“At the Mouth of The River of Bees”, by Kij Johnson is a group of eclectic and imaginative science fiction short stories that feature not only humans but also animals including cats, bees, wolves, dogs. If reading the unimaginable and quirky is your style, then “At the Mouth of The River of Bees” is a book that must read.
Johnson is an established fantasy and science fiction writer, who has worked in publishing: managing editor for Tor Books and Wizards of the Coast/TSR, collections editor for Dark Horse Comics, project manager working on the Microsoft Reader, and managing editor of Real Networks. She is also the Associate Director for the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, and serves as a final judge for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. Johnson has won awards including Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the best short story of 1994 for her novelette in Asimov’s, “Fox Magic”, the International Association for the Fantastic in the Art’s Crawford Award for best new fantasy novelist of the year. As well has been nominated and been placed on the final ballot for the 2007 Nebula and in 2010 won the Nebula for Spar, and the 2011 Nebula for Ponies. In 2012, she won both the Nebula and Hugo for “The Man Who Bridged The Mist”.
In 2009, Johnson also won the World Fantasy for “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”, which starts out the collection of short stories in “At the Mouth of The River of Bees” stories.
“26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”, is a whimsical, magical realism and emotional story based on a traveling monkey show. I found myself laughing through the story, as well as shedding tears along the way. Great touching lines, “They like visiting wherever it is, sure. But this is their home. Everyone likes to come home sooner or later.” Johnson told this story in a clever way by using vignettes. It was quite disturbing though how much I could relate my life to this story.
I must say that I found “The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles”, to be a simple yet uplifting story of adventure and finding your own stories in life. After chasing the stories that she had been told, Small Cat, set out of her own journey to find the home where The Cat of the North had lived. Never finding the exact place, what Small Cat realized was that she made her own stories along this journey and at the end found not only a home and a life, but someone to share her stories with.
It is hard to pick a favorite story from this collection, but I must say that “At the Mouth of The River of Bees”, is hands down my favorite. All I am going to say on this story is have your tissues ready for a sob fest. Johnson uses great imagery in story, as well as, great metaphors and analogies, such as, “a dark mist like the shifting of a flock of flying starlings, like a pillar of gnats over a highway in hot August dusk, like a million-tiny fish changing direction. South to north, the river runs like cooling lava, like warm molasses. It might be 8 feet deep, though in places is much less, in others much more. It changes as she watches … “.
The clear theme throughout each story is loss. Loss of home, loss of friends, loss of life, but there is a clear picture of hope to compensate the loss. Whether you are a fan of fantasy fiction with a little magical realism thrown in, without reservation I must tell you, read this book. But remember that if you are like me, you might get emotional over a character or a story, so be ready for the waterworks.