23 March 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Nebula Novelette Review 2015

written by David Steffen

The Nebulas are voted for by the members of SFWA, the Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America, based on all the published stories from 2014.  The Novelette category covers stories between 7500 and 17500 words.

I have only had time to read three of the six stories before the SFWA voting deadline.  It’s Ferrett Steinmetz’s fault, really.  His first novel FLEX released the first week of March and my reading time was all occupied with reading his book.

1.  “The Magician and Laplace’s Demon,” Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 12/14)
The protagonist of the story is an every expanding near-omniscient near-omnipotent AI.  It thinks it has everything under control, but it discovers a new threat, an inscrutable impossible unprovable threat–magic.  The alteration of probability which only manifests when it can’t be proved.  Alteration of probability isn’t inherently provable because there’s always a chance it could’ve turned out that way anyway, but when the same person can twist it in their favor time and time again, even if it’s not provable.

This story was great on so many levels.  The outcome was never certain because the two sides are so powerful, but differently powerful.  I love a great mix of science fiction and fantasy like this.  Epic, fun, exciting.

2.  “We Are the Cloud,” Sam J. Miller (Lightspeed 9/14)
In the not-so-distant future, computer-brain interfaces are common.  The obious use of these devices is for people to surf the Internet just with their brain, but the focus of the story is a much different and much more scary use–farming out processing power from people’s brains.  It’s a voluntary contract, one which only someone desperate for the money would do, because it’s literally repurposing portions of your brain to aid with web searches and other processing that is in demand from the general.  Of course there’s never any shortage of people hard for money, especially if arranging for them to stay that way is profitable.  This story is about the people who have farmed out their brainpower in this way, one in particular who is discovering that there is more to this interface than anyone understands.

This story was scarily plausible.  In my opinion, the only thing missing is the technology.  There will always be organizations, legal and otherwise, that take advantage of the desperate, exploiting them for profitability, and I have no doubt that this would happen if this kind of brain-farming were currently possible.  If you have to make the choice between your children starving and farming out part of your brain it’s a straightforard if horrible choice.  This is the story of that exploitation, and also of the starting steps of revolution that build from it.

3.  “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i,” Alaya Dawn Johnson (F&SF 7-8/14)
Key is a human in a rare position of power in a vampire-dominated world.  She works as a facilitator in the Mauna Kea food production facility in the  Hawai’i.  The Mauna Kea is a lower grade facility, where the humans are only kept at subsistence levels, fed nutritional but bland food bricks but never offered any real pleasure.   She is asked to travel to the Oahu Grade Gold production facility to sort out the murder of one of the humans kept there.  Emotions and other experiences affect the taste of the blood, so if humans are treated as though they live at a resort.  When she was younger she had longed to be made into a vampire by the vampire Tetsuo, and he had refused to ever turn her, or to ever feed from her.  Now she is being reunited with him at the Oahu facility.

Great worldbuilding, very interesting characters.  If vampires existed, I think something like this is probably the most plausible outcome.  Even though she keeps her job by maintaining a gruesome status quo, she is doing her job as best she can (and it’s not like she has a lot of other options)–interesting point of view where she is often more sympathetic to the vampires than to her own kind.  Very good story.

 

The stories I didn’t have time to read:

“Sleep Walking Now and Then,” Richard Bowes (Tor.com 7/9/14)

“The Husband Stitch,” Carmen Maria Machado (Granta #129)

“The Devil in America,” Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com 4/2/14)

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