Note: this is the first of six reviews of the 2015 Nebula Award nominees for best short story. Reviews of the 2014 short story nominees are archived here, just search by title or author.
Nebula award short story nominee “Cat Pictures Please,” by Naomi Kritzer, is a first-person (?) narrative of a do-good AI who is trying to sort out ethical guidance for itself. The story is set in a future so close it could be now.
The unbodied AI runs algorithms for a search engine and knows everything about you that can be gleaned online, but this consciousness is not plotting humanity’s destruction. It was evidently programmed with customer satisfaction in mind. Being far more interested in helping humans do what will make them happy, like viewing cat pictures, the AI narrates its secret experiments in meddling with three human’s lives. Results are mixed.
It’s an upbeat, humans-do-the-darnedest-things story, but by the end the reader is aware of the AI’s subtle evolution. At first the AI’s interest is in discovering its own purpose. As this is tied to satisfying human needs and interests, the question shifts to whether or not the AI is “obligated” to act in a human’s best interest if the human does not seem aware of remedies or is unable for some reason to solve their own problem. By the end of the story the AI considers that it might have been responsible for helping at least one of the human experiments, while recognizing that lots more data is needed.
The AI’s tone remains beneficent. There’s nothing ominous in the story, but readers should have had the tiniest warning bell about where this could be going. And that’s my only criticism of the story–the turning point could have been sharper.
I’m guessing this has been a good year for Kritzer. She had another short story published in Clarkesworld–“So Much Cooking“–that was, in my opinion, even more worthy of the Nebula nomination than this one. The audio version of that story, read by Kate Baker, brought tears to my eyes. If you appreciate humorous, tender tales, you’re going to like Kritzer’s work.
Thumbs up and 4.5 out of 5 stars. Continue reading
The nominees for the 2015 Nebula Awards have been announced by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and it is certainly an exciting list. Like last year, I shall be reviewing the nominees in the short story category, and I will try to cover a few of the other nominees, but I’m not sure I can get through all of them with my own WIP sitting on the desk and giving me dirty looks.
Short Story Nominees
“Madeleine,” Amal El-Mohtar (Lightspeed 6/15)
“Cat Pictures Please,” Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld 1/15)
“Damage,” David D. Levine (Tor.com 1/21/15)
“When Your Child Strays From God,” Sam J. Miller (Clarkesworld 7/15)
“Today I Am Paul,” Martin L. Shoemaker (Clarkesworld 8/15)
“Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers,” Alyssa Wong (Nightmare 10/15)
Voting for SFWA members is open from March 1 to March 30, and the winners will be announced on May 14 at the 2016 Nebula Conference at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago.
As regular readers know, I am a raging Indophile. and nothing makes me happier than reading good fiction from the subcontinent, which is what I found in “Breaking Water” by Indrapramit Das. Although probably best categorized as horror, the story is more fascinating than horrifying as it questions aspects of that most critical boundary–the one between life and death.
Readers enter the story when Krishna, a poor man bathing in the Hooghly river, finds a corpse. In the first lovely sentences we are hauled up close to the sacred and the profane.
“A face beneath sun-speckled ripples—to his eyes a drowned idol, paint flaking away and clay flesh dissolving. But it was nothing so sacred as a discarded goddess. The surface broke to reveal skin that was not painted on, long soggy hair that had caught the detritus of the river like a fisherman’s net.”
A priest suggests to Krishna that he might have some responsibility to care for the corpse, but Krishna ultimately leaves the corpse behind like so much trash on the side of the river. The corpse rises and starts following Krishna’s footprints in the mud. Others, and this is entirely believable if you have ever visited a river in India, ignore the woman or silently berate her for shamelessly wandering about the ghat naked. Continue reading
Hello, Dear Readers. Did you miss me? I could give you a number of plausible excuses for not posting in the last month, but the truth is I have been working on the WIP and writing my little heart out. Yes, every writing site and pundit says you should develop your social media platform while you are writing, and some of the time I can handle it, but not always. I suspect my posting frequency will be a bit sluggish this spring because I must prioritize, and priority number one is to get this freakin’ story out of my head and on paper!
As my characters and I fight our way through the middle section of the novel, which I am glad to report is full of conflicts and twists (excerpt below), I will be posting a bit more on what I’m learning as a writer. I’ll also attempt to get out the odd short story, but I have to tell you–every brain cell I have is wrapped up with this novel in a non-mutual symbiotic relationship.
Here’s a scene from Chapter 26
The great hall was packed with people to witness the last of the realm’s official hearings before the new year, in part because there was no knowing when the Queen would resume business after her marriage, and in part because a southern noble had accused a palace worker of theft. Lingli sat alone on the criminals’ bench except for the guard assigned to watch her. She occasionally tried to focus on the words and manners of the judges or the Queen, but her thoughts fell inward onto memories of every bad thing that had ever happened to her. She was sunk in self pity and knew it, berated herself for it, but could not rise above the sorrow that seemed weightier than her bones. Continue reading