“The Stone Oaks” was my third publication in Beneath Ceaseless Skies (issue #112, in January of 2013). My wife is a huge Robin McKinley fan, and she (my wife) keeps pushing me to write stronger female characters into my stories (and, truth be told, if fiction is supposed to reflect life, and if my fiction is supposed to reflect my life, then– yes– my stories should be filled with very strong female characters).
So this story has one. I like Claire. I also like trees, nuns, and knights. I put them all together (with one additional element) in “The Stone Oaks.” The trees are exaggerated versions of actual trees that filled a park we used to go to in Mississippi. A friend recently asked me what the trees in this story symbolized. I had to think about that, but if forced I’d probably say something like, “They represent any time we’re given a job we don’t understand but try to do obediently and well. And they represent the unexpected fruit such labors may bring.”
I’m “working on” a follow-up to this piece, but I’m also working on a dissertation, so we’ll see.
You can read about Claire and her trees here.
Imaginary Lands by Robin McKinley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
My wife brought this anthology home because it was edited by her favorite author. I’ve never been enthralled by McKinley myself, but I recognized several of the authors in this collection and decided to give it a chance. Also, my wife made the task easier by marking those stories she felt were particularly enjoyable. So, my caveat to this review is that I’ve actually only read 5/9ths of the entire volume.
The highpoint for me was “Flight” by Peter Dickinson, which was quite wonderful. It was a well-crafted, meticulously “researched” essay exploring the relationship between an Empire and one recalcitrant tribe stretching over hundreds of years, from the Empire’s mythical origins through the Industrial Revolution, political revolution, and the Nuclear Age. It accomplished what the best fantasy should: holding up a mirror to the real world in a thoughtful and entertaining way. (I think the mirror analogy is especially apt. The most mundane scene takes on an entirely new aspect when seen in reflection. Dickinson’s work does this with our history.)
There were other good stories as well, but nothing that stood out like Dickinson’s contribution. “Rock Candy Mountain” was cute, as “The Stone Fey” was haunting. In all, I wondered what the common theme was holding these together beside a strong sense of place– yet some of the stories lacked it. I think I was most disappointed with “Paper Dragons,” which started the collection. The language in this piece was evocative and effective, but the story never gathered steam and eventually came to pieces like the dragon in Filby’s garage.