This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:
Marya Salomea Sklodowska is better known to the world as Marie Curie–a double Nobel winning scientist whose discoveries influenced the scientific field forever. “Although much has been written about Marya, this younger period of her life is vaguely known” leaving the contributors to this anthology to take “liberties for the sake of entertainment” in stories and poems that blend fact and speculative fiction.
Editors Schmidt and Herz gather an impressive assortment of contributors including award winners, bestselling authors, and newer voices in The Hitherto Secret Experiments of Marie Curie (2023)–a collection of stories and poems imagining Marya’s youth and adolescence. An introduction and historical overview help to contextualize the stories alongside significant life events that will come up in multiple stories notably including the death of Marya’s mother and her older sister Zosia.
With stories ranging from horror (like Jonathan Maberry’s “The Night Flyers” where Russian double-headed eagles guarding the obelisk in Saxon Square terrorize those who might act against Russia’s occupation of Poland) to lighter-hearted fantasy like Alethea Kontis’ “Marya’s Monster” where a monster helps Marya acknowledge the grief she still carries after her mother’s death.
It’s no surprise in stories centering one of the greatest scientific minds of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries also include a lot of real science as seen in stories including Seanan McGuire’s “Uncrowned Kings” where a sinister illness gripping Warsaw is grounded in real science with the actual phenomenon of a Rat King and Marya’s own scientific investigation of the outbreak. As Marya tells her sister: “When a thing makes no sense, look to the data people have left behind. If it still makes no sense, the fault is either yours, or the world’s.” Many other stories in the collection are followed by Science Notes that help clarify real science versus speculative elements as in Stacia Deutsch’s “The Beast” where radium is used for time travel.
The stories presented are at their best where Marya is able to use her burgeoning knowledge of science and the scientific method to investigate and face obstacles as seen especially in “The Magic of Science” by Bryan Thomas Schmidt and G. P. Charles where Marya has to prove that there is a logical explanation when a classmate at the current site for the Polish Flying University turns blue and in “Experiments with Fire” by Sarah Beth Durst where Marya faces the mythical and extremely dangerous Wawel dragon with help from scientific experimentation.
With most stories focusing on or narrated by Marya herself, Steve Pantazis’ “The Prize” notably centers one of Marya’s classmates Adela instead with the two girls vying for “The Arcanum Prize, the most coveted prize in metallurgic arts” at their Warsaw high school.
With a shared protagonist and common themes, the element that comes through most in this anthology is the thirst for understanding and an abiding respect of knowledge. As Durst’s Marya says at the close of “Experiments with Fire:” “Some things are unknowable. But all the rest … I will know.”
Note: Readers should be aware that slurs are used when referring to Romani people in “The Cold White Ones” by Susanne L. Lamdin