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Birthday Reviews: Kij Johnson’s “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change”

Saturday, January 20th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

The Coyote Road-small The Coyote Road-back-small

Cover by Charles Vess

Kij Johnson was born on January 20, 1955. Johnson won the Nebula in three consecutive years for her short stories “Spar,” “Ponies,” and the novella “The Man Who Bridged the Mist.” “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” also received the World Fantasy Award, Hugo Award, and Asimov’s Reader Poll. Johnson also won a World Fantasy Award for the novella The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe and the Theodore Sturgeon Award for “Fox Magic.” She served on the Sturgeon Award jury from 1997 through 2012 and on the World Fantasy jury in 2014.

“The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change” was original published in the anthology Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. It was picked up for Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, edited by Datlow, Kelly Link, and Gavin J. Grant. The story was nominated for the Sturgeon, World Fantasy, and Nebula Award. Johnson included it in her collection At the Mouth of the River of Bees. The story has been translated into German.

While at its base, “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change” is a fable, Johnson successfully accomplishes three different tasks in the story. Set after an event called the Change, which allows animals to speak, Johnson examines how that influences the human-pet relationship as animals can now respond with speech to their owners.

Even more important, having words allows the animals to alter the way they think and respond to each other. Unfortunately, humans are unable to deal with the change in their pets and through a young woman named Linna, who befriends the rejected titular animals, the impact on the dogs can be seen.

The second thing Johnson does is make parenthetical asides to the reader which discusses the changes in the human-animal relationship and causes the reader to question the treatment of animals, noting the potential cruelties committed even by those who truly love their pets.

Finally, Johnson includes several fables that the dogs tell among themselves as they try to make sense not only of the world which has given them speech and understanding, but of the world which they have left behind. These stories, which mirror the types of fables told by humans, naturally enough, provide stories which help codify an emerging canine society, even as humans view their former talking pets as feral animals who need to be dealt with. Johnson does an excellent job with all three of these concepts, never quite weaving them together, but allowing each element to stand on its own and make the entirety a stronger story.

Reviewed in its original appearance in the anthology Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, Viking Books, 2007.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a fifteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Big White Men—Attack!” in Little Green Men—Attack! Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 5 times as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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