Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Non-Birthday Review: Stories of Marie Brennan

I haven't done a Birthday Review in a bit, and it occurred to me that I had never done a collection of my Locus reviews of Marie Brennan's short fiction ... and I realized that there are some people whose birthdays I don't know. But that's no reason not to post about their wonderful short stories! So here is what I've written about Marie Brennan's short stories in the past dozen years or so:

Locus, March 2008

The Fall On Spec has three nice fantasy stories – each managing to be somewhat traditional and yet quite clever and original. Marie Brennan's "Nine Sketches in Charcoal and Blood” tells of a curious group of seemingly related people at the auction of a dead man’s effects – what sinister secret links them to each other and the dead man, and on what are they bidding? 

Locus, January 2009

I was particularly impressed by Marie Brennan’s “A Heretic by Degrees” (Intergalactic Medicine Show, December). It’s set in a strikingly artificial setting – I was reminded of Ted Chiang’s “Exhalation” and Will McIntosh’s “Linkworlds”, to name two other 2008 stories. Brennan’s story opens it what seems a somewhat conventional fantasy world, as the new Councillor Paramount feels pushed to heretically suggest that they look “outside the world” for a cure for their dying King. And soon the Councillor is journeying to a series of strange quite separately and increasingly small “worlds”. Brennan does not content herself with simply displaying this odd universe – we get a similarly odd, and unsettling, explanation, as well as a satisfying and unexpected solution to the Councillor’s (and the King’s ) problem.

Locus, April 2009

From the first 2009 issue of Abyss and Apex I enjoyed "Letter Found In A Chest Belonging To The Marquis de Montseraille Following The Death Of That Worthy Individual", by Marie Brennan, which movingly tells of a man’s love for his wife and their involvement in a rebellion, which led to her death – and how he tried to fix that.

Locus, June 2009

An online source of fiction in much the same mode as Black Gate is Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and in April they published four more fine stories. I’ll mention two: Marie Brennan’s “Driftwood” is set in her curious universe where different worlds crash together eventually to disappear – here we meet a woman who has somehow survived the death of her world for centuries.

Locus, June 2011

I had a lot of fun with Marie Brennan’s “Love, Cayce”, in the April Intergalactic Medicine Show. It’s feather light, but not intended to be anything else, telling very humorously of the harrowing adventures of Cayce and a group of her young friends, trying to accomplish a quest (or quests) to compare with their parents’ tiresomely rehashed adventures. Brennan also appears in Beneath Ceaseless Skies with “Dancing the Warrior”, a novella that serves to introduce Seniade, a 13 year old dancer who leaves her dancing school to become a warrior. It’s encumbered by its prequel status – there’s not much suspense as Sen encounters cruelty and hazing but will clearly succeed. Still, she’s an engaging character, and the forthcoming novels to feature her are likely worth a look.

Locus, June 2016

Marie Brennan’s “From the Editorial Pages of the Falchester Weekly Review” (Tor.com) is a smart story told as an exchange of letters between Isabella Camherst (Lady Trent) and Benjamin Talbot, who has discovered a cockatrice … escalating effectively to a commentary on fantastical zoology, and on the place of women in science. 

Locus, July 2016

Clockwork Phoenix is back, and its fifth number is another tasty mix of stories that test the borders of genre. Marie Brennan’s “The Mirror-City” is a lovely story turning on a nice conceit: two cities, Venice-like, that are mirror images of each other, reflected in the water; and the marriage that unites them.

Locus, April 2019

Uncanny in March-April includes three stories dealing with somewhat obsessive and ultimately hopeless love. My favorite is a lovely and rather dark tale of a magical school, “Vis Delendi”, by Marie Brennan. Thirteen masters of the school are examining an uninspiring student for the highest possible degree: vis faciendi, attainable only by one who can demonstrate a spectacular new feat of magic. And this young man, Harrik Neconnu, proposes to return a dead woman to life. This woman was a particularly brilliant student, killed in an accident – and she was also the granddaughter of the Opal Master, their leader. And so Neconnu demonstrates his technique, based on an old folktale – convincingly portrayed and quite dark in context – and then the story comes to a fully believable and somewhat wry conclusion.