Esther Friesner, editor,
Chicks in Chainmail
(Baen, 1995)

Although bronze bras figure prominently in Chicks in Chainmail, the shapely woman warrior on the cover is wearing more of a chainmail tank top and matching loincloth. She's also wearing other bits of armor about her person, but I'm not sure what they're called -- although I think the things on her legs are called "greaves." (I'd ask the editor to look at the cover and help me out, but I'm afraid he'd get too, um, distracted to give me a timely answer.) [Editor's note: It's a good cover. An evocative cover. But never let it be said that this editor isn't focused! Those are, indeed, greaves.]

These 20 variations on the Woman Warrior theme poke gentle fun even as they extend the concept beyond the "bimbo-with-a-blade," as Friesner points out in her excellent introduction. She proves her point in the sheer range of the stories that follow.

Roger Zelazny's "Lady of Steel" neatly turns the tables on the tired theme of the woman disguised as a man in order to fight. "And Ladies of the Club" by Elizabeth Moon deftly demonstrates the folly of taking advantage of some of the Woman Warrior's natural attributes, particularly if some of them study law in their spare time. In "Exchange Program," Susan Shwartz sends Hillary Rodham Clinton to Valhalla, with some of the funniest laugh-out-loud lines I've ever read. Harry Turtledove informs us that being "Goddess For a Day" is not all it's cracked up to be, and "Armor-Ella" is Holly Lisle's fairy-tale twist on the genre, with slightly naughty results.

What's a single mother to do when she has to take her daughter's class on a field trip to her workplace -- and her job description just happens to involve wearing a bronze bra and wielding a sword? Margaret Ball tells us in the extraordinarily clever "Career Day." David Vierling's "Amore/Amore" is a very funny parody of the barbarian warrior style, involving a very specific piece of armor. "The Stone of War & the Nightingale's Egg" by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough offers an unusual lesson in Chinese history -- or so the author and editor say.

"The Growling" by Jody Lynn Nye warns of the perils in attacking a village full of swordswomen whose monthly cycles coincide -- enough said! eluki bes shahar's "The New Britomart" mixes magic, Ivanhoe and post-medieval tourneys into a Regency romp. A planetarium lecturer who falls under the bureaucratic axe rises to her revenge -- and manages to solve a problem facing her beloved garden as well -- in "On the Road of Silver" by Mark Bourne. The title of Janni Lee Simner's "Bra Melting" says it all as women warriors unite against the dictates of fashion.

In "The Old Guard" by Laura Frankos, a young giantess eager to be a soldier and see the world learns that for some, there's no place like home. Esther Friesner contributes "The Way to a Man's Heart," a tale of a reluctant swordmaiden interested in the more important things in life, like shopping. Nancy Springer puts a new spin on "road rage" in "Whoops!" while Lawrence Watt-Evans lets us take a look at the life of a new guardswoman through her letters home to her mother.

Josepha Sherman shows us that it's not always a bad thing to be a "Teacher's Pet." "Were-Wench" by Janet Stirling concerns a serious swordswoman and a, well, lusty spell. An exasperated mother and police officer goes up against the Sidhe to recover her son in "Blood Calls to Blood" by Elisabeth Waters. Finally, "Maureen Birnbaum in the MUD" by George Alec Effinger caps off the collection with the ultimate woman warrior -- she can swing a sword and applies eyeshadow like a pro.

Each of these stories will make you at least smile if not laugh out loud -- it is one of the most consistently funny collections I've ever come across. One might expect the humor to pall after a few stories, but each is fresh and inventive. My only complaint is that there isn't more information about each author.

Buy it, read it, enjoy it and thank the powers-that-be at Baen for having the good sense to reissue it.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]



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