The winter of my discontent with reading material is over. I read “Sweetlings” by Lucy Taylor too fast the first time, but that’s just a sign of good horror. The second reading of this long form fiction nominee for the Bram Stoker Award was even better.
The world as we know it has already ended. Gone. Washed into the encroaching sea or submerged in inland lakes and swamps. Yet the transformation of the world is not over. Like a tide pool-stranded octopus, human existence on the remaining land is pretty dismal. Evolution seems to have kicked into high gear for all lifeforms, and the boundaries between the sea dwellers and the land dwellers is being erased.
We navigate this world through the eyes of Mir, a teenager who is among the first generation born after the inundation. She has adapted to the new world’s terms enough to keep going, sloughing off the old expectations imposed by civilization and adapting to the new world with the clear-eyed purpose of one who must eat or be eaten. Her mother is gone, having walked into the sea shortly before the story begins, and taking Mir’s baby brother with her. This is hardly remarkable in a settlement of survivors who disappear on a regular basis. Death is all around. All Mir has left is her father, a science teacher and amateur oceanographer, and her boyfriend Jersey, a teenager who has survived the demise of both his parents.
The touching gestures of attraction between Mir and Jersey are very well written–realistic without compromising the scope of the story to dawdle too long over young adult romance. As the scales tip toward the sea dwellers a little faster than Mir and Jersey are ready for, they strike out for the west and the promise of higher and drier land. Continue reading
Note: This is review number five of the six short stories nominated for the Nebula Award in 2017. You will find the full list of nominees here, and the other reviews this year in the most recent posts.
“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wild Flowers” by Alyssa Wong is about two tragic sisters with great love for one another despite their differences. They have the power to bend space and time. When one of the sisters dies, the other feels compelled to try, try and try again to change the circumstances leading to her sister’s death.
The depictions of the sisters feels true, if not extremely deep. There are some sweet descriptions of their closeness as young girls and the pain of separation when they’re older. Sibling relationships are subtle and powerful in their own right, and the notion that the balance of the universe might depend on the harmony of two sisters is an attractive idea. The story’s strongest feature is the emotional frenzy surrounding the main character’s emotions. Continue reading
Spanish translation below the English is by Daniela Toulemonde.
Author Nnedi Okorafor promises a straightforward account of an African woman’s adventure in space both with the title of her Nebula-nominated novella Binti and in the hauntingly beautiful cover design, illustrated by David Palumbo. Much more, however, is delivered. Okorafor’s prose and writing style makes this novella appear deceptively simple. It was only when I finished it that I realized the magic she had worked throughout. *Warning: spoilers ahead.
We join the main character, a young African girl of the Himba people, preparing to leave earth in secret and go to a prestigious university (a whole planet is dedicated to education) far across the galaxy. Despite passing the difficult entrance exam and gaining admission, Binti is worried. As a member of community on earth that is marginalized and discriminated against, she wonders if this opportunity will really open the doors to the education that she hopes for or will the university be just one more exploitive institution as her family has warned her?
Binti manages to board the ship filled with students departing for the university and, over the course of the journey, begins to make friends. Before reaching the university, however, the ship is attacked by sophisticated and deadly beings known as the Meduse. Everyone aboard is murdered except Binti and the pilot. Her goals shrink to one: survival. Continue reading
Note: This is the second review of the 2015 Nebula Award nominees for best short story. Spanish translation by Daniela Toulemonde.
While reading “Damage” by David D. Levine, I was reminded how motifs in literature may rise and fall in popularity, but they come back in style again and again because there is a fan base that gets something important from that type of story. And that “something” is what I was looking for while reading this story about the tormented inner life of a spaceship designed for war.
The story unfolds over a couple of weeks where this AI-operated ship narrates its experiences in a simulations, repairs and a couple of battles. Readers get the barest description of a war between a human rebel group at a space base and humans representing Earth’s government. We learn the war has reached the final stages with bitter costs on both sides, when the ship, called Scraps, is informed it will be carrying out a secret, final mission for the rebels.
Rebuilt from two damaged ships, Scraps differs from other Frankenstein-like monsters because of its memories of the earlier ships, including its two deaths in battle, and because it has been programmed to be loyal to its pilot. Memory, however, complicates loyalty, and that creates the story’s tension.
The secondary characters, Commander Ziegler and Specialist Toman, are the only two humans who interact directly with Scraps, but they are barely more than types created to serve the story’s architecture. I appreciated Levine’s inversion of roles–where the ship appears to be developing human reasoning and morality and the humans appear to be devolving into non-thinking machines. Still, in my opinion, the story could have as easily been told by a morally conflicted human co-pilot.