Sarah Pinsker pulls off a magic trick in “The Court Magician”

Here we go with review number one of the six short stories nominated for the Nebula Awards this year. Check out the list here

The Court Magician” by Sarah Pinsker is an almost perfectly circular tale of the pursuit of power, conscience and cruelty. A young boy who is adept at magic tricks and suitably power hungry enters an exclusive and strange tutelage for the privilege of becoming the court magician, but there’s a cost. There is always a cost.

The action of the basic story goes through logical, predictable stages in the magician’s life and resolves at the end almost where the story began. But I said it is an “almost” perfectly circular story because the reader will realize at the end that the unseen narrator has pulled off an impressive sleight of hand. Continue reading

2019 Nebula Award nominees for best short story: let the reviews begin!

Literary award season is back, praise be! The 2019 Nebula Award nominees were named last week, and so we begin our review of those works in the short story category. (You can see the whole list of nominees at The Verge.)

Short Story Nominees

If you’ve been following my reviews in the past, you’ll know that I like to focus on three main story elements: strength of character, cohesiveness of plot and choice of scaffolding for the story’s world. Short stories have to accomplish a lot in few words with no opportunity to slow roast, but they can surprise us at times. I love surprises. Let me amend that a little to say I love surprises that don’t leave me incredulous.

Several new names in this roster, which I shall take as a good sign that the nominators are reading more widely and working a bit harder, but I could be completely wrong about that. Let’s read and find out. Check back soon and we’ll kick this list off with Sarah Pinsker’s story.

Nebula nominee review: “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide” by Sarah Pinsker / Reseña del cuento nominado al Premio Nebula: : “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide” de Sarah Pinsker

Note: This is the seventh and final review of the short story nominees for the Nebula Awards.

This short story, and I think it is the shortest of the nominees, moves slowly and steadily around the protagonist, a young farmer named Andy. He has suffered a life-altering accident and lost his right arm all the way up into the shoulder. The story balances on the irony that the accident actually didn’t alter Andy’s life in any meaningful way at all, and it is only the quirky technology hooked up to him that introduces our protagonist to some new ideas.

We are invited to wide open Saskatchewan in and around the town of Saskatoon where Andy and his family have lived their whole lives. Andy is a bit of a traditionalist who likes to use horses and old machinery even though his parents are more pragmatic farmers. All the players in Andy’s life are there — the girlfriend who dumped him, the girl who is interested, the other school friends. They’ve come back, if they ever left, like migrating geese or songbirds. Continue reading