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.
Finally, 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