I got these story recommendations from my brother, whose taste isn’t exactly the same as mine, but we definitely agree that we dislike gloom-and-despair stories. Of which there are a lot. I started reading last year’s Apex stories and those stories I linked to a few days ago, the ones that Rachel Swirsky recommended, and frankly I just gave up — too grim, too awful a view of human (and other) nature.
But it turned out Craig had been reading tons of 2012 stories, and he picked out a handful. And then the list of Nebula nominees came out, and since I can vote on that, too, I guess I’d better read them as well(I haven’t yet, but I’m including links here in case you’re interested).
Here are the ones my brother picked out:
Ken Liu, The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species, Lightspeed #27 Aug 2012
Now, the fact is, I won’t be nominating this one, because it’s not a story. It’s a series of descriptions, with neither characters nor plot. But compare it, if you dare, to this story by Kij Johnson. Which is also not a story, but rather a collection of descriptions.
Ken Liu’s nonstory, about alien books, is beautiful. Kij Johnson’s nonstory, about how “mantis wives” torture their husbands, is horrible. If you click over and read it, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Here’s another story my brother recommends:
Charles Stross, A Tall Tail, tor.com 7/20/12
This one is a humorous story, based on chemistry, and in fact based on this substance, which real chemist Derek Lowe wrote an extremely funny post about, which is what I linked to here.
Derek Lowe says (he is himself quoting this snippet, but his whole post is well worth reading, trust me.): “It is, of course, extremely toxic, but that’s the least of the problem. It is hypergolic with every known fuel, and so rapidly hypergolic that no ignition delay has ever been measured. It is also hypergolic with such things as cloth, wood, and test engineers, not to mention asbestos, sand, and water-with which it reacts explosively. It can be kept in some of the ordinary structural metals-steel, copper, aluminium, etc.-because of the formation of a thin film of insoluble metal fluoride which protects the bulk of the metal, just as the invisible coat of oxide on aluminium keeps it from burning up in the atmosphere. If, however, this coat is melted or scrubbed off, and has no chance to reform, the operator is confronted with the problem of coping with a metal-fluorine fire. For dealing with this situation, I have always recommended a good pair of running shoes.”
Okay, another good story: Gwendolyn Clare, All the Painted Stars, Clarkesworld #64 Jan 2012
This one is an alien-viewpoint story, a first contact situation. Craig says it’s his favorite. I don’t think it will be mine, but I liked it a lot, for a short story.
And another one: David Klecha and Tobias S. Buckell, The Found Girl, Clarkesworld #72 Sep 2012, which my brother describes as: “A post-singularity vignette, drawing on some evocative contemporary mythmaking among street children”. Sure, I guess. It is definitely evocative, and sad, but not with the grim hopelessness so popular in fiction today — this is the sadness of growing up and leaving childhood behind.
And my personal favorite: Gene Wolfe, Dormanna, tor.com 3/7/12
Craig described this one as “Zenna Hendersonesque.” Are you all familiar with Zenna Henderson’s stories about the People? Because they are really charming and if you’ve never read them, really, you should go see if you can find copies of her books and stories. And you should read this, too. I didn’t know it was possible for me to like a Gene Wolfe story; I mean, I know that objectively he’s a great writer, but he doesn’t do it for me personally. But I really enjoyed this.
Meanwhile, have you run across the short story nominees for the Nebula? Here they are (and thanks, Linda, for sending the list to Craig, because I knew the nominees were out but hadn’t got around to looking for them yet):
“Robot“, Helena Bell (Clarkesworld 9/12)
“Immersion“, Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld 6/12)
“Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes“, Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 4/12)
“Nanny’s Day“, Leah Cypess (Asimov’s 3/12)
“Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream“, Maria Dahvana Headley (Lightspeed 7/12)
“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”, Ken Liu (Lightspeed 8/12
“Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain“, Cat Rambo (Near + Far)
So you see, only one repeat, and it’s the one I’m least inclined to nominate. I haven’t read any of these yet, but I have to say, the “Give Her Honey” title is not the sort of title that makes me feel like reading the story. Sounds too much like “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream.” Which I’m sure you’re all familiar with, right? Shudder. Honestly, my life is complete without inserting extra nightmares. But I guess I will have to read his story so I can vote properly.
Out of curiosity, how much would it bother you, to nominate a piece with neither characters nor plot for a major short story award? And do you think you would vote for a grim, horrible story if it was really effectively nightmarish, compared to a more positive story that was also good?