Review: 'At The Mouth Of The River Of Bees'

Alan Cheuse reviews a collection of science fiction short stories by Kij Johnson, "At the Mouth of the River of Bees."

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A river made of bees, talking dogs, a cosmic love affair with an alien. You'll find these odd wonders and many more in the debut collection of science fiction stories from writer Kij Johnson. It's called "At the Mouth of the River of Bees" and Alan Cheuse has our review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: "It Starts With A Bee Sting," the title story of this wonderful first collection begins, as a woman named Linna leaves Seattle to take her ailing dog on a salutary road trip through the Intermountain West.

She finds the road is blocked east of Missoula by a bizarre phenomenon, this river made apparently of billions of insects, which Johnson describes in perfectly metaphorical terms. The air above the road, we read, truly is flowing darkness, like ink dropped in moving water. Linna chooses to take her dog and follow the river to its mouth.

And off on this quest she goes in a story so beautifully executed, most readers will follow her wherever she travels, which includes among other places, a forest in medieval Japan in a story called "Fox Magic" that recounts the affair between a vixen - a female fox - and a feudal nobleman whom the animal bewitches into thinking that she's a royal human personage. Bewitching, indeed.

And we roar up into outer space in "Spar," and feel the rush of a sexual escapade between a human woman and an alien that doesn't just push the envelop, it seals it and sends it off into the mails.

The story in the collection called "The Horse Raiders" reminded me a great deal of classic Ursula K. Le Guin, with its deeply imagined sense of distant other-planetary culture, its powerful female narrator, its vital sense of life, wherever we happen to live it, on Earth or in some distant constellation that's dying in a corner of the sky.

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CORNISH: Kij Johnson's "At the Mouth of the River of Bees," reviewed by our own Alan Cheuse. His latest book, a trio of novellas, is called "Paradise."

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