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The Newsletter of
The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic

Volume 1, Number 2 (Winter 1996)
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The Magic within: An Anthology

by Darlene Netcoh
Copyright © 1996, Darlene Netcoh

The Magic Within: AN ANTHOLOGY. Emily Alward, Diane Holmes, and Alicia Rasley, eds. Indianapolis: WorldEdge Press, lnc. l994. 201 pages, paper, $9.95.

The Magic Within is self-advertised as "24 stories of magic and power"; "from fierce swordplay to gentle magic, from the desert reservation to alien worlds, these tales cross genre boundaries to capture the "truth" behind the magic and power of women." Most of the stories do have female protaganists that use intellectual or intestinal fortitude, physical strength, or a combination thereof to face and conquer the various problems that they encounter. Most of the stories are well-written and, whether science fiction or pure fantasy, do develop strong female characters as well as strong ruminations about life.

Some of the stories are science fiction in nature and employ typical themes of science fiction. For example, 'Hurricane Season," by Lela Buis, is set on a future earth that is, on the surface, significantly different from our own, yet does bear resemblance to the current world. The narrator, Ada Lee, is a young girl who describes her home in the following manner: "We lived south then on the Appalachian Islands; our steep shantytown hidden in a cove where the edge sloped right into the ocean. The rocks were so close under the water you had to be careful where you swam, and only a couple of places were safe to dive."

Like Waterworld, much of the earth's surface has become covered by water. However, unlike in that film, in this story civilization remains in urban areas at least slightly reminiscent of our own. Geographically, the characters' location is described in this way: "To the west was Denver, Mama said, and to the north N'York, though most of it floated nowadays since the land had sunk. It was so big, sometimes at night we could see the lights, borealis on the clouds. We tried to pump Uncle Lon for information, he had been to see N'York. But he wouldn't say much about it we could understand, except it was big, and different."

In this watery world, the narrator and her family live in shacks on "rough pilings," have "gardens hacked out of the kudzu," have a "pirogue tied under their shack," but mostly lived on salvage, which is washed ashore. The family lives a harsh but adequate existence under the protection of Mama, who is intellectually and physically strong.

Civilization encroaches on their peaceful existence in the form of an "enforcer," a lawman encased in "armed exoskin fashioned into the sleek, aerodynamic shadow of a hawk," who looks like a robot and has come to investigate piracy in the area. When the enforcer questions the group, Mama speaks first: "...but Mama was first. I had always known Mama was tough, but I had never known she was beautiful. I saw it then, somehow, reflected in the stranger's rainbow skin. She straightened from where the tide foamed, let her skirt fall."

Filtered through the eyes of the girl, the initial confrontation between Mama and the enforcer takes on gender and generational significance. Matriarchal power passes from mother to daughter in the moment Ada Lee sees her Mama in this new arena of conflict. "Hurricane Season" has a futuristic setting with advanced law enforcement technology, and yet conveys a simple and powerful theme of female empowerment.

Other equally enthralling "science fiction" type stories in the collection are "The Humanitarian Bomb," by Marilyn K. Martin, and "Partway Down Sleep's Mountain," by William John Watkins. "Partway Down Sleep's Mountain" is unusual in the collection because its narrator is male, and the roles of power in this future society are reversed. The only escape from female inquisition and dominance in a man's life is through his sleep. The more fantastic stories in the anthology also tell tales of female empowerment. "A Woman's Secret Weapon," by Laura Todd, is set in some mythical time and place in which two very distinct societies exist. The protagonist, Mareem, is from Nahalia, the Country of the Rivers, a bucolic place where women and men seem to exist in harmony. Mareem possesses the skill of "Listening," prays to "Mother Asherah," and undertakes a treacherous journey to rescue her son, who has been kidnapped by his father and taken to the other society in the story. In "Beth'Abba" the people worship " the wrathful god Elyw'h," the men are taught that women have no souls, and women are forced to walk around in heavy, black robes. Although the differences between the two societies are blatantly constructed to skew sympathy toward Mareem, as a character she is developed well through her thoughts and deeds, and she does demonstrate "the power within."

Other "fantasy" stories include "Sword Song," by R. R. Mallory, in which the protagonist is a young female "Swordsman," and her quest, like the quest of a boy growing into manhood, "chronicles a girl's journey into womanhood." Other stories are " Distressed Damsel," by Kenneth A. Kousen, which is a whimsical and humorous take on the "damsel in distress" cliche, and "The Heart of the Labyrinth," by R. Andrew Miller, which appropriates the Theseus-Minotaur-Ariadne myth for its own purpose of examining the character of Ariadne.

Some stories have more realistic settings and yet contain some twist or whiff of paranormality that displays female power. In "Captive Power," by Charmaine Mosteller, a twelve-year-old girl discovers she has the power to give life or to take it away, and the display of her "talent" occurs in a contemporary town. "Coyote," by Sue Storm, takes place in the drought-scarred Oregon desert. A young girl assists the coyote that her father has wounded and mystical things happen. Other unusual occurrences in realistic settings appear in "The Novice," by Marion Deeds, and "Just for Women Who Sing the Blues," by J. S. Bowers.

Although some of the stories in The Magic Within are more skillfully written and less didactic than others, all of the stories do contain female characters that display intellectual prowess and various "talents" that many female characters in "traditional" stories traditionally lack. Also these works of speculative fiction demonstrate that fiction need not be "realistic" to convey themes pertinent to real life convincingly and entertainingly. As the editors state in the introduction: "A woman's power starts within, because the outside world seldom grants her much authority. Because this power is not as tangible as money or military might, it is often considered mystical or magical in some way... This power, this magic, can also be turned inward, rewarding her with insights and life-lessons. But it might also have the potential for danger. Magic can rescue, or it can crush."

The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic is based at the Department of English of the University of Rhode Island. We thank the University and the Department for their support.

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