Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The City Born Great, by N. K. Jemisin

The City Born Great is N. K. Jemisin's entry in the Hugo short story category, though it's nearly a novella in length.  Our protagonist is a homeless man, first seen ululating at the city of New York.  In general.  Is he a madman, or clued in on its future?  Pretty quickly we find out the latter--he is chosen to bring the city to birth.  This will not be at all easy or safe. 

Along the way we get a take on our current relationship between blacks and cops.  But the intent of the story seems to be to show someone deeply in love with his city, knowing it in a way others do not.  Not the first of these I have read, and New York is often a focus (see James Blish's Cities in Flight series--this story reminded me of these, if only for the setting).  It's enjoyable and a fine entry for the short story award.  3 stars from me.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Tomato Thief, by Ursula Vernon

The Tomato Thief is a Hugo nominee for the Novella award this year.  This one fits into the Native American tradition, with some interesting twists.  Our protagonist is an elder (the term isn't used in the story), Grandma Harken.  She grows the best tomatoes in the area, and they are getting stolen.  Turns out the thief is a shapechanger--a woman who is also a mockingbird.  The story revolves around what happens when Grandma Harken catches the thief and learns her story.

Vernon had a story called Jackalope Wives nominated for the Nebula in 2015.  Grandma Harken is the protagonist there also, and there's a brief reference, but you don't have to have read it to appreciate this one.

Vernon has constructed a very interesting world in a short space.  We have magical, sentient trains that speak like mystics.  A child with cholla ribs for bones.  It's a fascinating read, and will be a contender for the award.  I give it a strong 3 stars.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Touring With the Alien, by Carolyn Ives Gilman

Touring With the Alien is the first Hugo-only nomination I have read this year, and it's a very strong entry for the award.  We have a pair of protagonists--Avery, the exotic loads driver, and Lionel, the child abducted by the visiting aliens.  They are inscrutable inside their massive, seashell-like "ships".  There is no evidence that these things traveled to get to earth, but they either did that or grew here.

Then an alien wants to tour the country, so Avery is hired to drive the bus.  She starts talking to Lionel and discovers the crux of the story.  These aliens are not conscious, in the exact same sense that we can act without self-consciousness.  They are in the zen flow, every day, all the time.  No self reflection.  No sense of self, so no sense of death.  They act in the world, harnessing technology and other species to work for them, but all without that sense of self that humans have. 

But they get that sense through their abductees--or adoptees.  And it turns out that consciousness is like a drug.  It tears the aliens up and ages them prematurely, but they can't kick it.

The story unpacks this notion, including some of the creepy physical aspects.  The story itself is limited, but the idea is such a dandy one that you just have to admire it.  I will give it four stars for the "zinger".  Fun!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Everfair, by Nisi Shawl

This is the fourth of five novels I'll be reading for the Nebulas.  Everfair is categorized by its author as an alternate history steampunk novel.  And while there is steampunk to be found, it's pretty heavy on the history.

The setting is an imaginary country in Africa, carved out like all others from European conquest.  In this case it is not by force, but by "purchase" from the Belgian king Leopold.  Well-meaning whites in the British Fabian Society facilitate the purchase, and it becomes an African democracy.

The story is one of forward-thinking hope--the narrative is driven by a lesbian love triangle and interracial romance.  Everfair is modern in all aspects--it is scientifically as well as socially advanced.  The technology is interesting--we have bicycles powered by very small steam-turbine nuclear reactors, and very intricate prosthetics (driven by atrocity).  But the technology in most cases does not seem to interact as much as it might with the history, the exception being the development of flight as freight transport through advanced dirigibles.  Mostly it's a recitation of the various political struggles and intrigues of a colony formed by idealists, trying to avoid Liberia's fate.

Personally I just did not find it engaging.  There's very little action that matters, and while drama is the central driver, it rarely reaches more than a simmer.  Everfair kind of bumps along, speaking lessons to our time but in a way that reminds me of an overly warm summer school classroom.  Took me forever to read.

It's a book you want to like, but in the end I can only give it two stars.