Women Up to No Good by Pat Murphy

Women Up to No Good by Pat Murphy
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Historical, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (186 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

What do women want? Well, if Pat Murphy is to be trusted (and we’re not saying she is), women are looking for trouble. And in this collection of powerful stories, they find it — at an archaeological dig in the Southwest, in the urban alleys, in California suburbs, in the old West, in ironic fantasy settings.

Some women are the damsels in distress in other people’s adventures, but the characters in these stories would much rather take on the risks and rewards of being their own heroes.

What does it mean to be a hero? There are as many answers to that question as there are characters in this anthology. While not all of the protagonists are necessarily good role models, they do lead fascinating lives and take charge of their own destinies. Being male, after all, is no longer a prerequisite for saving yourself or someone else from something terrible.

“Recycling Strategies for the Inner City” should be a novella. The protagonist in it is a mentally ill woman living in a flophouse on the edges of modern day society. She comes across a peculiar metal claw one day and brings it to her cramped, one-room accommodations. When the claw begins to move on it’s own accord I became so engrossed in the story that I couldn’t stop reading it. There isn’t a great deal of room for characterization in something this short, but the glimpses of the protagonist and her strange, little companion that I saw made me wish this tale would never end.

In “Games of Deception” a princess is being forced to marry someone she doesn’t love in order to promote political stability in both of their kingdoms. The concept and execution of the plot in this piece is quite creative, but the princess makes such terrible choices as a result of her unhappiness that I had a hard time commiserating with her.

“One Odd Shoe” reads like a modern-day fairy tale. Mark is an unrepentant cad, but this changes one day when he meets a woman who can’t be tossed aside after he’s grown tired of her. The narrative was so detailed that I felt as if I was standing right there next to him as he meets his fate. Despite Mark’s many flaws, Ms. Murphy still made me feel sorry for his predicament as the plot progresses.

I really wanted to like “On the Dark Side of the Station Where the Train Never Stops.” The idea that the world is secretly run by the very people we mortals assume are the least powerful among us is thrilling. While Lucy, the main character, is fascinating, this tale would have worked better had the reader been given more time to understand her occupation as a Fireborn. I spent more time trying to figure out where her people come from and what they do than I did piecing together the plot as it meandered to its conclusion.

This issue popped up several times in this collection. Every single tale had a good premise, but in some cases the logical conclusions of certain plot points are never fully developed. It didn’t happen every time, but it came to my attention often enough that I think those short stories would have benefitted from another round of editing before they were published.

Most of the entries in this collection seem to be set in present day, but at times it was difficult to determine this for certain. Blurring these lines like this works well for the science fiction genre, though, and and I was not particularly bothered by the times in which I had to make an educated guess. There are also a handful of fantasy tales that take place hundreds of years ago. In those cases it was much more important that the author make that clear, and I’m glad she did so.

Women Up to No Good is the most imaginative anthology I’ve read in 2013. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves science fiction and fantasy that bends the rules and sometimes even breaks them.

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