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Chicks Kick Butt
edited by Rachel Caine and Kerrie L. Hughes
Tor, 351 pages

Chicks Kick Butt
Rachel Caine
Rachel Caine has been writing and publishing novels and short stories since 1991.  She is a former professional musician who has the distinction of having played with such musical legends as Henry Mancini, Peter Nero and John Williams. She's also an avid movie buff, a TV-holic, and prefers a good stout Guinness to wimpy American beers.

Stormwatch: Rachel Caine's Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Dead Girls' Dance
SF Site Review: Glass Houses
SF Site Review: Gale Force
SF Site Review: Chill Factor
SF Site Review: Heat Stroke
SF Site Review: Ill Wind
SF Site Review: Ill Wind

Kerrie L. Hughes
Kerrie L. Hughes is an artist, writer, editor, and traveler, currently working towards a Master's degree in Community Counseling. She has been editing anthologies since 2005.

ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

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Let's first stipulate that women both fictional (Emma Peel, Rosalind) and real (Germaine Greer and Joni Mitchell) shaped my concept of positive femininity. Which is why I'm a sucker for characters like Mary Gentle's Ash and Justina Robson's Lila Black, independent women who can handle themselves despite considerable social and physical obstacles, and despite self doubts and insecurities sometimes unique to feminine sensibilities, and frequently better than the men for or against them. And I prefer the same type in real life.

So an anthology called Chicks Kick Butt sounded like something that would appeal to me, even if I'd never read anything by the female authors collected here, nor the editors. But, half the fun of picking up a story collection is discovering the work of people you've never heard of, or have heard of but never read.

In this case, however, that's part of the problem. Some of these stories will no doubt resonate with their fan base. Not being part of them, I'm left to wonder what the fascination is. In part, that's because I don't get the whole vampire deal. Though I understand the charismatic kink of the guy (or girl) who drinks your blood and consumes your soul, maybe the first time someone thought of putting a cell phone in the hands of the attractive undead to use their curse for good instead of evil, or at least have highly charged sex, but still have problems just like the rest of us whose throats are unblemished, it was kind of fun. But an entire genre with multiple sub-genres of this stuff, really?

In this collection of 13 stories, six feature a vampire or a character who in some way or another interacts with them. The rest are variations of the theme, women who possess some kind of paranormal or shape shifting ability that enables them to kick the aforementioned ass. The exceptions are "Mist," by Susan Krinard, which is grounded in Norse mythology, but while it at least ventures into something different, it seems like too much of a set up for a new series, heavily weighted with a lot of explanatory back story that tends to bog down the narrative. The other is Elizabeth A. Vaughn's "A Rose by Any Other Name Would Still Be Red" in which the aforementioned Red is a medieval-fantasy world mercenary who kills for a higher cause, in this case enforcing an edict against slavery, but also, in a chilling ending, those who don't uphold their word to her. Which made this one of the better stories for my tastes.

What's exceptional here isn't so much that they are chicks who kick ass, but that they have these special powers that enable them to do so. Perhaps this is a reflection that, a half-century or so since The Female Eunuch and Gloria Steinem, women can be empowered, if you'll pardon the expression, only if they are dead or telekinetic.

In the classic Joanna Russ story, "When It Changed," women on a manless world nonetheless act like men. The casual way the female narrator notes she has fought three duels and that the funny thing about her wife is that "she will not handle guns" at first bothered me. Here I thought feminism was supposed to be about rejecting this kind of macho behavior. But then I came to understand that feminism is not about rejecting female stereotypes and/or accepting male stereotypes, it's about the opportunity to make a choice one way or another without a male hierarchy enforcing it upon women. Even if those choices are bad ones. Russ very effectively and disturbingly and subtly conveys this theme in the space of five pages or so.

For the most I detect none of this nuance in Chicks Kick Butt. Indeed, if many of these stories switched genders, I'd be wondering why I was reading them. Granted, that is perhaps the point.

Maybe if I was a fan of say, Rachel Caine's Weather Warden series, I'd find "Shiny" more intriguing. Maybe if I was also more of a fan of romance stories dressed up in a fantasy setting. Maybe it's because I'm a guy.

Or, maybe it's because I think a story should be more than just a venue to feature a recurring character in a little adventure. And that I'm unsure if just because a female character is as bloodthirsty as a male character, even in rightfully revenging violence, this is necessarily any great advance.

While the heroine of Rachel Vincent's Hunt," for example, rightfully avenges the murders of her cohorts, there is still something disconcerting about a passage such as this:

  …I pressed the button, and the blade popped out even as I shoved it forward.

The three-inch blade slid between his ribs.

Steve grunted. I shoved him off and stood…knife sticky in my hand. He lay on the floor blood pouring from his chest. I'd hit the heart, and his eyes were already glazing over. "But girls don't fight," he whispered, as blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.

I arched both brows and pulled my phone from my pocket. "Welcome to the new regime."
—p.83

 

Okay, it redeems itself with a funny punch line. Had it been written 50 years ago, maybe the details of murders committed by trio of male psychopaths and how they ultimately get their due by the very female they thought to prey upon might have been less unsavory, or at least interesting. The problem is, today the new regime already comprises woman soldiers returning from Afghanistan with PSTD and a female secretary of state who can go balls to the walls with any neo-conservative hawk. So, the point here is what?

That said, there are some worthwhile diversions. There are some laughs from a female vampire's excesses aptly described by the title of Karen Chance's "In Vito Veritas"; P. N. Elrod's "Vampires Prefer Blondes" is, as you might also expect by the title, a charming kind of madcap 30s screwball comedy.

More seriously, "Superman" by Jeanne C. Stein subverts tropes related to paying for sex with a nuanced depiction of unreciprocated commitment. But the best story, most in the tradition of Johanna Russ, is "Beyond the Pale" by Nancy Holder. Meg is a burnt out border patrol office with nascent psychic abilities of interest to Haus Ritter, a German dynasty dedicated to defending mystical borders against the magical Pale King and his raids to abduct children from the "real world." Unlike many of the stories in Chick Kick Butt, this isn't just a good guys vs. bad guys tale. Rather, Holder layers ambiguities that lead Meg to question whether the rules she's been asked to abide really are for the common good, or merely to maintain a convenient status quo for those in power, whether those rules related to Mexicans or elves crossing the border.

With this one exception, Chicks Kick Butt provides only a mild spanking. However, fans of these particular authors and characters might experience more kick.

Copyright © 2012 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.


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