Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand by Fran Wilde–I just don’t get it

This is the last review of the short stories nominated for the 2017 Nebula Awards. 

According to the podcast introduction on Uncanny, this story really wowed people during a recent reading. I, however, remained uncertain about this bizarre story even after two readings. If you’ve watched “Westworld,” you’ll know that sometimes things don’t look like anything to you. It happens to humans as well as hosts. You can’t even begin to describe what is before you. Your programming is limited, faulty perhaps.

Here’s what I did manage to glean from the story: An unsuspecting person is invited into a torture museum (?) and given a personal tour by something not human. The ugliness of scientific and medical practices on the host and those like her (?) seems to inspire this museum’s collection. It is clear she (?) will extract something from the newest guest before the tour ends.

The voice narrating is very intriguing and the imagery of transforming human into something else was suitably eery. The story reminded me a lot of The Motion of Puppets by Keith Donohue, but I was not able to really sort out what was happening to the hapless human invited into this place.

I’m really very sorry, Fran Wilde, because I know from reading your other work that you are a gifted writer. The comprehension problem is entirely mine. Won’t I regret it if you win the Nebula!

It’s really not right to rate this story at all, but if I had to–palm flat and 3 stars out of 5.

Comfort and despair intertwine in The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard) by Matthew Kressel / La comodidad y la desesperación se entrelazan en The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard) de Matthew Kressel

This is the fifth in a series of reviews of the short stories nominated for the 2017 Nebula Awards. The full list of nominees for short fiction is here.

lizardFinally, a nominee that is not about AI or robots! Matthew Kressel’s story “The Last Novelist (or a Dead Lizard in the Yard)” is a testament to good old, human-centric storytelling, even though there are aliens in it. I was really tired of reading about the ascent of the non-living intelligences this Nebula season. Give me a violet-eyed alien with humanoid features any day. Overreaction? Sometimes it feels good to see yourself and fellow humanoids represented in science fiction.

A writer is dying. He’s living out his last days on a distant planet, trying to finish his last novel. His muse shows up in the form of a curious, alien child who is fascinated by writing, illustrating, even typesetting. This is a writer’s dream is it not? There is conflict and resolution, and the baton is more-or-less passed.

The story satisfied me, because, as I said, I was really tired of artificial intelligence stories, and Kressel’s powers of description and pacing is very comforting. On a second reading, however, I realized how mainstream the story is. I asked myself whether there was anything in this story that made the violet-eyed humanoids on Ardabaab absolutely essential to the story. Although the story is naturally most plausible if set in some distant future, there appears to be no reason why the writer (in the story, not Kressel) couldn’t have addressed his mortality and concerns about the continuation of his art among humans in the earth’s future. Continue reading