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Posts Tagged ‘short 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.

“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.  

“Four Short Novels”, by Joe Haldeman

February 10, 2013 Leave a comment

“Four Short Novels” is a 2003 science fiction short story by Joe Haldeman.  It was nominated for the Hugo for Best Short Story of 2004.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“Four Short Novels” is four pieces, condensed in the J.G. Ballard style, talking about immortality in four different futures.  What if love made you immortal?  What if money did?  What if immortality led to a desire to return to childhood?  What if if led to a desire to not be?

Why should you read it?

Haldeman is one of my favorite authors; I reread some of his works, including The Forever War, every few years.  “Four Short Novels” isn’t one of these works.  It is consistently amusing, but not something that yields wisdom on repeated examination.  Fortunately, it only takes fifteen minutes to read, so I can recommend that you spend the time unreservedly.

Where to find “Four Short Novels”

The story was recently reprinted in Lightspeed Magazine, which still has it available online.

“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.