Monday, January 28, 2019

Birthday Review: Short Fiction of Carrie Vaughn

Today is Carrie Vaughn's birthday. Vaughn is probably best known for her long series of novels about Kitty, a radio DJ who gets turned into a werewolf. Her more recent post-Apocalyptic series, with several short stories and the novels Bannerless and The Wild Dead, is very fine. And, as this selection of my reviews of her short fiction should show, she's written a lot of exceptional short stories.

Locus, January 2007

The October/November Weird Tales includes Carrie Vaughn’s “For Fear of Dragons”, a story with a familiar setup: a virgin who is to be sacrificed to a dragon bravely decides to kill the beast – but she learns that the real menace to her land might not be the dragon. The resolution is thematically perfect.

Locus, May 2007

Baen’s Universe features both fantasy and SF, but has expressed a slight editorial bias towards the latter. In June, however, I thought the fantasy stories rather better. Best of the SF is Carrie Vaughn’s “Swing Time”, a nice mixture of time travel and dancing, in which a woman cavorts between eras, always dancing, always encountering the same fascinating man, until the equivalent of the Time Patrol catches up with her.

Locus, June 2010

probably my favorite in Lightspeed's first issue (June 2010) comes from Carrie Vaughn. “Amaryllis” tells of a rather nice seeming future, but constricted, for ecological reasons. The protagonist is a fisher ship captain, and the story concerns her problems with a corrupt local official, and with a young crewwoman who wants a baby – but permits for children are hard to come by. It’s a quiet story, never spectacular, but strongly realized, well-characterized, effective.

Locus, September 2012

“Astrophilia”, by Carrie Vaughn (Clarkesworld, July), is set in the same future as her fine story “Amaryllis”, in which humanity has responded to environmental disaster by strictly limiting childbirth, and also by adopting generally anti-science attitudes This one is fine as well, and quite similar in tone to the previous one, Stella's household is dissolved during a drought, because their pastures have dried up. She is a skilled weaver, and so is taken in by another, richer, holding. They have a daughter about Stella's age, who is an amateur astronomer, using a salvaged telescope. She and Stella become lovers, and Stella is pushed to defend her against her conservative father's resentment – of the time spent doing observations, and of the very fact of the telescope's existence. It's a quiet story, sweet, hopeful, and well-grounded in presenting a future way of life.

Review of Fast Ships and Black Sails (Locus, December 2012)

Carrie Vaughn’s “The Nymph’s Child” is similarly romantic, opening with Grace Lark in prison, as her lover and Captain reveals her true sex to the Marshal who had assumed with everyone else that the notorious First Mate Gregory Lark was a man. The pregnant Grace is spared to bear her child, while the rest of the crew is hanged, and now, years later, her daughter might be thinking of becoming a sailor, and Grace doesn’t know how to react.

Locus, March 2013

At Lightspeed in February I also liked “Harry and Marlowe Escape the Mechanical Siege of Paris”, the “origin story” for Carrie Vaughn's ongoing steampunk series about a (dare I say) spunky Princess of England and her engineer friend, in a 19th century altered by alien “aetherian” technology.

Locus, July 2013

Carrie Vaughn's “Fishwife”, from the June Nightmare, is of course horror. It's set in a downtrodden village, where the men struggle to bring home any catch, and the women, the fishwives, are humiliated by the meager return they get for selling it. Then a strange man washes up on their shore … and he offers them riches – at the cost of a little sacrifice. A moral tale (as with so much horror) that resolves strangely.

Unfettered is a new anthology benefiting editor Shawn Speakman, a cancer survivor. Best here is Carrie Vaughn's “Game of Chance”. As noted above, Vaughn has a perfectly well established series to work in, but instead this is a standalone SF story about alternate timelines, and a group of people who try to alter history for the better, usually, it seems with ambiguous or worse results. The protagonist is a young woman who went off with this group partly as an escape from her affluent but stultifying life, and partly for love. But her ideas for alternations are mostly ignored, suggesting a similar stultification, until tragedy forces her in a different direction.

And finally to Asimov's, where Vaughn gives us “The Art of Homecoming”, Military SF (though not much concerned with military action) set in a widely populated interstellar milieu.  It's a warm story about a Major with the Diplomatic Corps, ordered to take some time off after she was held responsible for damaging trade relations with an alien species. She wonders if her career might be over, and considers other paths while visiting her sister and her sister's wife and their partner at a boutique farm on a colony planet. The particulars of Major Daring's military career and the incident that may have ended it aren't important here – the nature of home, and the different kinds of home, are what matters.

Locus, May 2016

In Lightspeed I liked, well, all the stories in April. Carrie Vaughn’s “Origin Story” is a good superhero (or supervillain) story, in which the heroine recognizes the villain robbing the bank she’s at … he was her boyfriend in high school. It goes kind of where you expect from there, quite nicely.

Locus, June 2016

Carrie Vaughn’s “That Game We Played During the War” (, March) is a moving piece about Calla, a woman who was a nurse for Enith during their war with the telepathic Gaant people. The war is over, and Calla is visiting Gaant, trying to meet and continue a game of chess she had been playing with Major Valk, whom she had encountered both in Enith and later after she was captured, in Gaant. This version of chess is unusual – because of the Gaantish telepathy – and it’s not so much the point – the point, of course, is how enemies can come to a peaceful meeting (and, too, how telepathy complicates that!)

Locus, June 2017

I quite enjoyed stories in the two April issues of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. From April 13 Carrie Vaughn offers “I Have Been Drowned in Rain”, a fairly conventional and modest quest story about the usual ragtag group trying to bring the rightful Queen back to her country to overthrow the Tyrant. Somehow they have made it almost there – what treachery can await? The story turns on the most suspect member of their group, a farmer woman they rescued from rape, who has cooked and cleaned for them, and who sings sad songs – but whom they don’t know. The story doesn’t really ever surprise, but it is well done and effective and makes its simple point just rightly.

Locus, October 2018

Carrie Vaughn’s “The Huntsman and the Beast” (Asimov's, September-October) is a fine gender-switched “Beauty and the Beast” variant, with Jack, the huntsman for a decent if slightly thick Prince, leading his lord and their party to a seemingly deserted castle. But it’s still inhabited – by a Beast, of course – and the Beast subdues them, and Jack offers himself as hostage for his Prince. The story can be guessed fairly well from that point – the Beast’s true nature, her backstory, and the crisis when the Prince returns, determined to rescue a loyal retainer who no longer wishes to be rescued. This is nicely done, and nicely handles the simple fact that the basic outline of the story is fairly clear from step 1 – there is enough new and honest here to take us happily to the expected (but not overdetermined) close.

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