Finally finished reading those in-between length stories, the novelettes. The Rabid Puppies almost got a clean sweep of this category. Two of their nominees (Flashpoint: Titan and What Price Humanity) were from an anthology called There Will Be War Vol.X, which also contains the short story Seven Kill Tiger. Given how much I disliked Seven Kill Tiger and that the volume opened with editor Jerry Pournelle implying that the world was peaceful between the end of the Cold War and September 11, I didn’t have high expectations for the novelettes that were drawn from that. Suffice to say I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed all the nominees in this category, and ordering my votes will be difficult.
In the meantime, I better get back to reading. Voting closes on July 31st; so I only have four days to read five novellas. Wish me luck.
Flashpoint: Titan by Cheah Kai Wai
From There Will Be War Vol. X
A fun military SF story, with some nice space battles. The politics of space exploration were interesting and believable, and the inclusion of Kessler Syndrome (space debris making it impossible to leave orbit) as the new Mutually Assured Destruction was a powerful motivator for all the action. The action in this story is almost non-stop and full of tension. I also really liked that the combatants were Japanese and Chinese, with the Americans playing an important, but more passive role. Given the state of the three countries space programs, that seems realistic to me. My only criticism would be that there is little characterisation, with the captain of the Takeo being the only character to be fleshed out at all. It lessened the impact of the destruction of the final battle a lot.
What Price Humanity by David VanDyke
From There Will Be War Vol. X
Another good military SF story. After reading Seven Kill Tiger I didn’t have much hope for There Will Be War Vol X, but this story and Flashpoint: Titan have turned me around. What Price Humanity shines where Flashpoint flopped; the characters were amazing. I really connected with Vango as he tried to help his little crew figure out what was going on, and the ending was more powerful because of it. This is a story about humanity in a war we can’t win, which asks the toughest question of all; just how far will we go to survive? Most of the story takes place inside virtual reality, and we get some interesting questions about reality while we’re at it.
Obits by Stephen King
From The Bazaar of Bad Dreams
Another fun story, about a journalist who discovers that he has the power to kill people by writing their obituaries. Kinda feels like what Death Note would have been like if Light Yagami had been a normal person who felt wrong about killing people, and if the ‘write about people and they die’ power didn’t have so many rules. The characterisation in this story was good, and the reaction the characters had to this power struck me as being realistic. However, I have often found myself coming away from Stephen King’s shorter fiction feeling unsatisfied due to the ending, and I got that again here. The story builds up, the stakes get higher, and then the ending completely fizzles out.
Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang (translated by Ken Liu)
Read it here: http://uncannymagazine.com/article/folding-beijing-2/
A story with an obvious metaphor, but who cares about how obvious the message is when it is done so well. In this story, Beijing is divided into three cities called First Space, Second Space, and Third Space. Only one of these Beijings is active at a given time, while the other two get folded away underground with their population in suspended animation. Each Beijing is home to a different class, with different career opportunities, different hours they live through, and different rates of inflation. This story takes a good look at classism in China, and around the world. An interesting thing to note is that although the system is unfair and life is hard for our hero Lao Dao, the folding Beijing is portrayed as an uncomfortable world for those at the bottom, rather than a full blown dystopia. I don’t know if this is meant to be just a reflection of what our world is really like, or an expression of Chinese attitudes towards one’s place in society.
All in all, this was a really good story. The translation felt natural, and the language – particularly the descriptions of the city folding – was on point.
I have a few little nitpicks; mainly in wondering how the folding Beijing relates to the rest of the world and a few odd POV shifts, but over all, this was a fun story.
And You Will Know Her by the Trail of Dead by Brooke Bolander
A gritty cyber-punk story, about a cyborg killer realising there might be more to life than just death and booze. Lots of violence and bad language. Characters were good, the language was beautiful. Well, maybe that isn’t the right word; the language was very dirty with lots and lots of swearing, but it described the scenes and the characters so well. It’s a bloody action-packed ride that manages to get some romance in too. There were a few points though where I found the action to be a bit hard to follow; not because there was a lot happening, but because that otherwise fun and awesome language got in the way a bit.