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.

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What is sentience worth without purpose? Fandom for Robots by Vina Jie-Min Prasad / ¿Qué vale la consciencia sin propósito? Fandom for Robots de Vina Jie-Min Prasad

This is the third review of the short fiction nominated for a 2017 Nebula Award. You can see earlier reviews here and here.

Everything conspired to make me roll my eyes at the beginning of  “Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad. First of all, robots. And this one, Computron, is old and all boxy and awkward. Second, Vina’s too-cute outfit in her author photo. Okay, sorry, I judged. Third, I’m not a fan of fandom. But dang it, somebody’s got to review these Nebula nominees, so I soldiered on.

Our hero Computron is the first and only known sentient robot ever created, though Computron makes it clear that it has no emotions. Computron has been relegated to a computer museum–having been created in 1954 and designed in an outdated “box and claw” style–and it occasionally participates in live performances for a show about robotics to illustrate the early days of the field. A young person at the performance informs the robot about an anime TV series called Hyperdimension Warp Record (超次元 ワープ レコード) that it might enjoy. If Computron could enjoy. Which it cannot.  Continue reading

“Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar highlights the writer’s gifts

Note: this is review number four of the nominees for the Nebula Award for short fiction this year. You can see all the nominees listed here.

heavy-iron-shoes

Who knew there really were such shoes? These are reportedly displayed at a medieval crime museum in Rothenburg, Germany.

Amal El-Mohtar is no stranger to accolades for her writing. She’s been a Nebula finalist before and won the Locus Award as well as several Rhysling Awards for poetry. I, however, have not been particularly thrilled with some of her more recent stories. So when I saw that she was nominated for the Nebula again this year, I worried that I would be handing out another tough review of an author whose work I want to like.

I am happy to report that my worries were misplaced. This is the story I’ve been waiting for from El-Mohtar. It’s both simpler in form and far, far, better in execution than earlier ones recently nominated for awards.

“Seasons of Glass and Iron”, published in Uncanny Magazine, is a sweet fantasy told from the perspectives of two characters who have painful lives involving curses and shame. One of the main characters is Tabitha who is crossing the world wearing iron shoes that must be worn out before they can be removed. And she is on the fourth of seven pairs. Despite her mangled feet and the pain, she sees beauty in the world all around her. Still, she cannot stop to make a new home. The other character, Amira, sits atop a glass mountain where she feels safe on her glass throne as long as she doesn’t move. Amira appreciates the peace that comes from keeping the world at bay far below her perch, yet she is lonely. Continue reading

“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander–a revenge tale served hot / “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” de Brooke Bolander – una historia de venganza servida caliente

Note: this is review number three of the nominees for the Nebula Award for short fiction this year. You can see all the nominees listed here. Previous reviews are here and here.

wingsHarpies. That’s all you need to know about “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander. Published in Uncanny Magazine, this short, short story is barely more than 1,000 words, and it just screams from start to finish. Which is what you would expect in a story about a Harpy.

There’s no reviewing this. The main character doesn’t give us her name, because we couldn’t pronounce it or do it justice anyway. She barely describes herself except for those telltale, feathery appendages that were so rudely stolen from her, but it is the theft that motivates this brief episode in our character’s immortal existence. The world is charming and righteous with a muscle car and cosmic scenery providing the color for a simple act of revenge.

My favorite sentence: “I was playing at being mortal this century because I love cigarettes and shawarma, and it’s easier to order shawarma if your piercing shriek doesn’t drive the delivery boy mad.”

Why don’t we see more stories about harpies? And what’s the difference between angels and harpies? They’re both associated with righteousness and retribution, aren’t they? I’d take a screaming harpy sister over those pasty-faced emissaries from God any day. The narrator of Bolander’s story is so cool, I could see her striking up a friendship with Dean and Sam. Well, okay, probably Dean. On the other hand, I don’t really see this short story winning the Nebula. Still, I’m glad it was nominated. If there was a category for micro fiction, I’d say it had a really good shot.

Thumbs up and 4.8 stars out of 5.

Read more in español. Continue reading