Retro Review: Warrior Wisewoman (2008)

Edited by Roby James

Norilana Books (2008)

ISBN: 9781934169896

This collection, edited by Roby James, is touted to be inspired by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s long-running (even after her death) Sword and Sorceress anthologies. Where S&S were fantasy collections, Warrior Wisewoman purports to be science fiction with strong female characters taking the lead. I think the title, Warrior Wisewoman actually doesn’t do this goal justice, as to me, both title words indicate fantasy, as does the cover artwork, but regardless, that was the charter the contributors submitted to! Twelve stories, one of them by New Zealand author Douglas A. Van Belle, whose name, incidentally, was the only one that I recognised in any way. However, I imagine that many of the authors in the pages of Warrior Wisewoman will be seen in many more forums in the future.

Van Belle must be chuffed to be leading the anthology with the well-built story “Ungraceful Cliff Dwellers”. While I found the point-of-view confusing initially, as the story progresses the situation clarifies, becoming a fascinating and complex piece.

While the warrior is clear in “To Find Home Again” by Rose Lemberg, it is disturbing in its representation of slavery. Intricately drawn but inherently dark and leaving a not-so-nice taste of feminine submission at the end.

“Heaven Shed Tears” by Catherine Mintz is a short piece, filled with symbolism but perhaps not as much story as others. Still, it is touching, despairing and hopeful at once, no mean feat in such a small space.

“An Ashwini Apart” by Bhaskar Dutt is a dark and disturbing story, told exceptionally well in the first part. However, the switch to a different point of view means the second half does not have the same impact: the solid and conflicting ending makes up for it.

“A New Kind of Sunrise” by Nancy Fulda is a conscience piece about climate and drought. I’m not sure the ending really worked for me.

Cleverly written and touching, “Faith”, by Fran LaPlaca, tears at the heartstrings and reflects the strength many women must draw on following the loss of a child.

“Among the Wastes of Time” by Mary Catelli is thought provoking, racially inspired piece about rights and life and death. And a mother’s grief…

“Keepers of the Corn” by Anna Sykora aspires to the folk tale mythology but doesn’t quite work for me. The ending feels rushed and uninspired.

“As Darwin Decreed” by Peg Robinson is a complicated story debating ethics and morality, once again influenced by a mother’s loss that could change the world.

“Christmas Wedding” by Vylar Kaftan, about three women in a post-apocalyptic society, seemed overly sentimental overall. At the same time though, it examines some interesting ideas about what might happen after a major, world-changing, natural disaster.

“Ice Queen” by Colleen Anderson is a very science-oriented SF story that delves into what it means to be human. I particularly liked the way that backstory for the main character evolved almost sneakily to show a deeper picture underlying the surface plot. A clever piece.

“Only a Personal Tragedy” by Sally Kuntz is a powerful final story for the collection that aims for the grandeur of the search for world peace and the role of one young girl in achieving this goal. I’m not sure the story isn’t overly subsumed by the preaching, but it is well-written and a solid ending to the collection.

As might be expected with a collection of this type, most of the stories deal in some way with the juxtaposition between a woman’s vulnerability and her inner strengths. Inevitably, this theme becomes a little wearisome over the course of a dozen stories, but on the whole, the variety in the execution of the works contained here makes up for this similarity.

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