Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Long List Anthology: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List by David Steffen (Editor)

A collection of stories that just missed a Hugo nomination in 2015. A varied bunch of tales, some very good, some a little less good.

The Breath of War • [Universe of Xuya] • (2014) • short story by Aliette de Bodard
The women of the world apparently sculpt a some kind of golem out of stone and, with a breath, turn it alive. When a woman gives birth to a child, the stone being must breathe on the newborn or it will die. A woman, whose Stoneman was left behind in the jungle and is heavily pregnant, tries to find it before her labor started. It turns out that she had sculpted a spaceship, which is alive.
The writing was very good but the story didn't make any sense whatsoever. Even fantasy should have some degree of believability and internal consistency. I can't imagine how the method of conception that was described could evolve, or what the benefits would be. If it is an artificial construct, why would anyone create such dependency? And waking up a stone statue is a pretty common trope. It is even harder to believe that you could sculpt a spaceship out of stone and then wake it up and end with a self-conscious, actually flight capable, vehicle. ***+
When It Ends, He Catches Her • (2014) • short story by Eugie Foster
A former professional dancer met her former dance partner, after the fall of civilization. He is a zombie (though, this word is not mentioned) but dancing restores his mind. They will have one last dance. A well written, bittersweet story. ***½
Toad Words • (2014) • short story by Ursula Vernon [as by T. Kingfisher ]
A man is cursed. Everything that he says comes out of his mouth as toads or frogs. When he learns that amphibians are dying out, he finds a way to capitalize on his curse. A fun little story. ***½
Makeisha in Time • (2014) • short story by Rachael K. Jones
A woman is pulled into the past and lives whole lifetimes there. She returns to the present when she dies in these lifetimes and no time has passed for anyone she was with before her time travel. As it has been decades for her, she tends to be slightly disorganized and has problems with her relationships. She is distressed, as her work in the past seems to disappear and is sometimes attributed to men. The end is slightly confusing but it was otherwise a pretty good story. I also wonder why she valued her life so much in the "present" that she was willing to commit suicide repeatedly in the other lifetimes. She apparently was able to have fully satisfying relationships in other times, the problems were only relationships in the present. ***½
Covenant • (2014) • short story by Elizabeth Bear
A psychopath is given a choice: he may go to prison or be cured. As he believes that his mind is strong enough to resist any tampering, he takes that choice. But more than his mind is changed; and soon to hunter becomes prey. A pretty good story, especially and beginning and end, the middle was a little less successful. ***½
The Truth About Owls • (2014) • short story by Amal El-Mohtar
A Lebanese girl has moved to Britain. She takes an interest to an owl that lives at a local owl sanctuary. She seems to have some sort of psychic powers that she can’t completely control, which she uses when she feels threatened. Nice writing but bit too vague for me. ***+
A Kiss with Teeth • (2014) • short story by Max Gladstone
A vampire pretends to be a husband who takes care of his family. His wife is aware of what he is and helps him. But it is very hard for him to pretend to be clumsy and slow like humans. His son has problems in school, so he starts to work with his teacher. But will he be able to control his urges? A pretty good story. ***+
The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family • (2014) • short story by Usman T. Malik
The terrorism and desperate lives of people in Pakistan is compared to different states of matter. A woman who has lost a lot tries to find her brother after years of separation. The writing was pretty good, but the story felt fairly disjointed and very hard to follow. ***
This Chance Planet • (2014) • short story by Elizabeth Bear
A woman works herself almost to death as a waitress, as her boyfriend is about to make a break in the music business. The problem is that he has been "about to" for a very long time already. He even suggests that she should volunteer to raise spare organs inside of her body to get more money, so that it would be easier for him to start touring. One day, on the way to her job, she encounters a stray, very pregnant, dog and eventually makes a connection with her. An excellent and well written story, with some magic realism happening in the fairly near future. ****-
Goodnight Stars • (2014) • short story by Annie Bellet
Something has hit the moon and it has shattered into pieces. The pieces are falling down and causing widespread destruction. A young woman, whose mother was on the moon working on a telescope station (and is most likely dead), journeys to her father's home. A pretty good, very well written, and moving story. But I didn't really believe the premise – just like I didn’t buy the premise of the Hugo nominated novel, Seveneves. ***½
We Are the Cloud • (2014) • novelette by Sam J. Miller
A young gay man lives on a world where poor people rent out their brains for computing, risking severe brain damage in the process. Some nice ideas, but they are a side note, while the emphasis is on relationships. I didn’t really get into the story, it was ok, but nothing really special. ***
The Magician and Laplace's Demon • (2014) • novelette by Tom Crosshill
An artificial intelligence that has appeared spontaneously encounters magic. Magicians are able to bend the probabilities but only when no one sees them do so and if the situation is such that the magic can't be proved. The AI starts hunting the magicians, as they are the only ones able to limit its powers. Centuries later, the AI is chasing the last one, who is extremely powerful. A very good and well written story with an interesting brand of magic. ***½
Spring Festival: Happiness, Anger, Love, Sorrow, Joy • (2014) • novelette by Xia Jia
Episodes of life in China, with heavy touches of magic realism. Intriguing fragments of life that open a window to another culture. To really get the stories, one probably should have some familiarity with the Chinese culture. ***
The Husband Stitch • (2014) • novelette by Carmen Maria Machado
A young woman meets a young man who she wants to marry. She seduces him, submits to all of the sex he ever wanted and more, but she refuses to take a ribbon off of her neck, not even when her husband and, later her son, asks her to. A well written, allegorical story with a really stupid ending. ***
The Bonedrake's Penance • (2014) • novelette by Yoon Ha Lee
A human has been raised by an alien queen, who is revered by people who serve her and bring occasional gifts. There are secrets and choices which must be made. A very good and entertaining story. I would love to read other stories set in the same world. ****-
The Devil in America • (2014) • novelette by Kai Ashante Wilson
A story of a young black girl from the 19th century who can ask for help from "angels." However, they aren't so easy to control as she thinks. But there is always a possibility of making a deal with a demon... and white people are hunting blacks. At places, the story was hard to follow and pretty slow moving. I didn't get into it at all, but I don't usually like this kind of magical realism. ***
The Litany of Earth • (2014) • novelette by Ruthanna Emrys
Apparently, this story continues some of the classic Chulthu-stories. Inhabitants/survivors of a town that was invaded by the “old ones” have lived in camps for years. As I am not a fan of these stories (nor am I familiar with them), I didn’t get into the story at all. As a matter of fact after, a few days, I'm having a lot of trouble recalling anything about it. **
A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai'i • (2014) • novelette by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Vampires have conquered humanity. The remaining humans are practically raised as cattle, in kind of concentration camps, and are used as a workforce and bled to sustain the vampires. A few select ones get special treatment, and there is a competition for who will be the most favored one. Less dark of a story than one might imagine from the subject matter; an excellent and well-written tale. ****
A Year and a Day in Old Theradane • (2014) • novelette by Scott Lynch
A gang of rascals is blackmailed to perform an impossible heist: they are supposed to steal an entire city street. A lot of banter, which was possibly meant to be funny, but I didn’t get into this story at all, and it was a struggle to read through. All of that banter felt mostly stupid and silly. The story was very boring to me, possibly because it is connected to a series I am totally unfamiliar with. **½
The Regular • (2014) • novella by Ken Liu
A hooker is killed and her eyes are dug out. The police blame gangs. The hooker’s mother hires a private detective, who has some bionic augmentations and still has issues with the death of her own daughter. Her ex-husband works for the police and they combine forces. An extremely well-written and interesting story, but it is more of a detective story than science fiction. ****
Grand Jeté (The Great Leap) • (2014) • novella by Rachel Swirsky
A young girl is dying from cancer, only a little while after her mother died, also from cancer. Her distraught father uses a new technology to create an android that looks like his daughter and has all of her memories. The story is told in three chapters, from three different viewpoints. The basic plot and writing are pretty good, but far too much of the storyline is spent on Jewish habits. ***½

498 pp.

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