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03 October 2012

Theodora Goss at Clarkesworld

Have you ever read a story that was just right -- that is, a story that was exactly what you needed and just when you needed it? I came across Theodora Goss's "England Under the White Witch" at Clarkesworld today, and I couldn't be more impressed. Goss's name is one of those I've seen around a lot in the last few years, but this is the first of her work I've read, and am I ever glad that I finally did.

If C.S. Lewis and Suzanna Clarke sat down over a cold beer (or hot tea) to write a shared-world story, it might look something like this alternate history of the British Empire. Imagine Lewis' White Queen invading the England of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and you are on your way. Not quite a club story or a fantasy of manners, "England Under the White Witch" nonetheless shares elements with both. There is also something reminiscent of Alan Moore's V For Vendetta in the totalitarian society that the White Queen establishes.

"Our Empress has promised us a perfect world," says the narrator near the end of the story, "but the only perfection is death." Indeed, isn't improving the lot of the conquered one of the justifications for imperialism, the spread of which usually involves far more casualties on one side than the other?

In addition to the more obvious reference point of the United Kingdom, there are echoes of American imperialism in the story as well, especially in the effects of imperialism on everyday life, most notably on the food we eat. I suspect Goss has some of the same concerns that Paolo Bacigalupi dramatizes in much of his work. The difference, of course, is that Goss embeds her criticism in a deft fantasy, while Bacigalupi amplifies the problem in a near future dystopia.

This is also a story about men and women, about the effects of imperialism in the home and on the world stage -- a story about the terrible peace that follows an ice storm. Check it out and let me know what you think. Then go out and find her novel, The Thorn And The Blossom, and her story collection, In the Forest of Forgetting.

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