Sunday, May 27, 2012

Steph, the 2012 Hugo Voter, Reviews: The Short Story Ballot

“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”, E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld)

Premise: An imperialistic - though scholarly - wasp kingdom invades a beehive. For their part, some of the bees respond by attempting to launch a revolutionary movement.

Steph's Comments: Yu is obviously trying to use the folktale-style whimsy of this story to make a statement about colonialism -- a theme to which I don't object. Unfortunately, "The Cartographer Wasps..." falls flat for me because the political upheavals in Yu's insect world are all described from a comfortable distance. At only one point - and here I'm referring to the older bee ambassador's meeting with the wasp monarch - does Yu zoom in to explore the impact of said upheavals on individual characters, and that makes it difficult for me to become invested in Yu's grand idea. Personally, I believe this concept would've been better served by a longer treatment. A short story of less than 7,500 words isn't really the proper place to cover the rise and fall of fictional empires.    

Steph's Rating: 5.7


“The Homecoming”, Mike Resnick (Asimov’s)

Premise: A cantankerous old coot struggles to accept his son's choice to don an alien appearance and live on a distant world.

Steph's Comments: To be honest with you, I found this one to be a bit trite and clunky. The dialogue doesn't really flow for me, and the father's change of heart at the end feels awfully convenient. Given Jordan's frankly revolted response to Philip's choice to have himself surgically altered to assimilate with the population on another planet - given Jordan's evident belief that Philip has betrayed him, his mother and possibly even the entire human race - it seems quite unlikely that one conversation between Philip and his demented mother would completely reverse Jordan's attitude. 

Steph's Rating: 5.3


“Movement”, Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s)

Premise: A neurologically atypical girl grapples with her parents' desire to change who she is.

Steph's Comments: I don't think this is a bad story. I do think, however, that it is unoriginal. Autism is an extremely trendy topic for fiction at the moment. A lot of authors seem eager to raise public awareness when it comes to autism spectrum disorders -- and to a certain extent, that's definitely a good thing. Unfortunately - and I say this as someone who has worked with autistic children - many writers - Fulda included - have a tendency to over-romanticize. They focus on the higher functioning individuals and forget those sufferers who are far more disabled. The consequence? Despite these authors' wholly benign intentions - despite their sincere adherence to the cause of "neurodiversity" - they fail to do anything but objectify autistic people. If you present to your readers a saccharine and unrealistic picture of autism, they may have even more trouble accepting the real thing with its very real challenges.     

Steph's Rating: 6.5


“The Paper Menagerie”, Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Premise: A son realizes too late that he made a mistake in rejecting his immigrant mother's affection.

Steph's Comments: I'd say this is the strongest entry on the short story ballot -- but even here, I had some trouble connecting to the themes explored. The point-of-view character is recognizably human, but also a little too cowardly and passive for my taste. The way he sacrifices his relationship with his Chinese mother on the altar of fitting in is hardly heroic. And as for the magic origami? It's creative, but it also feels very much like an afterthought -- as if Liu wrote the story and then realized at the very last second that he needed a fantasy element if he ever hoped to sell his tale to F&SF. In other words, while this story is relatively well-written and at times very sweet, I'm not sure it's a good candidate for a science fiction award.

Steph's Rating: 7.0


“Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue”, John Scalzi (

Premise: On a dark and stormy night, a city cowers in fear of a mythological creature that may or may not exist.

Steph's Comments: I really wanted to like this one. After all, I'm a big fan of crack, as illustrated by my vote for the Campbell Award last year. Unfortunately, Scalzi's disjointed, plot-free April Fools joke just isn't cracky enough to get my vote. I chuckled a few times, but "meh" was my dominant reaction.

Steph's Rating: 5.0


A Pictorial Representation of Steph's Overall Reaction to the Ballot:

Seriously: Is the art of writing a short science fiction story completely dead? Will we ever see another "Neutron Star"? It's starting to look less and less likely.

Steph's Selection: "The Paper Menagerie," with reservations.

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