Ellen Klages’ short fiction has won several awards, including a Nebula, as well being short-listed for Hugo, Nebula, and John. W. Campbell awards, but her work is new to me. Wicked Wonders is a short-story collection of lyrical fantasy tales (mostly) starring young girls and childhood itself. With elements of historical and modern fantasy, and science fiction, there’s a little something for everyone in this collection.
Klages’ stories are lovely, strange, and sad things. Some are quite funny, most are clever, and they are all cultivated by these beautiful details that capture a mood of magic. Beware: These stories will evoke memories of your own childhood, or at least garner nostalgia for a childhood dream. Most of these are slow to start, but they stick with you for days. The collection concludes with author story notes, which in the least offer a fun insight, but some of which also provide a greater appreciation.
Easily half of the collection are 4 or 5-star works, but my absolute favorites can be collated into these categories:
Stories that show the quiet human element of science fiction —
- “Amicae Aeternum”, in which a young girl spends a last night with her best friend before she leaves on a generation starship.
- “Goodnight Moons”, in which an pregnant astronaut must raise her child on Mars, never to return home to Earth.
Stories that capture the magic and possibility of science —
- “Hey Presto!”, a historical fantasy, in which a young girl who loves science bonds with her magician father, and discovers the chemistry of stage magic.
- “Gone to the Library”, in which a little girl finds the power and protection of tic-tac-toe and mathematics on the back of a giant turtle.
Stories that feature the blurred lines between magic and reality —
- “Education of a Witch”, in which a little girl identifies with Maleficent, instead of Sleeping Beauty, because she’s interesting and powerful, has her own castle, and can turn into a dragon whenever she wants.
- “Singing on a Star”, in which a little girl finds a record that will turn her closet into a doorway to a magical realm of mysterious city streets and trains, and untried candy bars.
Highly recommended as a subtle feminist collection. If you enjoy strong or subversive female protagonists in speculative fiction, this collection is for you!