Esther Friesner, editor,
The Chick is in the Mail
(Baen, 2000)

They're ba-ack! Those bronze-bra'd beauties, those lithe and lethal lassies, those daring distress-denying damsels, those wild and wonderful women warriors: the chicks in chainmail are back!

The Chick is in the Mail is editor Esther Friesner's fourth collection of stories starring feisty females and a cover featuring a warrior woman whose barely visible means of support couldn't possibly comprise sufficient bronze to coat adequately a baby shoe. As with the previous collections, the 15 stories and 1 poem by 17 authors (one story is a collaboration) demonstrate a vivid range of imagination and interpretation.

The single poem, "To His Iron-Clad Mistress," is by Kent Patterson and kicks off the collection with its brief declaration of everlasting love. Well, "enduring" might be a better word. Or perhaps we should just say that his love is less prone to rust.

The Ladies Aid and Armor Society returns in Elizabeth Moon's "Sweet Charity." This time, Krystal Winterborn's scheme to be elected Queen of the Charity Ball runs out of control, with unexpected results for sister warrior Mirabel Stonefist. As always, Moon's story is great fun, smoothly written and witty. Harry Turtledove does a time-traveling riff on J.D. Salinger called "The Catcher in the Rhine." Turtledove's Holden Caulfield-esque hero whines his way through rescuing a warrior maiden sleeping in a ring of fire after he falls in with an evil sorcerer. The story is clever and well-done, although wearing if one is not fond of The Catcher in the Rye.

"With the Knight Male (apologies to Rudyard Kipling)" by Charles Sheffield mixes two different but equally dangerous professions: women warriors and attorneys. Sheffield's clever tale features legal legerdemain that is darn near magical. Steven Piziks' "Patterns in the Chain" gives a voice to a wise and feisty "dragon mom" as she dispenses invaluable lessons to a warrior-to-be. In "Arms and the Woman" by Nancy Kress, a lofty loremaster dissatisfied with teaching knights-in-training desires to make an academic name for himself, even if it's at the expense of his students. Margaret Ball returns with "Fun With Hieroglyphics" featuring Riva, freelance writer and retired sword-for-hire from another universe who has to deal with two horrendous situations: fitting into the corporate world as a tech writer and parenting a junior high school age daughter.

In Esther Friesner's ticklish "Troll by Jury," a retired swordsister and her companions get involved in a plethora of problems when they attend a girl's coming-of-age ceremony. Friesner's flair for just the right timing and turn of phrase is flawless, and the reader can see just why she is so good at compiling these anthologies. "Looking for Rhonda Honda" by William Sanders is a chicks-in-chainmail noir piece, with a private detective hired to find a woman who has run off with an all-girl motorcycle gang. There are fiendishly clever turns in this tale. Robin Wayne Bailey offers a mystery adventure with "The Case of Prince Charming" which neatly combines several fairy tale motifs into an unexpectedly happily ever after.

Pay attention while reading Karen Everson's "Incognito, Ergo Sum" and you'll see how elegantly she constructs her tale of the mistress of the Imperial Mews, her enthusiastic apprentice, an ailing griffin, and a mysterious beast slated for the arena. "Chain of Command" by Leslie What and Nina Kiriki Hoffman asks the age old question, "What's a mother to do when her teenaged daughter rebels?" In this case, the teenager is the daughter of a weekend Woman Warrior. She's more interested in chain malls than chainmail, and her taste in boyfriends is questionable. Find out what turns her around and get her headed in the right direction.

Eric Flint ponders the importance of formal education in the quirky "The Thief & the Roller Derby Queen: An essay on the importance of formal education," about a hapless thief and the self-taught witch who literally makes his life Hellish. "The Right Bitch" in Doranna Durgin's story is a true bitch, a female hound trained to track smuggled magic and who does it all too well according to Sabre, her male counterpart from whose point of view this original and intriguing tale is told.

Pierce Askegrin's "Foxy Boxer Gal Fights Giant Monster King" places a female prizefighter in Tokyo just in time to face off with a certain large, lizardy, recurring visitor. K.D. Wentworth wraps things up with "Hallah Iron-Thighs & the Change of Life," bringing back the swordswoman who now grapples with the realities of growing older -- although she finds she has to put such musings aside when it becomes necessary to grapple with bandits instead.

While one might think that by the fourth collection the theme might pall, in The Chick in the Mail Esther Friesner proves that given encouragement, the bounds of human creativity are indeed limitless.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]



Visit Esther Friesner's website.

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