“Year of the Fox” By Eugie Foster from So Fey: Queer Fairy Fiction (Lethe Press 2009). Edited by Steve Berman.

This is going to be a hard one to write. The reason I bought this anthology is because last month the author of this story died. She was much too young, only forty-two. She spent the last not-quite-one-year of her life battling cancer, and documented the whole experience on her blog.

I knew her name because she was a colleague of many of the writers I admire, but I’d never read her work because until recently I didn’t read science fiction or fantasy, and speculative fiction was her forte. She won a Nebula award for her work in 2009 and was a finalist that year for the Hugo and BSFA awards. This volume was on the short list of nominees for a Gaylactic Spectrum Award.

Her husband stated that instead of flowers for a memorial service what he wanted was for people to buy and read her books, or to buy them as gifts for friends. I decided to answer that call, so I bought a copy of this anthology and set about with this set of reviews.

I can’t imagine a more fitting introduction to her work than this story, given all I’ve just said. This is a powerful coming of age tale that deals with mortality and how, through enlightenment, one may escape being reborn on the Wheel of Life.

Mei and Jin are fox cubs and more, they are huli jing, fox spirits, capable of shape shifting. They still live with and are almost entirely dependent upon their mother. She tries to tell them about the importance of enlightenment, but they are too young, too restless and unruly, so she gives up and goes off in search of food. They cavort around their den, oblivious to the dangers of the woods or to the fact that the hour has grown very late. Only the sharp hunger pangs they feel clue them in that something is amiss.

They go in search of their mother and find her body caught in a hunter’s trap. She was murdered for her beautiful tail, which is missing. That’s the point at which the story truly begins, for it’s about how each fox cub responds to such a terrible loss. In the heat of the moment Mei and Jin swear to exact revenge on humankind, but will they be consumed and destroyed by their anger, or will they manage to resist that temptation and find salvation through loving something other than themselves?

There are lines in this story that will rip your heart out, because of the bigger picture. “No, she cannot be dead,” Jin says. “Just this night she was lively and spry.” At its core, though, this is a very hopeful story, and it contains an uplifting message:

Nothing is permanent in this world, and it is a place of suffering. But if we live the best we can, one day we will achieve bliss and end our time on the eternal circle of rebirth…Do not cry. Did not Buddha teach us that life is a dream of walking? I am going home.