I don't have a book review this week, as I have been reading more short fiction to re-acquaint my mind with the short form for my current project. So here are some thoughts on the stories nominated for this year's Hugo Award by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America:
1) The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees by E. Lily Yu
The story is about wasps who inscribe tiny, intricate maps in their paper nests, and the consequences when the humans around them discover the maps existence. A colony of wasps moves to another location, already inhabited by a hive of bees, who are essentially enslaved by the stronger wasps.
But that is far too simple a synopsis. The story touches on slavery, anarchism, survival, and many other topics, all framed in the societies of insects. The writing is lyrical and strong, and there is a depth here that isn't often seen in a short story. It is well worth the short time it takes to read, and should stay with you after.
2) The Homecoming by Mike Resnick
This is a story about families and the often complex interrelationships that make them up. A long absent son returns home to visit his mother, who has severe dementia. The catch is that the son chose to change himself dramatically eleven years prior in order to pursue his own life, and his father has never forgiven him. The father reacts as expected, and the son fails once again in his attempt to explain. It is in the interaction between the very different son and his confused mother that the real growth of understanding begins to take place.
This story is written in first person, from the father's point of view: brusque, no-nonsense, and practical. Still, there is an undercurrent of emotion that pulls you in to the story. Despite his curt appearance, it is obvious he loves his wife, even though she hardly recognizes him anymore. A lot is packed into this short story- family, freedom, the search for common ground, and over it all, love. Another fine read, and deserving of the nomination.
3) The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
This story is another family tale, this time about a Chinese-American family. The mother here is a mail order bride, brought over to the US to marry a Chinese man in the suburbs. They have a son, and while he is small, his mother makes him origami animals. She is able to breathe life into them, and they become his favorite toys. As with many children, he eventually becomes aware that he and his family are "different." He begins to turn away from his mother, and by the time he is in high school, they have grown apart. He packs up his menagerie and forgets about them until his mother dies of cancer.
Yes, it's a little predictable, but the strength of the story lies in the characters, especially the mother. She is a driving force in the whole tale, even when she is not actively present. The writing is soft and flowing, fitting the more internal aspect of the story very well. It left me a bit misty. A nicely written, warm story.
4) Movement by Nancy Fulda
This story is about autism, or more precisely, autism in the future. The point of view character is an autistic teenager who actually has only two lines of dialoque in the story. Her parents are considering an experimental procedure that would allow her to be more "normal" and fit in with the rest of society. It explores the question of what is normal, and how do we get to the place considered normal in our understanding of life. Hannah, the point of view character, sees her world in a completely different light than her parent or grandparents. But is she really just a mutation that needs fixing, or is she a stepping stone to something else?
Hannah is a dancer, although she dances for herself and not in a formal class. The writing flows like a dance- sometimes smooth and slow, sometimes fast and whirling, sometimes loud and unharmonic. It mimics Hannah's internal world, the world her parents can't see, and won't understand. This one will bring up questions, and leave you searching for the answers.
5) The Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One :The Dead City (excerpt) by John Scalzi
What can I say about this one? It was Scalzi's April Fool's contribution and it is, in a word, amazing. How can you describe a story in which the first two paragraphs are exactly one sentence each (and they are real paragraph length!), and the first contains the word "black, " or variations of it, twelve times?
Written in the "style" of the best of the worst stories, it is funny, fascinating, and a joy to read. I'm not going to try to tell you what it's about- go, read it. You will laugh. You will laugh some more. And then you will laugh again.
Disguised as the announcement of a new series by the author, the story appeared on the website of Tor Books, complete with foil-accented cover image. Apparently, there are people who didn't get the joke. In a way, it is too bad that it WAS a joke. I would so buy this book. If only to find out just how dark that night (and the castle) were...