Moonrat had a nice post today about her Magician's Book: "The perfect story you read as a child, and which since you read it has gone utterly unmatched and only vaguely echoed by anything else you read?" Hers was The Elven Bane.
Mine is, unfortunately, a book I can't name.
The story is etched into my memory, as well as the names of some of the players, the settings and the emotions and situations. Etched, I say. Only problem is I did not retain the author's name, nor the title of the story. It was not a book unto itself, because it was in a sf anthology. I remember it was fairly long, longer than all the other stories in the anthology. I wasn't really old enough to judge the length of a story at the time, but looking back I'd estimate it at 20k words.
The anthology came from my dead grandmother's library. We had a ton of books inherited from Grandma Jerry, all from the fifties and sixties, maybe up through the early seventies. This one seemed like a late sixties to me for some reason--maybe because it seemed really old in about 1980. Most of the books were book-of-the-month clubbers and Reader's Digest Condensed, none of interest to an eleven year old, but a few gems were scattered among them, like this book. It's almost certainly out of print now, but I wish I could read it again to see how it holds up. It took hold of my imagination the way few other stories have, and solidified my love of speculative fiction, though I didn't know there was a difference back then. A story was a story.
You may stop reading here, as the rest of the post is the story as I remember it, but before you leave, answer this question: What's your Magician's Book?
It was set in a somewhat primitive future after an unnamed but presumably man-made disaster, the clues pointing to nuclear weapons. Babies were inspected for mutations at birth and, if found to be imperfect, were left in the forest to die. The child protagonist lived among the villagers, because parents hid her imperfection: six toes on each foot. The protag's little sister, Petra, had a mutation that no one could see--telepathy.
The protag is found out, I think, or maybe not but for some reason she flees to the forest. Remember all those babies they left to die? They've created their own society in the woods, and they take in the protag. She meets an exceptionally lanky young man named (I think) Charles, and they war with the villagers.
So eventually, an airship comes and drops these filament things over the whole battlefield (can you say deus ex machina?) which hardens over everything and everyone, including the protag and her boyfriend. I remember a horse suffocating, but I can't remember if everybody else died. I know the main people were cut free and taken up to the airship where they were transported across the nuclear wasteland to civilization. Apparently, Petra, the little sis, had contacted them telepathically, and they embrace the mutations.
After all that, I think I remember the protag's name is Marie. Wish I could find that anthology again.