26 March 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Review: Nebula Novelette Nominees

written by David Steffen

And the next category up in Nebula nominees, voted by professional SF and fantasy authors, stories from 7500-17,500 words. As I work my way up in the category lengths I generally enjoy less of the stories because the longer categories could often do with significant trimming.

So I was surprised and pleased after only really digging one of the stories in the Short Story category, that this category did much better.

 

1. ‘‘Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters,” Henry Lien (Asimov’s 12/13)
Suki Jiang, inhabitant of the world of Pearl, has been sent to a boarding school for being willful and disrespectful to her parents. This is the essay she writes about her experiences at Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters. The main measure of worth in this society is ability to perform martial arts while ice-skating on the surface that is made of pearl.

I found the protagonist of this story extremely entertaining, proud to the point of arrogance and focused on her goals even when she doesn’t take much time for forethought before the things she says and does. The story had my vote from an early moment when Suki faces off in martial arts skating against a team of nuns who want to cut her hair as punishment.

 

2. ‘‘They Shall Salt the Earth with Seeds of Glass,” Alaya Dawn Johnson (Asimov’s 1/13)
No one knows why the glassmen have come, forcing us to follow their rules and their moralities, punishing with sudden violence any resistance against them. Those who survive have little time to concentrate on anything else but trying to eke out a living from the land under the eye of the glassmen. No one has even seen a glassman in the flesh, because they hide behind their remote controlled devices. One of their rules is that no abortions are outlawed, and the protagonist’s sister wants to find a doctor who will give her an illegal aboriton, but they have to travel some distance to find one while avoiding glassmen who will force her to stay at a hospital to carry the baby to term.

The glassmen in this story were scary and strange enough that their presence in the story carried my like for it. I felt for the main characters and very much wanted them to survive their journey, and was kept guessing what the glassmen really were and what they really wanted throughout.

 

3. ‘‘The Waiting Stars,” Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky)
This is told as two seemingly separate stories, taking place in a world that will be familiar to her fans, as she has told stories from this world before. One story is about Lan Nhen and her sister Cuc as they go to rescue a damaged mindship that contains the mind of a relative. They come from the Dai Viet culture where ships are controlled by human minds, birthed as mechanical objects from human wombs. The other story follows Catherine, who has been “rescued” from Dai Viet culture by the empire which has tried to give her a new life in the imperial way.

Aliette’s stories have a great deal to say about how cultures interact with each other, not in the war that is often the subject of SF stories, but more in regards to cultural assimilation, imperialism, and the motivations of individuals who are just trying to survive in the boundaries where wildly disparate cultures intersect. She has a real gift for exploring this topic. This is a very good story. It did take me most of the story to guess how the two tales are related to each other, but it was done well. The fact that I placed it as #3 on the list is no insult to its quality, it’s just that this category held some tough competition.

 

4. ‘‘In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind,’‘ Sarah Pinsker (Strange Horizons 7/1 , 7/8/13)
Millie’s husband George is in the hospital, and he might not be long for this world. In a comatose state, he moves his hand in a drawing motion. Given a pen he sketches the rough blueprint of a structure she’d never seen him draw in all his years as an architect, even the more fanciful conceptual projects he’d drawn in his career for the military. What could it be?

As with the #3 on the list, this one’s not #4 because I disliked it–it was just a tough crowd. I felt like Millie and George were real people. They sounded like great people to know and I was especially interested in the sprawling backyard treehouse of motley design that he put together for his children. I was interested to see where it all turned out and I was fully invested in the story. It was a good story, it just didn’t quite work for me as well as the other ones.

 

5. ‘‘The Litigation Master and the Monkey King,” Ken Liu (Lightspeed 8/13)
Tian Haoli, the litigation master, is approached by a man carrying a text which has been forbidden by the emperor, pursued by the emperor’s assassins. The man asks Tian Haoli to hide the book for him, and he must then decide what to do.

This wasn’t really speculative fiction. The Monkey King himself was the only pseudo-speculative element, but it seemed pretty clear that this was just a figment of the litigation master’s imagination. The story is based in real tragedy, but I thought it was a little too heavy on message. It was hard to just go along with the story when it seemed the author was just using it as a medium to tell about a historical event that people might not be aware of. I prefer story to be primary, message secondary. As a documentary, I’d want to read more, but as fiction it left something to be desired.

 

6. ‘‘Paranormal Romance,” Christopher Barzak (Lightspeed 6/13)
“This is a story about a witch. Not the kind you’re thinking of either.” Sheila is a modern witch who specialized in love. Helping a lonely person find new love, helping a person in a fading marriage hold it together, anything along those lines, but she’s never had much luck in love herself.

I didn’t find very much in the story to keep my interest. The opening lines seem to match a pattern I’ve noticed in some recent stories in the last few years which start with some variation of “I’m going to tell you a fairy tale. But not the kind of fairy tale you’re expecting.” I’ve never found this to be a very intriguing beginning, because the format never ends up being much less predictable than the fairy tale it claims to be totally unlike.

In this case, I could’ve used some tension, some goal for the character. She seems content enough doing her everyday work. She’s good at what she does. Her mom continually is trying to set her up on romantic outings, but she doesn’t really seem that concerned about her lack of a relationship. And if she doesn’t seem that concerned, why should I be? But in the end it seems that what the story was about was her finding a relationship, something which she wasn’t looking for at all. Generally a story with a relationship as a major factor shows me that the person really wants a relationship, or perhaps there is other focal tension and the relationship grows from that. This one was neither, and I didn’t think it worked. So, generally, I found the story quite dull and lacking in tension, and I was never interested in the love interest, and it didn’t really matter to me whether a relationship started or not because the character didn’t seem that concerned.

 

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