Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
A top notch novella, with a sparkling sense of the strange and the alien. Binti is the first of the Himba people to be selected to attend the Oomza University, where the best and the brightest are invited to study. En route, Binti's journey takes a shocking turn when her ship is attacked by the aggressive Meduse. A lucky series of coincidences leads to Binti's survival. She uses these circumstances to change her destiny in ways that are disturbing and reveal the true cost of knowledge and sacrifice.
The Builders by Daniel Polansky (Tor.com)
The Magnificent Seven meets Redwall, as the Captain gets his band back together for one last mission.
To right a wrong. To end it all, once and for all. Short punchy chapters introduce the characters. Bonsoir, a very individual stoat, Cinnibar, dragon or perhaps salamander, Gertrude, the guinea pig (unique amongst her kind, being tailed and all) to name but a few.
There is a buildup, back story, plenty of death and mayhem (mostly of rats), and a decent enough punch line to what the author calls a 'one note' joke.
Diverting enough to provide a bit of entertainment and distraction on a long flight.
Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold (Spectrum)
This story was one slated onto the final novella ballot as 'collateral damage' by the erstwhile 4GW gamma male battalion of Theodore Beale.
Nevertheless, I have no problem believing that it might have been selected by other purely on its merits as a good story, well told.
Lord Penric is on the way to his betrothal to the nicely rounded daughter of a cheese merchant, when fate, in the form of the ailing Divine Ruschia happens upon his life. For Ruschia is the mount for a demon, which takes the opportunity to leap from dying Ruschia, to the nearest handy warm body, our hero Penric. Penric falls into a black faint....
And so, when Penric wakes from his stupor the next day, he finds that his betrothment is off, no one will touch or go close to him, and he is a hot potato of the highest order, who must be transported to the temple of Ruschia's order in Martensbridge so the powers that be can decide what to do with him. Because demons are rare, powerful and valuable. And he has been most inconvenient.
Penric had wished for an exciting life. Now he has one......
Bujold writes well, conveying Penric's initial bewilderment at his fate, and his growing excitement as he understands the opportunity bestowed him. The demon, whom Penric dubs 'Desdemona' also becomes a character in the saga, not just a mcguffin. The world of the Five Gods is built subtly and artfully by the author. A sequel is already available.
Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson (Dragonsteel Entertainment)
This was another of the works gamed onto the ballot by the supporters of Donald Trump's biggest fan. It is a perfectly harmless story, told well by an able author.
The Wode looks after all the precious Liveborn. In order to support their vast population, each is reduced to being a 'brain in a jar', but with the redeeming virtue that said consciousness is inserted into a virtual world where they can be heroes, not just for one day, but for their entire and lengthy lifetime, making their world right for the virtual or 'machineborn' who inhabit it.
To spice up this existence, Liveborn may interact, engaging in confrontations with each other in special 'Border Worlds', where even they may be at risk. Just why this particular type of 'stimulating' interaction is necessary is not well justified, give the risk to the supposedly valuable LiveBorn. Additionally, LiveBorn may be called on to breed, the better to keep the machine going. Strangely, this particular requirement breeds resentment in our hero Kai, and his resentment leads to a choice of partner which, in the end spawns an adventure of a rather unexpected and hazardous nature.
Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds (Tachyon)
Scur is an unwilling soldier, perhaps conscripted against her will in the struggle between 'insert name here' and 'insert another name here' forces. She is captured, tortured and left for dead by her enemy just as a ceasefire is announced.
Things could hardly be worse....
She awakes on a crippled ship, returning soldiers of both sides to their homes, but now drifting and deteriorating. Former combatants must work together to survive, to preserve knowledge, and to carry a warning. Competently written, but lacking Reynold's usual panache
- Penric's Demon
- Slow Bullets
- Perfect State
- The Builders
“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed, Feb 2015)
Despite its rather dated Cyberpunk milieu, Brooke Bollander's story stands out in this crowd due to its passion. At the outset, Rhye is having a really bad day. Her mobster employers have just blown out the brains of her partner Rack ostensibly because, according to said employer, the job of extracting the consciousness of the employer's idiot son from the mess he has gotten himself into is not progressing fast enough. Rhye, according to the gangster, needs extra motivation...
The story is sweary and violent, and Rhye is rather too enamoured of her guns, but it has a fiery momentum which drives the reader through it. In the end, there is a tricky problem to solve with a very special security system, and an artful way of achieving payback on Rhye's all to contemptible employers. The title itself is beautifully apt.
“Flashpoint: Titan” by CHEAH Kai Wai (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
This is a space navy story, which sadly is too heavy on description of weapons systems, and lacking in justifications for the scenario on which it relies. Put simply, there is no attempt to justify the economics of vast battlefleets patrolling the outer solar system for territorial or resource advantage.
That issue aside, the Chinese seem to have greedy eyes on the resources of Titan. They attempt a stealth attack, which is repelled by the heroics of the Japanese patrol ship Takao. Commander Hoshi however, suspects this is not the end of the intrigue. Soon enough, the dastardly Chinese are at it again in much greater force. Key in this encounter are the terse exchanges between Captain Huang Wei of the Chinese assault carrier Guangdong and Commander Hoshi, where the adage 'truth is the first casualty' gets a workout. These are the best passages of the story, which inevitably degenerates once more into discussions of missile yields and weapons porn. Boring. The conclusion is suitably and predictably uplifting.
“Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu (Uncanny Magazine, Jan-Feb 2015)
I approached 'Folding Beijing', with some enthusiasm, since I had heard quite a buzz around the story. So it was disappointing to find it a very mixed bag. It's chief attraction is the notion of the folding city, where access to resources and facilities is based on the economic position of the resident. First Space, home to the elite, houses 6% of the population, but feasts on 50% of the resources. In Third space, over 60% of the population, the workers, have just a sixth of those resources. And of course, that is how it should be!
The logistics of the folding and changing are nicely handled by author and translator. The characters though, are very much single tone, lacking in any differentiation or shade. Lao Dao needs money for his daughter's kindergarten fees. More money than he can hope to raise on his wages at the waste processing station. But he has an opportunity to run a special kind of errand. He is to be an errand boy, taking a message of love from a Second Space resident to his paramour in the First Space. If he does so successfully, and returns with a message for the suitor, he will earn the required fees. If he is caught, he will be beaten, and be sent to prison.
So we the readers follow Lao Dao as he braves the Change, when skyscrapers and ground compact and fold in on themselves, and observe how his betters live, be they in Second Space or in First Space. And it seems that his betters hardly see him at all.
“Obits” by Stephen King (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Scribner)
A struggling writer of snarky celebrity obituaries discovers that when he writes similarly snarky pending obituaries of persons which the world will be better off without, said person obligingly shuffles off the mortal coil. King does a good job of describing the sorry state of journalism in today's digital world, and invests his characters with the ability to examine their actions and temptations. The story arc is handled with aplomb, as might be expected of a writer with King's pedigree. It doesn't surprise, it doesn't disappoint, and whilst not out of place in the group of nominees, isn't particularly outstanding
“What Price Humanity?” by David VanDyke (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
This one might almost have made it as a finalist without slate tactics. It is a well written if slightly obvious puzzle tale. The Solar System and humanity is under threat from the lurking and strategically superior Muse. Vango Markis wakes after what must have been a particularly bad battle encounter. He suspects that he has been placed in a VR simulation as part of his recovery therapy. Must have been badly hurt then. And then he encounters compatriots, who he is pretty certain he remembers have long since died. His dead girlfriend among them. He, and they, then encounter battle simulators. With no alternative, they play along with the scenarios as presented, battling increasingly difficult encounters with the Muse. But without fear of consequences because they 'know' they are in VR. It is a rather Ender's Gamey trope, and the twist, when revealed, comes as no surprise. I enjoyed the story, but do not rate it above others I nominated this year.
- And You Shall Know Her By The Trail Of Dead..
- What Price Humanity?
- Folding Beijing
- No Award
- Flashpoint: Titan
The only worthy nominee, Kritzer's “Cat Pictures Please” was added to the ballot after Thomas May had the good grace to withdraw his slated story 'The Commuter'. Only one other story is worthy of any consideration, the short effort by S. R. Algernon. The rest are either non-SF performance art, poisonous bile, or a trojan horse for racist propaganda.
“Asymmetrical Warfare” by S. R. Algernon (Nature, Mar 2015)
Alien race makes tragic mistake when assessing the potential recovery of combatant humans during interstellar war. A cautionary tale.
“Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld, January 2015)
Quirky 'good' AI story. Explains why the internet is made of cat pictures, as the AI decides whether to meddle or to remain aloof.
“If You Were an Award, My Love” by Juan Tabo and S. Harris (voxday.blogspot.com, Jun 2015)
Miserable attempt at parody of Rachel Swirsky's 'If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love', which some people just cannot get over.
“Seven Kill Tiger” by Charles Shao (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
A nasty little pustule of a story which is clumsily written, and reads more something from the annals of Fox News, than a proper narrative. Cardboard characters, flat tone, casual racism towards everyone referenced in the story. Ick.
Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle (Amazon Digital Services)
If I wanted to read gay porn, then I'd choose something by Samuel Delany, who at least is a talented writer, rather than this quasi SF by great publicist and performance artist Chuck Tingle. Lonely male astronaut meets dinosaur astronaut on lonely iceword. Butt pounding ensues. In space briefs and space pants no less. Well actually less.
- Cat Pictures Please
- No Award
- Asymmetric Warfare
- Space Raptor Butt Invasion