Story of the Week: "The Tale of Junko and Sayuri" by Peter Beagle

Shout the news from the rooftops: "Peter S. Beagle is back!" For many years it seemed that Beagle, the author of such classic novels as A Fine And Private Place and The Last Unicorn, was finished with fantasy writing. Then he returned in 2005 with the Hugo and Nebula Award winning "Two Hearts," which is a coda to The Last Unicorn. Then last year there was his wonderful "We Never Talk About My Brother", which I selected as a finalist for the Million Writers Award. And now comes the most haunting fantasy story I have read in years,"The Tale of Junko and Sayuri" from the July 2008 issue of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show.

"The Tale of Junko and Sayuri" is the story of a huntsman in ancient Japan and the woman he loves, even though her humanity is questionable since she is a shapeshifter who can change into different animals. The story is a tale of love, envy, and the things that make us human. The tale is also an exploration on how the culture around us can both define and limit us, and how sometimes the price for overcoming these constraints is simply not worth paying.

I can not praise this novella enough. Beagle's use of dialogue is flat-out unbelievable. With just a few, delicate words--such as when a character exclaims "So beautiful," or states "Whatever I am"--Beagle gives more insight into life that most authors can create with an entire page of text. Even though I call myself a writer, as I read this story I marvelled at how far I have to go to attain even a fraction of Beagle's ability. And even though I fancy myself an experienced reader of fantasies, this story still took me by surprise with its overwhelming humanity. I fully expect this story to be a finalist for all of the major speculative fiction awards.