Pox • 2020 • Magical realism short story by Ellen Klages

★★★☆☆

Synopsis: It’s the year 1969 when a girl is visiting her aunt together with her family in San Francisco. She lives partly in a dreamworld, fascinated by reading Le Guin’s “Wizard of Earthsea”. Soon, the family needs to quarantine there, because one after the other of the children gets small pox. And girl, life is getting boring after a while. One day, her Aunt invites her to a adventure trip downtown with a local guide, and she gets to know the fascinating side of Chinatown with all the exotic smells, colorful unknown things in shops, and tasty dim sum food. In short, it’s a magical place for her, founding her love for the city.

Review: I haven’t read much from Ellen Klages, only one short story “Amicae Aeternum” some five years ago. For a while, she’s been published in nearly every upcoming Strahan anthology, but it’s gone a little bit quieter the last years. Her novella “Passing Strange” featuring a group of lesbian in the 1940s has been well received in 2017, and this short story picks up some of the characters Polly and Franny, which might delight fans of this story. 

I categorize the story as magical realism, because magic and dragons are touched only very lightly. It reads more like an autobiographic piece where the author brings out her love of the Earthsea cycle. To understand some references, it is indeed better to have read Le Guin’s work previously. Her touch for describing the wonders of the city in the eye of the charming girl is truly immersive. No wonder, that the author wanted to live there. 

There’s also a dragon of some sorts in the story, but it’s rather a bypassing item than a central topic. 

People looking for action and High Fantasy will be disappointed and should skip it. If you like a serene, cute story drawing a picture of 1969’s San Francisco from the point of view of a girl, including some very light touches of magical realism, then this story is for you. With all the mouth-watering Dim Sum descriptions, I’ve got really hungry.

Meta: isfdb. Published in the anthology The Book of Dragons.

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