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“Travels with My Cats”, by Mike Resnick

“Travels with My Cats” is a 2004 fantasy short story by Mike Resnick.  It won the Hugo for Best Short Story of 2005.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“Travels with My Cats” is the story of a man living a bit of a wasted life; he started with dreams, but they slowly grew further and further out of his reach.  When he rediscovers a travel book he purchased and enjoyed as a child, the long-dead author and her cats appear.  She reignites his passion for life.

Why should you read it?

There’s a bit of a problem here.  Mike Resnick is going to show up a lot on this list, because he’s been nominated for an award every year for the last six hundred year.  Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much: he’s the most nominated author ever.

This story starts with a very disillusioning life.  It then moves on to a very enchanting relationship, and ends with a man changed.  The story is very effective and very enjoyable.  It’s far from science fiction or high fantasy–the Wikipedia article calls this magic realism, and I’d have to agree.  Beautifully written, and an emotional journey.  Not all of it is a fun journey, but a real one.

Where to find “Travels with My Cats”

Asimov’s has a copy of the text online.  Escape Pod has also done a lovely audio version.


“Tk’tk’tk”, by David D. Levine

June 24, 2013 1 comment

“Tk’tk’tk” is a 2005 science fiction short story by David D. Levine.  It won the Hugo for Best Short Story of 2006.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“Tk’tk’tk” is the story of a human salesman who goes to a very alien planet, and tries to sell the software he represents to other humans.  Unfortunately, the people he’s speaking to are aliens, and don’t buy.  When he learns to sell to aliens, then suddenly success comes to him.  When he learns to be an alien, then his life changes.

Why should you read it?

On one level, this is brilliant science fiction, with a very Campbellian hook: these aliens don’t think much like humans, but they do think as well as humans.  But this time, I’m not going to suggest you should read this story for the science fiction.  “Tk’tk’tk” is the story of a man who is learning when struggle is not just going to get you nothing, but is actively counterproductive.  It’s the story of a man learning to release himself and become the other, in order to serve both the other and himself.  That’s the part of it I’ll be taking with me.  The aliens themselves are almost set dressing for the transformation of a man with an drive to overcome into a man who accepts.

Where to find “Tk’tk’tk”

This story is available online as text courtesy of Asimov’s, or in audio from Escape Pod.  I especially recommend the text version, as the alien language makes for some sounds you’ve never heard before.  I admire them for even trying this story.

“A Study In Emerald”, by Neil Gaiman

“A Study In Emerald” is a 2003 science fiction short story by Neil Gaiman.  It won the Hugo for Best Short Story of 2004.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“A Study In Emerald” is the story of a murder investigation, conducted by a consulting detective who lives on Baker Street.  The murder victim is the nephew of the Queen of England.  And not human at all.  He’s an Old One, as is the Queen.

Why should you read it?

As one expects from Gaiman, the writing is brilliant.  The characters are layered, the dialog is crisp and appropriate to the time, and the style is both modern and matching the writing of the time.  The world-building is solid, although unlikely, as the Old Ones have replaced the crowned heads of Europe in this alternate world, where England is Albion, instead.  The powers of the consulting detective are, as they should be, amazing until explained, and then obvious–a trick many pastiches of Holmes do not carry off.  I would rate this as my favorite Holmes-derived work, and also my favorite spin of the Cthulhu mythos.

Where to find “A Study In Emerald”

This story is available online, courtesy of Neil Gaiman himself.  Normally, I’m not a fan of fiction in PDF’s, as it makes it hard to get on my Kindle, but this one comes with lovely layout and little dropped-in ads for dark Victorian products, such as medical exsanguination by V. Tepes.  Well worth printing out and reading in this form for the bonuses alone.

“Kirinyaga”, by Mike Resnick

“Kirinyaga” is a 1988 science fiction short story by Mike Resnick.  It won the Hugo for Best Short Story of 1989.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“Kirinyaga” is the story of the mundumugu, or witch doctor, of a recreated Kikuyu people, living on a created world in space.  They’ve followed their tribal ways, and killed a baby born feet first, which is an indication that the baby is a demon.  Now they face an intervention by Maintenance, the people who made the created world they live on, and unspecified penalties.

Why should you read it?

Killing a baby is a bad thing.  Killing a demon is a good thing.  How does one tell if a baby is a demon?  Well, Maintenance knows that if both parents are human, there’s a good chance the baby is.  The mundumugu knows differently–his culture tells him that the circumstances of the baby’s birth clearly indicate that it is not human.

He wants cultural purity for his people, the adults of which have chosen to live by the (sometimes harsh) rules of the Kikuyu.  But babies… haven’t.  How can he convince Maintenance to leave them alone to follow their traditional ways?

The writing is lovely.  The Eutopian worlds are a brilliant idea that I continue to want to read more about.  This is one of my favorite stories, and I was delighted to reread it for this review.  (Note that this is the same world as “One Perfect Morning, With Jackals“.)

Where to find “Kirinyaga”

Baen Books has graciously allowed us to read “Kirinyaga” online.  

“Maneki Neko”, by Bruce Sterling

“Maneki Neko” is a 1998 science fiction short story by Bruce Sterling.  It was nominated for the Hugo for Best Short Story of 1999.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“Maneki Neko” is the story of a man who does what his phone tells him to do, the trouble he gets in, and how it gets him out.  Because his phone is connecting him to a series of other people who are all trying to do small acts for each other, to help each other out.  With computer co-ordination.

Why should you read it?

The Internet is supposedly built to route information around damage, so that the information arrives regardless of the existence of a particular node or link.  “Maneki Neko” is the story of a network of computers and humans, using themselves to route luck, good fortune, and kindness around damage to that network.  In this case, the damage comes from a law enforcement official, who doesn’t believe that people would help each other, and assumes there must be something criminal going on.

The story is thought-provoking, funny, and a little bit slapstick.  All in all, a very good quick read.

Where to find “Maneki Neko”.

This story is available at Lightspeed.

“None So Blind”, by Joe Haldeman

“None So Blind” is a 1994 science fiction short story by Joe Haldeman.  It won the Hugo for Best Short Story of 1995.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“None So Blind” is the story of a young polymath who excels in neurosurgery and computer science and wants to apply some of the techniques that work well to computers to the human brain.  So he hoodwinks his wife into allowing his team to operate on her.

Why should you read it?

Haldeman writes in several styles.  One of them is very condensed, with summaries of action instead of dialog.  A very tell, don’t show, style.  Sometimes it doesn’t work that well, and sometimes it does.  This is one of the times when it does.

The events that take place in this story are uncomfortable enough that if the author didn’t keep us at a distance, I’m not sure that many of us would be able to finish the story.  Cletus, the medical wunderkind, is also ethically challenged, to put it mildly, and the choices he makes are ones we can observe, not ones we can participate in.

He repartitions the human brain. In this particular case, by removing the need for the need for the visual cortex to be used in processing vision.  By removing the subject’s eyes.

The effects on people and on society are . . . unexpected.

Where to find “None So Blind”

This story was available online, on Haldeman’s web site.  

“A Walk in the Sun”, by Geoffrey A. Landis

“A Walk in the Sun” is a 1991 science fiction short story by Hal Clement.  It won the Hugo for Best Short Story of 1992.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“A Walk in the Sun” is the story of an astronaut who was supposed to get just close enough to the moon to see it. . . and then crashed.  And how she survives.

Why should you read it?

This is some good hard science fiction.  The limits placed on this character are non-negotiable.  She’s crashed on the moon.  She’s got food to eat.  She’s got a working space suit, that can recycle her air as long as she has power.  She’s got photovoltaic “wings” on her suit to generate power.  Rescue is coming in thirty days.

Now all she needs to do is stay in the light.  All the time.  For the next thirty days.

She can walk faster than the moon rotates.  On day one, anyway.

How long can she keep it up?  Long enough?

Where to find “A Walk in the Sun”.

The story is available online courtesy of Asimov’s.

_Feed_, by Mira Grant

Feed is a 2010 science fiction/horror novel by Mira Grant, a pen name of Seanan McGuire.  It was nominated for the Hugo for Best Novel of 2011.

Non-Spoiler Summary

Feed is the first book of the Newsflesh trilogy, the story of a group of bloggers who are the first citizen journalists to accompany a major party presidential candidate on his campaign travels.  So it’s a political story.  But the main campaign issues are all effects of the Kellis-Amberlee virus, which has caused a condition of post-death animation.  Zombies.  So it’s a horror story.  And someone’s trying to interfere with the political campaign.  So it’s a thriller.  And it succeeds brilliantly at all of these.

Why should you read it?

Zombies aren’t what this book is about.  It’s about people.  Real people.  Georgia Mason and her brother Shaun are the leaders of the first news blog that is invited to accompany a senator on his presidential campaign.  The zombies are there to put pressure on people.  To cast America and the world in a new light.  And to allow Grant/McGuire to talk about fear and what it does to people.

This book is brilliant.  The author is merciless with her characters, like you must if you’re writing about a world with such danger in it.  There is risk and it is real and people suffer.  I just finished rereading Feed for the fourth time, and it made me cry in public again.  Three times.

Georgia and Shaun love each other very much, and have a trust that is palpable.  These characters are more vivid as a team than they are individually, which is saying a lot considering that I feel like I could have a conversation with either one of them.  The rest of their team of bloggers are also drawn beautifully; several of the characters have such distinctive voices that it’s easy to tell who’s speaking just from the dialog.  The culture of bloggers is also fascinating; they’ve subdivided the news into factual, action, and creative, and call themselves Newsies, Irwins, or Fictionals.

The book is horror, but it’s not the zombies that will scare you.  It’s the deformation of our culture that they have caused, and we have allowed.  Privacy is gone, just gone.  Fear is endemic, and people don’t fight it.  They’ve just given up.  Entire states have been yielded to the dead, and this is a divisive issue between the parties.

It’s appalling.  And understandable.  How would you feel if your elderly father with the weak heart was going to get up after he died and try to eat you?  Someone else’s elderly father?  Strangers on the street?  Every living person is a time bomb, and sometimes they don’t even have to die first for the virus to take over.

Fear.  Horror at ourselves for feeling the fear, and for living with it, and changing to accomodate.  And terror about what it means for humanity.

Feed is not an easy book, and it is not for children, in any way.  When asked recently, I hesitated before recommending it for a fifteen-year-old I didn’t know.  It is, however, a book I have never forgotten from the moment I started it.

Although I recommend the entire trilogy whole-heartedly, I am  not going to review books 2 and 3, Deadline and Blackout, because there is absolutely no way to do so without spoiling Feed.  Just trust me when I say that the series only gets better from this book, which I’m already recommending very highly.

Where to find Feed

Feed is available in print or in all major digital forms.  It is not freely available. 

“Ponies”, by Kij Johnson

March 20, 2013 Leave a comment

“Ponies” is a 2010 fantasy short story by Kij Johnson.  It was nominated for the Hugo for Best Short Story of 2011.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“Ponies” is the story of a party held by some popular girls, the less popular girl who is invited, and the damage they cause to their ponies, who seem to be created, yet intelligent, creatures

Why should you read it?

I’m not sure you should.  You’ve heard me wax rhapsodic about Kij Johnson’s work before–I adore “The evolution of trickster stories among the dogs of North Park after the Change” and “26 Monkeys, Also The Abyss”.  However, this story is about pain that’s inflicted on innocent friends–the ponies.  While I understand the nomination, and I appreciate the craftsmanship, I’ve now read “Ponies” three times and I still don’t like it at all.  It reminds me of watching one ten-year-old beat up another, and wishing I could intervene.

I’m  not completely against innocents being harmed in fiction.  I read horror; I live in the world.  I can take this type of plot.  What I object to, I think, is the fact that the ponies are hurt. . . as a result of peer pressure.  Because the girls want to either maintain their status, or gain new status.  This makes me uncomfortable, intensely.

It’s quite possible that that’s the point.  If so, it’s brilliant.  I still don’t think it’s any fun.  I started this blog to recommend stories that I enjoyed, and I knew when I turned the corner to reading and posting about Hugo nominated stories, I might find some stuff I didn’t like. I’m not sure I expected it to come from an author whose skill I admire so much and whose work I have so enjoyed.

New rating: Well done, no fun.

Where to find “Ponies”

It’s available online on Tor.com.  It doesn’t appear to have been collected yet, but there is also a podcast on Tor.com.

 

“Uncommon Sense”, by Hal Clement

March 14, 2013 Leave a comment

“Uncommon Sense” is a 1945 science fiction short story by Hal Clement.  It won the Retro Hugo for Best Short Story of 1946.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“Uncommon Sense” is the story of an amateur exobiologist whose ship is taken from him by his two assistants upon landing on a planet circling Deneb, a very bright star.  He uses his wits and his knowledge of exobiology to recapture his ship from the mutineers.

Why should you read it?

Now, see, this is the stuff.  The writing, by today’s standards, is absolutely terrible.  For example, there’s a moment when an omniscient narrator jumps into the middle of the story and tells you how stupid the main character is for not seeing the revelation sooner.

The core idea, oh, my god, it’s jaw-dropping still, over sixty years later.  While outside his captured ship, he encounters native life, all of whom have very strange eyes.  But Deneb is so bright that the differential between “daylight” and “shadow” is so great that he can’t figure out how these eyes can work.  And as he waits in his space suit for the mutineers to make a mistake and take his ship back, he realizes… they’re not eyes.  In microgravity and no atmosphere, a particle that is excited off the surface of an object travels in a straight line.  So the sensory organs?  They’re not eyes.  They’re noses, set up like pinhole cameras.  These creates “see” by smelling the things that are in front of them, and can make an image of what’s in front of them this way.

That’s all well and good. . . but how is he going to use these amazing facts to get his ship back?

Where to find “Uncommon Sense”

This story was re-published in 2000 in The Essential Hal Clement, Volume 2: Music of Many Spheres, which is currently available from the King County Library System.