What is sentience worth without purpose? Fandom for Robots by Vina Jie-Min Prasad

This is the third review of the short fiction nominated for a 2017 Nebula Award. You can see earlier reviews here and here.

Everything conspired to make me roll my eyes at the beginning of  “Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad. First of all, robots. And this one, Computron, is old and all boxy and awkward. Second, Vina’s too-cute outfit in her author photo. Okay, sorry, I judged. Third, I’m not a fan of fandom. But dang it, somebody’s got to review these Nebula nominees, so I soldiered on.

Our hero Computron is the first and only known sentient robot ever created, though Computron makes it clear that it has no emotions. Computron has been relegated to a computer museum–having been created in 1954 and designed in an outdated “box and claw” style–and it occasionally participates in live performances for a show about robotics to illustrate the early days of the field. A young person at the performance informs the robot about an anime TV series called Hyperdimension Warp Record (超次元 ワープ レコード) that it might enjoy. If Computron could enjoy. Which it cannot.  Continue reading

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Carnival Nine by Caroline M. Yoachim is a bittersweet rumination on life

This is the second review of the 2017 Nebula Award short story nominees. You can see the full list here, and the first review here.

Carnival Nine” by Caroline M. Yoachim is a story about the lives of wind-up dolls who have families, reassemble and repaint themselves occasionally, and look forward to visiting carnivals. The life of a doll, Zee, is chronicled in this slow-paced parable. Tiny dreams and disappointments are highlighted as Zee grows up, becomes a wife and mother, witnesses death and approaches it herself.

It sounds dull, doesn’t it? It was dull, at first. I kept looking for the conflict, the rise in tension, the “aha,” and it wasn’t there. And then the point of this somewhat plodding journey became clear. Zee’s father expresses it early in the story. “Sometimes the maker turns your key more, and sometimes less, but you can never have more than your mainspring will hold.”

There is nothing of the sardonic humor Yoachim displayed in “Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0,” but this story didn’t disappoint. It was a pleasure to slow down for a bittersweet reminder of how to live with the life we’re given.

Thumbs up and 4 stars out of 5.

A simple tale well told–Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience by Rebecca Roanhorse

This is the first review of the short stories nominated for the 2017 Nebula Awards. The full list of nominees is here.

There’s nothing terribly original about the premise or plot of “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™” by Rebecca Roanhorse, but do not mistake this observation for an unfriendly critique. Sometimes a tried and true narrative is just the vehicle (or maybe it’s the interface) that you need to tell a good story.

Jesse, the protagonist, works for a business offering “authentic” virtual experiences for paying customers who want to try out “Indian” life. Jesse is an Indian, but not a marketable one. The act he puts on for the customers doesn’t reflect the banality of his actual life. Surviving this irony is so soul-crushing that he immediately gravitates to the first offer of friendship in the unfriendly real world. Not realizing how vulnerable he has made himself, Jesse ends up losing his place in the real world and the virtual one after the false friend turns the reality tables on him. Continue reading

2017 Nebula nominees for best short story are announced

Did you know the 2017 Nebula Award nominees are out? Of course you did, because unlike me, you’ve been paying attention to all the great science fiction and fantasy out there. The Nebula Awards will be held May 19, 2018, in Pittsburgh.

My only excuses for not posting this earlier are

  1. I’m trying to write a novel.
  2. I’m also building a summer house in a remote location that has sketchy phone service and internet access.
  3. I have a communications consulting business to pay the bills.
  4. The cat ate my laptop.

Okay, #4 is a lie, but the rest is true.

Anyway, here are the short story nominees. Reviews of these nominees are coming soon.