionate
woman who exercises her power to preserve the natural order of humans by
genetically manipulating the populace. My favorite by far, however was Paul
Abbamondi's "Sustain Nothing," where the world wide information database has
evolved into the biological computer-minds of walking, talking humans. He had
me in the first paragraph, at ". . . and there were 5026 registered wishes on last
night's falling star." I'm a longtime fan of Paul's artistic endeavors, but I look
forward to reading more of his fiction in the future.
All in all I finished Warrior Wisewoman 3 a very satisfied reader, wishing only
that I had heard about this series before.
Author: Barry Lyga
The coolest thing about hunting down authors you really like at conventions is that
sometimes they give you free books. The tough thing about hunting those authors
down is that you need someone who's met them before to point them out in the
crowd while wandering through Baltimore Comiccon. Otherwise, you'll pass them
three or four times and never even know it. Luckily, this year I had a friend with
me to point out Barry Lyga, who gave me a copy of his new YA book, Archvillain.
From his history writing such classics as The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy
and Goth Girl and Goth Girl Rising, Lyga is no stranger to the underdog. The trials
and tribulations of twelve-year-old Kyle Camden (for I can only assume there will
be future installments in this series) call upon everything in Barry's arsenal as a
long-time comics geek (and employee) himself. In prose only, he creates the
quintessential story of the anti-hero. Our archvillain.
No bad guy (barring a few of the characters in the Warhammer universe) honestly
feels he is a bad guy. He usually thinks that his actions will in some way make the
world a better place. A perfect example would be Alan Moore's Ozymandias,
whose plan was to decimate the world's population and unite humanity against a
common enemy -- the survivors would be in no short supply of, well, anything,
and they would care about each other instead of wandering lonely in cities
populated by millions. Unfortunately, that whole "decimate the world's
population" aspect really put a damper on things.
Much like Ozymandias, Kyle means well. He was already an arrogant genius
before his encounter with the plasma curtain that bestowed upon him supernatural
abilities. It's not his fault that his parents won't watch the brain-enhancing DVDs
he made them so that his mother will finally know how to cook and his father will
lose weight. It's not his fault that no one can see past the new kid Mighty Mike's
superhero exterior and realize that he's an alien from another planet. And he chose
to be called The Azure Avenger, not "The Blue Freak." Why can't the papers get it
right? Who is the real nemesis here?
Lyga does a phenomenal job of keeping us sympathetic to Kyle's plight. We root
for him to make better decisions, for someone to notice all the good he's doing, for
something to go in his favor for once -- it just never happens. And when
everything goes pear-shaped, we pinch the bridge of our noses and hang our heads
and feel embarrassed for Kyle because we were in a situation just like that once,
and it's exactly how we felt. Nobody means to be the bad guy. Especially us.
While this slender volume is meant for the younger crowd, I encourage anyone
who was a fan of The Watchmen -- or for the true geeks, James Maxey's cult
classic Nobody Gets the Girl -- to pick up this book. It's a quick read you will be
happy to pass off to your children, just like I'm about to pass this one along. I had
Barry sign it to them, of course. But I called "dibs" and got to read it first.
Read more by Alethea Kontis