I got this book on a whim, because the theme was something I thought I'd enjoy, and it became one of my favourite books this year. If the author had known me since childhood, and had decided to write a book specifically catering to my interests to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of our friendship, she wouldn't be able to write something I'd enjoy so much.
The book is a collection of short stories. The theme of "Magical Bears in the Context of Contemporary Political Theory" is the alledged link, but I'd describe it as a book about really weird, funny or even stupid concepts developed very seriously until their breaking point. For instance, "What if Sailors (like from Sailor Moon) were U.S. senators?" or "What would the political systems of magical jelly bean animals be like?"
You'd think those stories would be hilarious. And they are! When Jenna Katerin Moran decides to write a funny story, it's hilarious. She's witty and silly and bizarre. She'll commit wholeheartedly to an absurd concept and explore its ramifications to five different punchlines. I laughed out loud repeatedly at stories that are pretty much just collections of puns.
But then - some of those stories are not funny. They have concepts that are just as weird and stupid, but are played completely straight. And those stories are where the book shines. Look: one of the stories is about Fisher-Price accidentally destroying the world by creating an Ultimate Evil toy. From that concept, you'd think it'd be a hilarious story. It's not. It's deep and serious and touching and I cried at the end. I cried at the end of a story about an apocalyptic evil toy! And I'm not ashamed at it, because it's a brilliant story, deep and full of pathos.
The only thing close to a 'continuity' that the book has are four or so stories taking place in a universe about one of those bizarre concepts, perhaps the most bizarre one: "Why didn't the Care Bears stop the holocaust?" It would be easy to answer this question with insensitive humour or predictable cynicism; but Moran remains far from either and weaves a deep explanation with real characters and real feelings.
Ultimately, this is an excellent book I recommend without reserve. Some of the stories are a bit ho-hum, but I've never read a single-author anthology where that wasn't the case. The worst stories are still interesting and the best stories and masterfully done. If you like weird fiction, fairy tales, or bad puns, this will be an aquistion you won't regret.
[5 of 5 Stars!]