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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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01/11/2005 Archived Entry: "Book review: Turn the Other Chick"

Turn The Other Chick
By Esther Friesner
Published By Baen Books 2004

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

Once more into the breeches, dear friends! Those of you who love sword and sorcery tales about brave, beautiful swordswomen, cunning wizards, evil villains and vile monsters, prepare to have your funny bones tickled as Ms. Friesner turns the fantasy franchise upside down in her fifth anthology of stories about warrior women.

Obviously a lover of fictional female heroes from Buffy to Xena, Ms. Friesner brings us 22 fractured fairy tales from various authors, even sneaking in one of her own stories, in her never-ending quest to remind us radical Feminists from the 70's, as well as our proto-Feminist younger sisters, not to take ourselves too seriously. Her introduction reminds us of the advances we've made since the Women's Liberation Movement opened so many doors for us, back in the days when, all too often, we were told that "You can't do that 'cause you're a girl!" To which the only appropriate reply, according to Ms. Friesner, is a resounding "Sez you!" Nowadays, the old radical feminists among us also put in their sixty-nine cents by saying "You can't do that 'cause you're a Feminist!" Apparently our red-stocking sisters fear it would endanger our hard-won independence if we admitted that we wanted power, whether it's the ability to swing a sword or use magic, not just for its own sake but to make us beautiful as well as strong, to get us a man, and to give us the option to decide whether we really want to devote ourselves to a career or take time off to bear and nurture children.

Ms. Friesner also takes aim at those men who regard swordswomen as mere eye candy; quite a few of the stories criticize the scanty armor swordswomen tend to wear in the typical sword and sorcery fantasy. One story in particular, "Combat Shopping" by Lee Martindale, tells about Horatia, a woman warrior who is forced to go shopping for new armor after a clumsy mage fighting on her side accidentally dissolves her armor with a stray spell. After receiving a settlement of three thousand pieces of gold, she goes to Forgecroft, a town famous for its armories, only to find that the best one in town, Ambyrcryffye Y Fyrcche, caters strictly to male warriors and has neither the desire nor the intention to make alterations for women.

They refer her to another establishment, Feddoricce GroveHoly's, which they assure her works exclusively in "designs for women", but Horatia finds nothing but the same delicately made pieces of metalwork and leather you usually see adorning the well-endowed bodies of swordswomen on the covers of fantasy magazines and role-playing game sets; "Take the item identified as a 'breastplate', an intricate interspiraling of what appeared to be hammered gold and silver, displaying fine craftsmanship and an engineer's eye for cantilevering. But it was plate armor by only the thinnest definition of the term and left more of the titular anatomy exposed than it protected. The idea of having anyone see her in it made Horatia blush; the thought of facing a bare blade with nothing but it between the blade and her was one she put aside quickly." Not only that, but the snooty saleswoman, who looks more "like an undernourished preadolescent boy, although why a boy would be wearing a spirally breastplate and a microscopic breechclout... she couldn't guess" is quick to pluck an overpriced bit of mail, consisting of two tiny triangles of iridescent links strung on a thin chain, right out of Horatia's hands while telling her that "Our artisans design for an elite clientele and... that does not include oversized women".

The third armory, Llaene Briant, specializes in armor sized for full-figured women, but all the "neat piles of mail shirts, rows of breastplates, stacks of greaves, and racks of helmets" have been painted black, dark brown or olive, because, the bubbly saleswoman assures her, "Dark colors are so slimming, don't you think? A Llane Briant exclusive, guaranteed to take twenty pounds off your appearance." A bit of anachronistic reality to temper fantasy is always good for a laugh, no matter what the hard-core fantasists and feminists tell you.

"She Stuffs to Conquer" by Yvonne Coats, is about a woman warrior who inherits her mother's enchanted suit of armor and discovers that, while it bestows great power upon the wearer and makes her practically invincible to weapons, it also feeds upon her life force, which requires her to eat copious amounts of food daily to keep from wasting away. So what's wrong with being a well-muscled, full-figured woman in a pink suit of armor (it used to be Heart's Blood Red, but it faded through the years)? Nothing, except that it isn't very sexy or romantic envisioning a big, strong woman in well-fitting armor cutting down her enemies with a terrible swift sword, then relaxing after the battle by stuffing her face at the local bakeshop instead of dallying with a muscular swordsman at the local tavern. Personally, I like the idea of wearing a magical suit of armor that allows me to eat as much as I like while making me invincible and keeping my weight down. So what if I don't look like Xena, as long as I can fight like her? Who's going to have the nerve to tell me to my face that I'm too fat?

Another story of a well-fed warrior, "Princess Injera Versus the Spanakopita of Doom", tells us of a husky, dusky African warrior princess (I love it when the heroine isn't a willowy blonde white woman! In fact, the book contains several stories about dark-skinned heroines, much to this Puerto Rican Princess's delight) who enjoys a magical feast conjured up by a wizard in payment for the quest she's about to go on. Just reading about the foods she eats will make you drool; reading about the demons in the form of food which she fights in the cursed temple will make you laugh. But by the end of the story, when the wizard reneges on his agreement to provide her with another feast, due to being killed by one of the food demons, what she's forced to eat may make you nauseous. It's disturbing, but amusing as well, reminding us that anything tastes good when you're hungry.

One of my comedic favorites was "The Gypsy Queen" by Catherine H. Shaffer, about a transgendered Romany swordswoman named Lorayne, who's really a cross-dresser named Loris, her male partner Coedric, and the hilarity that ensues when they have to rescue Lorayne's sister Esmeralda from an evil overlord named Guano. The whole story is chockfull of puns and subtle transpositions of names that need to be read to believed, with a surprise ending that will have you shrieking with laughter.

Laughter also abounds in Ms. Friesner's own contribution to her anthology, a Biblical story entitled "Giants in the Earth" about King David, his favorite concubine Tirzah (a former shepherdess who happens to be as good with a slingshot as David used to be), and what happens when another giant appears at the gates of Jerusalem claiming to be Goliath and demanding a rematch.

On a serious note (serious satire, that is), the last story in the anthology is by Harry Turtledove, the well-known writer of alternate histories. Here he takes a classic novel, "Of Mice and Men", reduces it to short story form and gives it a comedic twist, along with a happy ending-well, at least nobody dies! In "Of Mice and Chicks", Lenny and George become Lani and Georgia, two mercenary fighters who ride giant rabbits, along with all the other warriors in this alternate universe, and who fight for Baron Howard to keep Baron Ritz's bunnies from grazing on his land. Those of you who believe a great literary classic is being defiled by this pun-filled send-up, complain to Mr. Turtledove, not me!

All in all, "Turn the Other Chick" is a fun-filled volume of lore for those of us who enjoy the fantasy genre but can't help carping at the details, like that flimsy armor the women warriors always seem to wear, the hunky heroes whose muscle-bound bodies and good looks can't compensate for the lack of brains in their handsome heads which makes them only a little bit smarter than their horses, the stereotypical maidens in distress who are always beautiful and well-endowed, and the wizards who always seem to be on a quest for some great magical talisman that's supposed to either save the world or destroy it. After reading this book, or any of the previous volumes, "Chicks in Chainmail", "Did You Say Chicks?!", "Chicks and Chained Males", and "The Chick is in the Mail", you'll never take conventional fantasy seriously again.

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