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Authors: Susan Palwick

The Fate of Mice

BOOK: The Fate of Mice
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The Fate of Mice:

“Palwick combines sharp political commentary with pleasing flights of fancy with deep psychological insight — and all in prose clear as water. Delicately balanced between hope and heartbreak, these are stories you’ll remember.”

The Jane Austen Book Club

“This is a collection of magnificent, heart-breaking stories. Susan Palwick sees the world with a fearless clarity and tells a truth so sharp it makes you weep. Be warned: long after you close the book, these stories will haunt you. They’ll stay with you, changing who you are and how you see the world around you.”

The City, Not Long After

“The Fate of Mice
shines light on our dark secrets with compassion, wit, and very fine writing.”

Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine

“These stories are brilliant and thought-provoking, as well as packing an unexpectedly intense emotional punch.”

The Necessary Beggar:

Jo Walton, author of
Tooth and Claw and Farthing

“Graced with exceptionally intimate understanding of its characters, Palwick’s beautifully crafted tale of exiles struggling to come to terms with a deeply troubled earth is exquisite.”


“A triumphant testament to the transcendent power of love and tribute to what being a stranger in a strange land truly means, Palwick’s long-awaited second novel (after 1992’s
Flying in Place)
succeeds as a heart-wrenching romance, a sharp meditation on refugees and displaced persons and a tragicomedy of cultural differences.”

Publishers Weekly

“…a unique story of a family’s love and the power of forgiveness to transcend the boundary between life and death… highly recommended.”

Library Journal

“…terrifying intimacy…American ironies…lingering mystery, and raw, authentic emotions.”

Flying in Place:


“One of the best and most moving novels by a new author I have read in years.”

Foreign Affairs

“Packs a huge emotional wallop…
Flying in Place
is a brave and honest work, an impressive and important debut.”

San Francisco Examiner

“Flying in Place
is a bittersweet novel of a dead sister who returns to give our narrator the tools she need to break her family out of the poisonous pattern that is consuming them all… beautifully handled… a wonderful debut for a writer who has proved she can write well in long forms as well as short ones — may it be the first of many novels from Palwick, each one better than the ones before.”

Ender’s Game

“The moving and compelling writing is sustained as the revelations unfold.”

Library Journal

“Unflinching clarity and great dramatic power… Susan Palwick, a young writer who has hitherto attracted some notice for her stories, poems, and essays, is with
Flying in Place
a novelist of moment.”


“Chilling and finely tuned … Palwick avoids pat solutions, offering instead a deeply felt, deeply moving tale.”

Publishers Weekly

“Rewarding… Palwick’s characterization of Emma is superb, as truthful as that of Scout in
To Kill a Mockingbird
. Emma’s compelling voice carries this book into the world of first-class storytelling.”

Seattle Times

“Simple, strong, and very powerful… a true page-turner…. A book so achingly true you want to thank the author. A book like this, a story that can captivate us and raise our awareness, tells truths that need to be told.”

Raleigh News & Observer

“It is a deeply moving book. Palwick’s withering understatements of pain are laced with a regret for the lost magic of childhood — even a ruined childhood.”


“Flying in Place
is compelling, wrapping deep-empathy insights in lyric poetry to show us the monster behind the mask.”

Dead and Gone

The Fate of Mice
Copyright © 2007 by Susan Palwick

This is a work of fiction. All events portrayed in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.

Cover design: Ann Monn
Interior design & typography: John D. Berry
The typeface is Mercury.

Tachyon Publications
1459 18th Street #139
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 285-5615

Series Editor: Jacob Weisman

ISBN 10:1-892391-42-2
ISBN 13: 978-1-892391-42-1

Printed in the United States of America
by Worzalla

First Edition: 2007

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

“The Fate of Mice” copyright © 2005 by Susan Palwick. First published by
Asimov’s Science Fiction
, January 2005. | “Gestella” copyright © 2001 by Susan Palwick. First appeared in
Starlight 3
edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden (New York: Tor Books). | “The Old World” copyright © 2007 by Susan Palwick. First appearance in print. | “Jo’s Hair” copyright © 1995 by Susan Palwick. First appeared in
Xanadu 2
edited by Jane Yolen (New York: Tor Books). | “Going After Bobo” copyright © 2000 by Susan Palwick. First appeared in
Asimov’s Science Fiction
, May 2000. | “Beautiful Stuff” copyright © 2004 by Susan Palwick. First appeared in
Sci Fiction (
, August 2004). | “Elephant” copyright © 1986 by Susan Palwick. First appeared in
Asimov’s Science Fiction
, November 1986. | “Ever After” copyright © 1987 by Susan Palwick. First appeared in
Asimov’s Science Fiction
, November 1987. | “Stormdusk” copyright © 2007 by Susan Palwick. First appearance in print. | “Sorrel’s Heart” copyright © 2007 by Susan Palwick. First appearance in print. |
Jesus” copyright © 1996 by Susan Palwick. First appeared in
Starlight 1
edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden (New York: Tor Books). | Excerpts from “The Elephant” by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, translated by Mark Strand, copyright 1976 by Mark Strand. Reprinted from
Another Republic
, edited by Charles Simic and Mark Strand, published by Ecco Press in 1976, by permission of the publisher.

for my father

Lessons in Mortality

You’re going to die. We all are. Maybe today, in the middle of reading (writing) this sentence. (Okay, I guess I made it through!) Maybe a hundred years from now. But unless and until some uber-technological “Rapture of the Nerds” rewrites the fatal certainties of the entirety of human existence up till now (and I’m not counting on any such rescue, although I haven’t entirely dismissed eventual resurrection during the Big Crunch via the Omega Point), your passing from this mortal coil — my passing, the passing of all whom we love — is guaranteed.

Given this dire knowledge, the one sure prophecy granted to mankind, how then do we live our lives? How do we extract meaning from our limited days, experience pleasure and perhaps even joy while beneath the shadow of the Grim Reaper? Is such positivity even possible? Perhaps we should all just throw in the towel, adopt a nihilistic, despairing outlook on life, and trudge along glumly toward the grave.

Susan Palwick is someone who has pondered long, hard, and fruitfully on such matters, perhaps the central existential quandary of this human universe, employing a keen, unblinking, rational and yet empathetic gaze. And she has returned from her sojourn in the charnel grounds bearing answers, answers that do not minimize either the suffering or the triumphs of human existence.

Answers cloaked, as the best answers often are, in stories, myths, fables: the stories to be found in this fine collection, multivalent and captivating narratives whose own reasons for being transcend any mere preaching.

Palwick has two excellent, award-winning novels to her credit:
Flying in Place
(1992) and
The Necessary Beggar
(2005). This third volume represents a welcome addition to her small but hard-won canon. She is plainly not one of those writers who feels compelled to issue a book (or more) a year. The very sparseness of her output inclines us to regard her infrequent appearances as essential and weighty and valuable, and reading
The Fate of Mice
merely confirms this surface impression.

Each story herein occupies a different region in the great country of fantastical literature, exhibiting Palwick’s extensive range and ambition. We meet with pure fantasy, horror, and science fiction, as well as subtle blendings of the three genres. In addition, we encounter a mimetic masterpiece, an example of excellent naturalism that would not be out of place in the pages of The
New Yorker
. But no matter what the form or venue, all of Palwick’s work deals with the tender, aching dilemma addressed above.

How does one live boldly in the face of looming personal extinction?

The story that lends its title to this collection shows Palwick’s ingenuity in framing this issue — and the universality of her concerns — by its very choice of protagonist: an intelligent talking mouse named Rodney. Raised above his bestial heritage of blissful unselfconsciousness by the interventions of science, he finds himself adrift about how to proceed with his new, larger, more problematical life, until he summons his courage and makes a break with fatalism. He’s helped in this courageous course by a human, emphasizing another one of Palwick’s lessons, that none of us are in this fix alone.

In subsequent stories, Palwick continues to find brilliant new emblems for her thesis.

Aligning itself with work by the great Carol Emshwiller, “Gestella” concerns a female werewolf (with an accelerated aging problem that dramatizes the issue of mortality even more keenly) whose doomed failure to consider her own best interests represents a cautionary parable about abandoning one’s responsibilities in favor of societal pressure.

“The Old World” is a utopia, that rarest of science-fictional outings these days, one that would feel like a collaboration between Cory Doctorow and Ted Chiang, were it not utterly Palwickian. Here, Palwick humorously inverts her usual scenario, asking: how can one maintain glumness in a near-perfect world? The result illuminates the quandary from a totally novel direction.

Palwick can work on big scales, as in “The Old World,” or on deliciously intimate levels, such as in “Jo’s Hair,” which chronicles the life of an inanimate hairpiece that enjoys all the experiences denied to its society-bound originator, before the severed halves achieve a unity at death.

The fate of a “mere” cat encapsulates a huge life lesson for the teen protagonist of “Going After Bobo,” a tale which inhabits its contemporary Reno, Nevada landscape with the clarity of the best mainstream writing.

Like Lucius Shepard collaborating with Robert Sheckley, Palwick conjures up a zombie meditation on life and death in “Beautiful Stuff,” wherein the dead are wiser than the living.

Another miniaturist wonder, “Elephant” is the record of a woman who wills herself pregnant, in the face of her own doubts about the life she’s living. Bradbury might well have written something similar.

“Ever After” takes the Cinderella myth and grants it a horrific twist, sending its fairy godmother and young charge down a darkling road of independence from all seats of power. (It should be mentioned at this juncture that Palwick’s strong feminist concerns usefully salt and season the universality of her approach.)

Replaying the old myth of the woman abducted from a fairy realm into human bondage, “Stormdusk” adds a twist that completely unbalances the old equations.

In a postapocalyptic setting where human freaks strive for the basic rights of life, Palwick constructs a love story worthy of Sturgeon, titled “Sorrel’s Heart.”

And finally, Palwick engineers a miraculous Vonnegut-like assault against the shared ills of all flesh with
Jesus,” a bracingly heretical — yet ultimately deeply religious — story that conflates a mortally ill woman, the image of a lost soldier, and an icon of Jesus lodged in a most unlikely place, all against the perfectly-realized backdrop of Innocence, Indiana.

Taken as a whole, then, the varied stories in this volume offer a map of the labyrinth that is our lives. Not outward to a hypothetical exit, toward some impossible other world of infinite freedom (there is nothing beyond the labyrinth), but inward, to confront the Minotaur of Death, embrace him, and dance.

BOOK: The Fate of Mice
12.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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