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Clockwork Phoenix 4--a partisan review

Clockwork Phoenix 4 is nearly out, and oh my goodness, the stories. There’s not a single bad one, and there are some amazing gems. I know whereof I speak; as the anthology’s proofreader, I read each one very carefully. (I apologize in advance if any typos got by me!) So, this is not a disinterested review, it’s a partisan recommendation.

I’m going to focus on just four stories, the stories I found myself thinking about for the longest time after reading them, but I‘ll have shoutouts for a handful more at the end.

The first, by Nicole Kornher-Stace, has a huge title: “On the Leitmotif of the Trickster Constellation in Northern Hemispheric Star Charts, Post-Apocalypse.” These are ominous star charts, drawn in pine pitch on birch bark, on horsehide, carved on whalebone, spray painted on brick. Two—gruesomely, but appropriately, for the story—are laid out on human skin, one etched, one painted. The harsh myths attached to the constellations dovetail with the personal story of Archivist Wasp, imprisoner of ghosts, herself a prisoner. It’s a flawlessly told story in a vivid, brutal post-apocalyptic world.

The second, by Kenneth Schneyer, makes a great companion piece to the first. This one also has a doozie of a title, “Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer.” Where “Leitmotif” was told in and around an archive of star charts, “Program Notes” is told through notes for a painting exhibition. (These come with study questions that are hilariously apt examples of the form.) Although the notes are resolutely focused on Latimer’s changing art style, we readers can understand from them her loves, her difficult relations with her parents, and her supernatural gift. The notion of “highlight figures”—actualized ideals of a person, which Latimer paints with supersaturated brightness—lingered with me long after I finished the story.

Now we take a step back in the anthology’s order for a story by Corinne Duyvis, a story with one of the shorter titles in the anthology, “Lilo Is.” I enjoyed this story so much that after I finished it, I grabbed a family member and made her read it so I’d have someone to talk to about it. The titular Lilo is the daughter of a single mother who wants the best for Lilo, wants Lilo to be happy in herself and with herself, but who struggles as a parent because Lilo’s father was a spider demon, and consequently Lilo’s eating habits and anatomy present difficulties. Lilo’s mother loves her wholeheartedly, though, and the way she helps Lilo deal with Lilo’s differences is really touching (and Lilo really is persuasively, believably arachnid).

The last of my four is Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s “The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly.” This story was refreshingly science fictional and also refreshingly non-European in setting. How I basked in that! The river the protagonist wades through is the Prayapithak; the cities in which she chases down unpermitted images of herself are Samutthewi, Yodsana, and Laithirat. New syllables for the tongue, and different scents, too: coconuts and frangipani and orange blossom.

In the futuretime of the story, memory is held in common, and any person altering it alters it for everyone. That’s what Sennyi’s sister did: run away and erase almost all traces of her existence. Sennyi, who’s terminally ill, resolves to solve the mystery of her sister’s disappearance before she herself dies. Sennyi also resolves to replace her own heart with a hunting bird—but gets given bees instead. I won’t spoil the rest of the story; I’ll just add that those bees are more than just a storytelling flourish. They are plot relevant, and the story is as much about revolution as it is about family, and as much about personhood as both of those others.

Those are the four, but you also owe it to yourself to catch “Trap-Weed,” Gemma Files’s awesome story in which a male selkie (I feel the need to specify since so often the selkies we see in stories are female) and a shark-were (not a were-shark; a shark-were) team up to mutiny against the sorcerous and piratical (and cursed—and handsome) captain who’s forced them to serve him. The power dynamics, the dialogue, the magic—mmm, very, very delicious. Then there’s Shira Lipkin’s “Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw,” which answers the question, what happens when a lonelyhearted vampire falls for a vivacious werewolf, and all this is witnessed (. . . or caused) by a barfly witch who has issues of her own? And finally, there’s “The Old Woman With No Teeth,” by Patricia Russo, whose eponymous protagonist keeps on interrupting the narrator as he tries to tell her story. I wish I could give you a quote, but they’re so neatly embedded in the story that it’s hard. It’s signature Patricia Russo, though, and she’s always good.

And, as I say, all the stories are good. Tanith Lee’s “A Little of the Night,” Ian McHugh’s “The Canal Barge Magician’s Number Nine Daughter,” and Cat Rambo’s “I Come from the Dark Universe” create rich worlds; Richard Parks’s “Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl” and A. C. Wise’s “Lesser Creek: A Love Story, A Ghost Story” are quiet ghostly (and watery) love stories. Camille Alexa’s “Three Times” is also a watery love story, but very different, and like “The Bees Her Heart . . .” it features a non-European setting. Barbara Krasnoff’s “The History of Soul 2065” encompasses a whole lifetime. The protagonist of Alisa Alering’s “The Wanderer King” is struggling with some very legitimate guilt over her actions during an ethnic conflict, while the protagonist of Yves Meynard’s “Our Lady of the Thylacines” has a struggle of a different sort ahead of her. Marie Brennan’s “What Still Abides,” an Anglo-Saxon-era story told in Anglo-Saxon cadences, neatly subverted my expectations, and Yukimi Ogawa’s “Icicle” played with some of the ideas and details of Japan’s snow-woman story in a way I quite liked.

I highly recommend the anthology! (Preorder links here.)


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 8th, 2013 07:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the recommendations. That definitely sounds like a must read anthology.
Apr. 8th, 2013 07:58 pm (UTC)
You are very welcome! I enjoyed the book tremendously.
Apr. 8th, 2013 08:41 pm (UTC)
I've got Clockwork Phoenix 4, and it just got jumped to the top of the TBR. Also, I am just loving these overly long titles for short stories.
Apr. 8th, 2013 10:16 pm (UTC)
Oh good! I look forward to your review! So far, people have had a variety of different favorite stories, it seems.
Apr. 8th, 2013 11:02 pm (UTC)
Wow! Thanks so much, Francesca! Can I just nitpick one teensy thing: the title is "[blah blah blah] star charts, post-apocalypse."
Apr. 8th, 2013 11:04 pm (UTC)
OMG yes you most certainly can! D'oh! Will correct right now!
Apr. 9th, 2013 04:45 pm (UTC)
I could not resist and ordered it right off. Thanks for the link.
Apr. 9th, 2013 05:01 pm (UTC)
The editor will be so pleased! I hope you like it :-)
Apr. 10th, 2013 04:21 am (UTC)
The editor thanks you.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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