I have no Soul. I have no fire and passion. The music I play is boring. I can hardly dance" [p. Even more importantly, Arnason uses the story to lay out a mission statement for her commingling of science fiction and mythology.
It's an echo of an attitude expressed in science fiction from "The Cold Equations" onwards, but in Big Mama Stories Arnason argues for a universe in which the more powerful force, for good and ill, isn't cold, uncaring physics but conscious intention. If you don't recognize the bond that ties intelligent life together, and if you try to use the universe as an excuse for your antisocial behavior—well, you deserve what you get. The other stories in the collection tell more elaborate stories, but all are underpinned by the same prevailing attitude of benevolence, compassion, and good-humored common sense.
In "Big Ugly Mama and the Zk" Asimov's , September , Big Ugly Mama inadvertently causes the heir to the Zk throne to revert to an earlier stage in his lifecycle, which makes him unfit for leadership. She naturally whisks him off to the Carboniferious era to grow up all over again, which gets her into trouble with the Zk Big Mama. In the original piece "Big Red Mama in Time and Morris, Minnesota," Big Red Mama is interrupted in her rambles in the Cretaceous the Big Mamas seem fond of Earth's prehistory by a time traveler from the twenty-first century, and though she assures us that his belief in a "Sound of Thunder"-like vulnerability of the timeline is inaccurate "For the most part, time was self-healing.
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Trying to change it was like trying to kick a hole in a river. The hole closed; the river flowed on; and everything was the same downstream" [p. In the most interesting and inventive story in the collection, "Big Green Mama Falls in Love" Eidolon I , June , Arnason spins a complicated, multifaceted story in which the Big Mamas and Poppas are less benevolent gods observing the silliness of humanity, and more reflections of that very silliness.
When Big Green Mama falls in love with her own beauty while investigating an alien planet whose dominant intelligent species appears to have died off, she begins splitting herself repeatedly into smaller and smaller copies of herself and, eventually, himself, as some of the copies remake themselves into Big Poppas. To discover the cause of their malady, the Big Green Mamas and Poppas must investigate the planet's history, and enlist the help of several other Big Parents.
The final and longest story in the collection brings the Big Mamas into contact with their obvious inspiration. As Brer Rabbit tells Big Brown Mama his story, he journeys through African-American history in the twentieth century, starting in the Depression-era South, journeying North to take part in the country's industrialization, participating in trade unions and the civil rights movement, and falling in love with jazz music.
Brer Rabbit's ambivalence about his transformation into a human, which Big Brown Mama tries to help him with, reflects ideas discussed in Arnason's afterword about the role that folk figures like him, and the Big Mamas, play in helping people—particularly those who are often excluded from the "official" history—see themselves in their world, and discover new ways to navigate it. In the original folk tales that feature him, Brer Rabbit can be an amoral, troublesome figure, but he also represents the ability of the weak and disenfranchised to use their wits and cunning to outsmart those who hold all the cards in their society.
At the end of "Big Brown Mama and Brer Rabbit" the trickster rabbit is released from his enforced humanity, but still vows to use his powers to help pull humanity forwards—the same role that, in her invented cosmology, Arnason intends for the Big Mamas. Big Mama Stories is a charming, often quite funny collection, and if its zany treatment of time travel and physics can sometimes seem a little twee, and if its politics are a little on the preachy side, there is almost always enough verve and humor here to counteract these flaws.
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In her afterword Arnason makes a good case for the need for folk figures even in an age of science and technology, and her combination of old-fashioned trickster figures with time travel and alien races is enormously compelling. One can only hope that with Big Mama Stories , she hasn't reached the end of these large, sensible, yet adventurous women's tales. Abigail Nussbaum anusbaum netvision.
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