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“One Perfect Morning, With Jackals”, by Mike Resnick

January 31, 2013 1 comment

“One Perfect Morning, With Jackals” is a 1991 science fiction short story by Mike Resnick.  It won the Hugo for Best Short Story of 1992.

Non-Spoiler Summary

Mike Resnick has written a series of stories, with the overall title of Kirinyaga.  They are stories about a group of Kikuyu–an African tribe–who have retired their civilization to an asteroid in the asteroid belt.  This story is also the preface to the fix-up novel called Kirinyaga, made up of the first eight stories from the series.

Why should you read it?

Mike Resnick is an amazing author, capable of working emotion out of robots and monsters, but I consider the Kirinyaga stories to be some of his greatest.  Koriba, the formerly Europeanized man who is about to leave for Kirinyaga, is “abandoning” his “civilization” to be the mundumugu, or witch doctor, of the Kikuyu on Kirinyaga.  His son, who is very firmly Europeanized, believes that his decision is silly and unnecessary… but is taking this opportunity to talk to him for the last time.  And give him a gift.  Of jackals.

Where to find “One Perfect Morning, With Jackals”

The publisher, Baen Books, has generously allowed us to read it online.

“Alamagoosa”, by Eric Frank Russell

January 6, 2013 Leave a comment

“Alamagoosa” is a 1955 science fiction short story by Eric Frank Russell.  On a spaceship, an inventory is being conducted, and there’s an item on the list that isn’t on the ship. . . .  It won the Hugo for Best Short Story of 1955.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“Alamagoosa” is the story of an inventory on a spaceship.  However, there’s an item on the list that’s not on the ship.  The story is a scramble for the officers of the ship to try to figure out what the item is, who’s responsible for it, and who’s going to bear the blame for it being missing.

Why should you read it?

History only, I’m afraid.  This story is, as science fiction, completely deprecated.  There’s no real science fiction here–the story is set on a spaceship, but it could just as easily been set on a sailing ship, or an airplane, in the past or in modern times.  As one of the defintions of science fiction I use is, “If you remove the science or the central conceit of technology, the story collapses”, this isn’t actually science fiction.  That said, it was a fine and enjoyable way to spend fifteen minutes.   There’s a laugh at the end.

Where to find “Alamagoosa”

The story was originally published in Analog, back when it was called Astounding.  They have generously allowed us to read it online.

_Shadrach in the Furnace_, by Robert Silverberg

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Shadrach In The Furnace is a 1976 science-fiction novel by Robert Silverberg.  It was nominated for the Hugo for Best Novel of 1977 and the 1976 Nebula Award.

Non-Spoiler Summary

Robert Silverberg was one of my favorite authors, at the time that I read this–about 1983.  He had an immense body of work that I was tearing through, much of which I still value.  Among those, Shadrach is one of the few I’ve been back to in the past twenty-five years.  The obvious question of whether the work holds up is nullified by the fact that I seem to have been too young to grasp what the book was about, the first time through, and may as well have been reading it for the first time now.

Oddly enough, this reread suffered from what Jina Chan brilliantly called Skynet Syndrome: I was reading the book during its supposed “far future” timeframe.  In other words, during November 2012 when I was reading it, I was reading words written sometime in 1975 about November of 2012.

Shadrach Mordecai is the personal physician to Genghis II Mao IV Khan, the ruler of the world.  He is implanted with subdermal activators that allow him to perceive Genghis Mao’s health at any time and from a distance.  And he is the overall head of the three projects that are in place to make sure that Genghis Mao, already old, lives long enough to complete the work of his Permanent Revolution.  That is to say, these projects are intended to assure that Genghis Mao lives forever.

Why should you read it?

As a child, I thought this book was about the relationship of a man and his physician, when that physician is a very tight part of the health care feedback cycle.  I completely missed the story of Genghis Mao’s loss of his own humanity, of the horror of his acceptance–championship!–of the three immortality projects, and of Shadrach’s walk about the world while he contemplates his place in Genghis Mao’s plans.

Virtually nothing happens in this book–Genghis Mao has a kidney transplant, the immortality projects are introduced, Shadrach goes walkabout, and then returns home to resume his duties as physician.  But the story isn’t about what happens.  Several times, Shadrach and various friends or lovers go to several different styles of temple, to meditate, work, or have drug experiences.  The book is actually _about_ Shadrach’s states during these meditations, as much as it is about his peregrinations.

Overall, I would call the book dated, but far from obsolete–it still addresses ideas in ways that have either never been done better or have never been done before or since at all.

Where to find Shadrach in The Furnace

Unfortunately, the book is not available freely.  It is trivially but not inexpensively available for the Kindle, and well-stocked libraries still have it.  I have not seen a copy available in used book stores in several years.

“The Man Who Ended History”, by Ken Liu

“The Man Who Ended History” is a 2011 science-fiction novella by Ken Liu.  It is a very emotionally difficult story.  It has been nominated for the Hugo for Best Novella of 2012.

Non-Spoiler Summary

I had heard the name Ken Liu before this year.  This year, he’s made me cry twice.  “The Paper Menagerie” was a wonder of emotion and small tempest.  This story. . .  is harder.  Much harder.  The crying here is because hundreds or thousands of real people are tortured and maimed in the events of this story.  It covers parts of the history of Unit 731, the Japanese parallel to Auschwitz, with parallels to the human experimentation that Mengele performed.  So.  Not an uncomplicated tear-jerker, like “The Paper Menagerie”, but a solid science fiction story that happens to have, at its core, incredible inhumanity.  Be prepared. Be warned.

A scientist develops a way to view the past, and attempts to use it to help people cope with the damage the events of Unit 731 did to their families.  The governments involved try to stop him from using it at all.  As a given point in the past can only be viewed once, the concerns of archaeology–where investigation is often destructive–are mixed with the attempts of governments to control and spin the observation of their past sins.

Why should you read it?

This is a sad story.  I said that about “The Paper Menagerie”, and I will say it again.  The science in this story is fascinating, and the political pressures are all too real and believable. . . and as much as I wished the events that were being viewed were sunshine and dandelions, the fact that they were war crimes and terrors makes it real.  Makes it count.  However, it also makes reading the story a bit like trying to appreciate stained glass by eating it.

The documentary style of the writing is genius, and brilliantly done.  The ideas are vast.  The story is no fun at all, so don’t go in expecting any.

Where to find “The Man Who Ended History”

Ken Liu has generously allowed us to read it online.

“Six Months, Three Days”, by Charlie Jane Anders

“Six Months, Three Days” is a 2011 science fiction short story by Charlie Jane Anders.  It has been nominated for the Hugo for Best Novelette of 2012.

Non-Spoiler Summary

The man who can see the only possible future has a relationship with the woman who can see all the myriad possible futures.

Why should you read it?

Oh, man, just the high concept should be enough to make you run for this one. . . but the writing is also extraordinary.  The characters are both bent, shaped by their powers, entirely human both despite their specialness and because of it.  They have all the problems you expect that each of them would have, and that they would have as a couple.  The writing takes into account that sometimes they both already remember having a discussion, and they’re tired of it before it even happens.  I cried when Doug was enjoying his first intimacy with Judy. . . and at the same time mourning that now, one of the limited number of really special moments in  his life was past, instead of still to come.

Strongly recommended.  I don’t see anything in the field that would keep me from this being at least my second choice for the Hugo, and I’d be happy for it to be my first choice.  I think it deserves the award.

Where to find “Six Months, Three Days”

Tor.com has generously allowed us to read it online.

“The Copenhagen Interpretation”, by Paul Cornell

“The Copenhagen Interpretation” is a 2011 science fiction short story by Paul Cornell.  It has been nominated for the Hugo for Best Short Story of 2012.

Non-Spoiler Summary

Hamilton, a spy in an alternate steampunky world, finds that a woman he loved once upon a time is back, after disappearing completely fifteen years before.

Why should you read it?

I’d really like to say that this story is flawless, but I actually have a problem with Cornell’s writing style.  For some reason, and this is likely just me, I constantly find myself going back to find what I missed in the previous paragraph, and finding that I didn’t miss anything–I just feel like I did.

However, the ideas.  Oh, the ideas.  He suggests, for example, what dark matter is made out of.  A connection I would never have made, that dropped my jaw.  Well worth the time.

This is the third story featuring Jonathan Hamilton, so if you enjoy this one, look for the other two.

Where to find “The Copenhagen Interpretation”

The story was originally published in Asimov’s in July 2011, and they have generously allowed us to read it online.

“Movement”, by Nancy Fulda

“Movement” is a 2011 science fiction short story by Nancy Fulda.  It has been nominated for the Hugo for Best Short Story of 2012.

Non-Spoiler Summary

A young girl with an interesting variant of autism has to guide her parents in choosing whether or not to try a procedure that could “fix” her, at the possible cost of who she is.

Why should you read it?

Who are you?  What makes you, you?  How much could you give up without ceasing to be you, or ceasing to be?  Is the pain in your life so great that you’d rather not be the person you are?  If the thing that makes you different from everyone else also makes you . . . different from everyone else. . . is that a bad thing?

I have pain in my life, in my past.  It’s shaped me, in very large ways.  The difference between me and Hannah, this story’s autist, is that my pain is mostly done with, or is at least something I can get around in the moment.  Hannah’s. . . is not.  It is present in every moment of her life.  And she really does have to decide whether that difference is worth preserving or not, because normalcy may have a price.

Where to find “Movement”

The author has generously allowed us to read it online, and Escape Pod has an audio version.