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.

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.

Updraft soars above the clouds without visible supports

Far behind the popular curve on this one, I just finished Updraft by Fran Wilde, which was published in 2015 as the first novel in the Bone Universe series. Cloudbound and Horizon are the subsequent titles. Updraft was an enjoyable read, well worth the investment of time, and deserving of its acclaim, but it was also an example of how young adult (YA) novels sometimes sketch the big picture with the thinnest of brushstrokes, and that may not be enough.

There is plenty to say about the novel’s character development and plot, which you can see in a review on Strange Horizons here, but world-building was its core strength. Survivors of some unnamed historic tragedy live high above the ground, above the clouds even, in towers made of living bone. There were key details, such the living tiers shaped like vertebrae in a spine; mostly invisible, tentacled monsters sail around the towers and eat people on occasion; and the challenges of navigating air currents while flying. All important aspects and engaging, but as a reader I felt the novel wasn’t fully fleshed out. We never learn– Continue reading