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Birthday Reviews: Elizabeth Hand’s “Calypso in Berlin”

Thursday, March 29th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by B. A. Bosaiya

Cover by B. A. Bosaiya

Elizabeth Hand was born on March 29, 1957.

She won the World fantasy Award and the Nebula Award for her novella “Last Summer at Mars Hill.” She has won an additional Nebula for her short story “Echo” and three more World Fantasy Awards for her novellas Ilyria and The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon, which was also a Hugo nominee.  Her collection Bibliomancy also earned her a World Fantasy Award. Hand received the James Tiptiree  Jr. Memorial Award and the Mythopoei Award for her novel Waking the Moon and she has won three Shirley Jackson Awards. Her stories “Pavane for a Prince of the Air” and “Cleopatra Brimstone” have both won the International Horror Guild Award.

“Calypso in Berlin” was originally published by Ellen Datlow in the July 13, 2005 issue of Sci Fiction. Paula Guran included it in her Best Paranormal Romance anthology the following year. It is included in Hand’s collection Saffron and Brimstone: Strange Stories. In 2007, the story was translated into German for publication in the Spring issue of Pandora.

In Greek mythology, Calypso was a nymph who lived on the island of Ogygia and kept Odysseus captive for seven years. Her name is a variation of the word “concealed.” In Elizabeth Hand’s “Calypso in Berlin,” the nymph has survived into the modern era and taken as her lover a man named Philip, whose business requires him to travel, so they only see each other occasionally. Philip is also married, which doesn’t particularly seem to bother Calypso.

When Philip ends their relationship, Calypso decides to relocate to Berlin, a city he loved. Once there, she realizes that Philip has become something of a muse to her, inspiring her paintings of him and without his presence, she can no longer paint. Using an old sweater of his and sympathetic magic, she draws him to her, regaining her muse. The magic Hand describes as Calypso ensures that he will always be in Berlin to inspire her feels very much in keeping with the motifs of Greek mythology.

While the story is told from Calypso’s point of view, it conceals the truly horrific nature of her actions, dismissing any pain she may have caused to Philip’s family. As an artist, he exhibits the paintings she did of him, surprised that the revealing images are ignored while those which conceal Philip’s form are the ones which the nymph of concealment is recognized for.

Reprint reviewed in the collection Saffron and Brimstone: Strange Stories, Open Road Integrated Media, 2014.


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.

1 Comment »

  1. I need to read more of her work. The only one I’m sure I’ve read was Wylding Hall, which I thought was frankly amazing.

    Comment by Joe H. - March 29, 2018 10:01 am


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