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Posts Tagged ‘nebula award’

_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.

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“Always”, by Karen Joy Fowler

February 2, 2012 Leave a comment

“Always” is a 2007 science fiction short story by Karen Joy Fowler.  A woman details her time with a group of supposed immortals, following a charismatic leader.  It won the Nebula for Best Short Story in 2007.

Non-Spoiler Summary

Our viewpoint character, a young woman, moves to the city of Always with her boyfriend.  In Always, run by Brother Porter, everyone is immortal.  Supposedly.  The issue is left open, although there’s evidence that she is being deceived.  However, the effect of the city (cult) on people is very real.

Why should you read it?

“Always” handles the question of whether or not the immortality of the people of Always is real quite gently, and leads you to believe . . . that even if she’s not immortal, she’s been positively changed by the experience of living in Always.  The story follows her progression from basically infatuated with her boyfriend through an almost ethereal translation.

Where to find “Always”

The story was originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, where you can still read it online.  There is also audio.

“Second Person, Present Tense”, by Daryl Gregory

November 25, 2011 Leave a comment

You know, in the golden age of science fiction, a good new idea was pretty much all a story needed to get published.  And in the modern age, all a story seems to need is an emotional impact.  This story has both.

Imagine a drug that suppresses the relationship between the conscious mind and the decision-making process.  And not in the way you expect–it’s my impression that people would guess that the conscious mind would be trapped in an inactive body.  That’s not what happens here, on this drug, Zen.  Instead, Gregory gives details about a theory where the conscious mind isn’t really making the decisions at all: The Queen-Page-Parliament model.  The Queen is consciousness, supposedly making decisions based on information brought to it by the Page (the limbic system) from the brain, or Parliament.  The trick here is that we think that the Queen gathers data and then makes decisions, and then the body acts. . . but that’s not right.  Consciousness seems to ride along beside the decision making process, approving it and perhaps editing it for content, but the actual decisions are made at a different level.  When you see someone you know, your hand is already rising for the handshake before your Queen recognizes them.  120 milliseconds before.  A measurable time.

Back to the drug, Zen.  It suppresses the Queen.  Consciousness no longer happens when you’re high on it.  You don’t look that different from the outside, because decisions are still being made, but there’s a different quality to it for the user.

And if you overdose, when consciousness comes back, it may no longer related to the person you were when you left.  Same Parliament and Page.  Different Queen.

“Second Person, Present Tense” is the story of a young woman who overdoses on Zen and the new person who wakes up in her body.  And that new person’s relationship with the old person’s parents.

Frightening.  Enlightening.  A short story that left me with things to think about weeks after I read it.

Free in print
Available in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Third Annual Collection
Not available in audio

“Ghosts of New York”, by Jennifer Pelland

September 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Warning: This story is not appropriate for children.  It is not fun.  It may offend you, that I chose to list it at all, or that I chose to list it today.  But it helped me get ready for today, and I thought some of you might not know about it.

“Ghosts of New York”, as I’m sure you can guess, is a story about the fallout of 9/11.  The story, particularly, of the ghosts that it left behind.  Literal ghosts–not ghosts as in the images of destruction that every one of us over fifteen can call up, but haunts.  The spectral remainders of the people who jumped.

There are no answers in this story.  For one thing, it has a severe weak point, in that it never explains why only jumpers become ghosts.  It doesn’t solve, salve, or soften 9/11.

It does remind me of the feelings that I had on that day.  It doesn’t make me experience them again, but it removes enough of the scab to remind me that tragedy and death, however horrible, are part of the flow of history and our lives.  This isn’t the first time New York has had a disaster.  It won’t be the last.

Please, let it be the last time it’s deliberate, though.

Text: Available courtesy of Apex Publications
Audio: Podcastle 153

“Mars: A Traveler’s Guide”, by Ruth Nestvold

March 10, 2011 6 comments

This story has no plot and no characters.

Okay, okay, I suppose it does have a character.  However, that character is never seen and never heard.

You see, the entire story is told in the responses that a computer has to the character.  And all the character does is look things up on the computer.

Of course, the things the person looks up have a specific agenda. . . rescue.  Alone on Mars.

Funny, scary, and very, very well done.

“Mars: A Traveler’s Guide” in print (as part of the linked .pdf)
“Mars: A Traveler’s Guide” in audio

“The Green Book”, by Amal El-Mohtar

February 24, 2011 Leave a comment

“The Green Book” is a story I’d never heard of until the Nebula nominations came out this week, but it’s a story I’ll be rereading shortly.

The Green Book is an actual book, but for at least part of the story, it also functions as the body of a deceased woman, and it’s pages as her voice. And there are only so many pages. There are several voices in the story (or in the book) and they make it very atmospheric.

Text of “The Green Book”

_Ender’s Game_, by Orson Scott Card

January 20, 2011 Leave a comment

I feel like I’m cheating by recommending Ender’s Game.  It’s not free, it’s not short, it won the Hugo and the Nebula, and you’ve all already heard about it.  I’d be very surprised if less than 75% of you have read it already.  So this week, I’m speaking to the very few people who’ve missed it somehow.

What are you waiting for?  There’s a reason it won the Hugo and the Nebula!  It’s very very good, and it’s important to the history of science fiction, and it’s even considered an important novel outside the genre.  And it’s very very good.  Did I mention that?

Ender’s Game is the story of Andrew Wiggin, nicknamed Ender.  As the novel begins, he’s at the tail end of a period of consideration for military service.  He’s been watched by a “monitor” in the back of his neck, and he has it removed  pretty much as the novel starts.  Shortly after that, they decide that he’s a fit candidate to go to Battle School and learn to fight, to lead men, to be the next Genghis Khan.

Did I mention that he’s five?

Humanity is facing an opponent that they can’t defeat, and so they need a new kind of general, and they need him fast.  They’re starting with children, and exposing them to carefully constructed games that teach them, shape them, and allow their talents to be seen.

Ender is very good at these games.  Very very good.

The book is the story of his training and what he goes through during the effort to make him the general they need.  If you think you can subject a child, eventually a pre-teen, to the stresses of military school without effect, well, you’re wrong.

Ender’s Game spawned off three direct sequels, a parallel series focussing on one of the other characters, and several other works featuring Ender.  You don’t have to read any of them.  To some extent, I’d suggest you don’t.  This book stands best on its own.  Most all of the other works in the world are fine reads, but none of them is as important, or as good, as the original.

Copies of Ender’s Game are trivially easy to find new, only slightly less easy to find used, and available in every library in the known universe.