oulfis: A teacup next to a plate of scones with clotted cream and preserves. (Default)
1. "Six Months, Three Days" by Charlie Jane Anders
This is one that I nominated-- I adore time travel, and this story really delves into all the things I adore most about it. It's a perfect way of smashing two concepts of time together, but it's also a way of exploring two different people, and two ways of approaching life, and how those differences emerge. I adore it.

2. "What We Found" by Geoff Ryman
Quiet, but engrossing and compelling. Beautifully-realized. It doesn't feel like science fiction for a while, but once it does, it becomes a perfect reflection of the story itself.

3. "Fields of Gold" by Rachel Swirsky
Compelling, despite the fact that I disliked everybody in it. Reminded me of A Brief History of the Dead, but mostly in a way that made me want to re-read the other story. But, well-crafted, never generic, and fully-realized.

4. "Ray of Light" by Brad R. Torgersen
Well-written and well-conceived, but somehow less substantial than the others. The characters felt more like sketches or placeholders than people in their own right. And somehow it felt a little too pat for the sun to have returned after less than a generation, especially given the comparison to previous ice ages. But I liked it.

5. No Award

"The Copenhagen Interpretation" by Paul Cornell
Nearly unreadable. I gave up. I'll assume, generously, that this is part of some kind of series, and that's how it got nominated despite giving so little context I was surprised to discover that we were in a spacefaring future a third of the way along. It's good for a story to subtly interweave its novel elements into the story, rather than doing infodumps or belaboring the details, but you still have to put that information in somewhere near the beginning. By the time I'm three-quarters done with the story, I should have some idea of the restrictions of the setting and the probably consequences of the characters' choices.
oulfis: A teacup next to a plate of scones with clotted cream and preserves. (Default)
1. "The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu
I hate magical realism, and I'd already read this story once before, but I still choked up when I re-read it today. It's not fun to read something so relentlessly, senselessly painful-- but it has stayed with me. It's beautiful. And the Hugo is for fantasy, too.

2. "The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" by E. Lily Yu
I'm not sure yet how I feel about this one. The world is almost unbelievably inventive, and incredibly compelling. And we get a few hints of characters, and something of a narrative arc-- but less than I usually prefer. And yet, I don't think they were trying to convey a singular narrative. I definitely like it! I just think I'll have to mull it over for a while. Which is a good thing, really.

3. "Movement" by Nancy Fulda
Beautiful, with a neatly-executed story arc. Despite its seeming meandering, it really does have a laser focus, something I appreciate in a story-- it's hard to keep everything so unified. But it almost might have wrapped up too neatly; as fascinating as it was to visit this world, I'm not sure it will stay with me the way others have. Still. Impeccably executed.

4. No Award

"Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue" by John Scalzi
I read this, and loved it, when it first came out. I've read this, and loved it, several times since then. It makes me laugh every time! It does take skill to write funny stories, and also to write "bad" stories in a way that isn't actually bad. But, when I'm not reading it, I'm not thinking about it. Just not quite Hugo material.

"The Homecoming" by Mike Resnick
It's a great concept, and one that ought to have resonated deeply with me, what with the whole my-parents-hate-my-physical-transformation thing, but somehow it just didn't have the emotion. The fighting dragged on repetitively, which is accurate to how these fights always go, except that they also degenerate as each person is in more pain. The ending was believable but somehow unearned; every little detail we get about the father is about how he prefers to be surrounded by things that are exactly as they've always been. He doesn't do minor household repairs because he prefers the familiar reminders. I'm not sure exotic wonder would have such a strong, immediate effect on him. I enjoyed watching the story and relationships unfold, but I think I require perfect execution of my Hugo nominees, and this could have used another couple rounds of edits.
oulfis: A teacup next to a plate of scones with clotted cream and preserves. (Default)

Asimov's Science Fiction, March 2012


The Way of the Needle, by Derek Künsken (novelette) - [*****]
Good old-fashioned sci fi, that actually tries to imagine a world utterly unlike our own. I was completely fascinated the whole way through. Künsken does an amazing job of constructing a complex world with a rich history, and compelling aliens in a well-fleshed-out society, without ever falling subject to the dreaded "infodump". AND he managed an emotional arc and plotty storyline, both with satisfying conclusions. Loved it.

The Pass, by Benjamin Crowell (novelette) - [*****]
Another one that unites a compelling story with a compelling emotional arc, with a memorable and clever setting. Chinchy is a complex blend of strong and vulnerable, and her strengths and vulnerabilities shift as she grows up. Her friends are also well-realized, and their story makes a nice foil to hers. Also refreshing is the lack of simplistic moralizing, even in a story that contains a couple pointed societal critiques. And again, a satisfying ending-- although also a fairly complex one. Chinchy and her friends make opposite decisions, but it still feels like the right way for things to turn out.

Golva's Ascent, by Tom Purdom (novelette) - [*****]
Is this just an unusually good issue? Another fascinating, well-crafted story that has a compelling arc and a thoughtful good-old-fashioned-SF premise, this time First Contact. And again, one that manages to avoid moralizing. Golva is an excellent narrator; he's an individual who sheds light on his own society, never a monolith. Doctor Leza, too, manages to have more personality to her than just The Good Human, though the same can't always be said of her opponents. The chase scene drags a little, but the big bang of the ending makes up for it. Another deeply satisfying read.

Nanny's Day, by Leah Cypress (short story) - [*****]
Definitely an unusually good issue. Another well-realized world that manages to contemplate a social issue without moralizing. It's a story about working moms losing custody rights to their nannies, and yet it avoids all of the "working mother" moral panic in favor of a very human story. I was actually raised by nannies, so I found it particularly interesting. I had a lot of different nannies as a toddler, but when I turned four my parents hired Amy, and she was my nanny for at least a decade. I think my parents still would have won an "attachment test" because Amy was the one in charge of making me do my homework and my chores, and she had a lot of rules that were stricter than my parents' -- but the same may not have been true of my younger brothers, who couldn't remember a time before Amy. So, the story evoked a lot of personal memories, but still rang very true. And the ending was perfect.

Mrs. Hatcher's Evaluation, by James Van Pelt (short story) - [***--]
Okay, here's one I didn't totally love. It wasn't bad or anything, and again it tackled an interesting social question without being obnoxious about it (in this case, standardized teaching) but it suffers from my biggest SF pet peeve -- a mysterious mystery that is never actually resolved. Science fiction is different from fantasy because it makes an attempt to explain itself, but this story doesn't bother. The main character is also a little bit annoyingly obtuse, though not nearly so much as the obnoxious principal character, who manages to believe Mrs. Hatcher's class is boring despite mountains of evidence that nobody is bored.

Patagonia, by Joel Richards (short story) - [*----]
Another one that isn't actually science fiction. Glancing over it again for this review, I think I gave up on finishing this one, after I'd been reading for five minutes and nothing had happened to catch my interest at all. Skimming it now, it seems everything devolves into mystical past-life stuff that gets no concrete explanation. I dislike any SF that doesn't explain itself, but I particularly dislike SF that centers around unexplained time travel. Let me clarify that-- I don't care how the time travel happens, because obviously it's impossible and any explanation will be rubbish; what I dislike are stories where the whole plot centers around the characters going "What's this? It's almost like... time travel?" and then the story ends with "What a mystery!" -- If you're going to do time travel, just do it! And then do something interesting with it. I probably wouldn't be so annoyed if Mrs. Hatcher's Evaluation hadn't done the same thing right before this one... or if the characters in this one had any life to them at all.

Poetry, by G.O. Clark, C.W. Johnson, and A. Walker Scott - [****-]
Are poets opposed to first names? Clark's "A Change in Gravity" was cheerful and charming. Johnson's "Discoveries in the Annals of Poetry" is complex and merits re-reading, making the history of science vividly personal. Scott's "Sonnet I" did not appeal to me at all-- a poem about Man conquering lady-space, who laughs "not joyous but in spite"; not at all how I feel about space travel. But the meter and rhyme was well-done.




oulfis: A teacup next to a plate of scones with clotted cream and preserves. (Default)

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, April 2012

Triggers part III of IV, by Robert J. Sawyer - [*****]
God, I only enjoy this more with each installment. So clever! And Jan's story was handled well. But I'll save my big review for the finale.

The Most Invasive Species, by Susan Forest - [*----]
Painfully predictable. I pulled through to the end just in case it was going somewhere I didn't expect, but no, the obvious plot twist is the one we get. The worldbuilding was interesting, and the characters' reaction to the plot twist was nicely done and emotionally compelling, but it just didn't have the emotional punch it was clearly aiming for.

Ecce Signum, by Craig DeLancey - [*****]
Starts a little like a murder mystery, but becomes a different sort of mystery. Janet's particular kind of prickliness is oddly charming, and justifies her slowness in doling out information to the reader. The dog, Juno, is simply charming, nothing odd about it, and the perfect complement to Janet. Juno is also often a convenient way to sneak in infodumps, which are always interesting and seamlessly integrated into the story. The world in general is compelling, and the story somehow manages to be incredibly personal (just Janet and Virginia) and yet global at the same time. (The feminist in me likes the fact that this story passes the Bechdel test so very well.) Satisfying ending. Just about the only question I had was why someone would name a male dog Juno.

A Delicate Balance, by Kevin J. Ansderson - [***--]
An interesting and well-realized world, with an interesting and well-realized main character and a plot that somehow manages to be neither of those things as it progresses. I think it does, overall, make sense for Belinda to make and execute her plan in such a perfunctory way; it's consistent with the role of death in her life. But I think we needed to see a little more of why it was consistent. And I think I needed to get a sense of why the author thought this was important. In particular, the twist at the very end seemed to belong to a different kind of story entirely; the rest of the story I categorized as 'man's inhumanity to man', but the ending was the ending of a story about the cruel justice of fate. I didn't think Birenda was living in a world that still had a god, and yet the ending strongly suggested someone else's hand at work. Perhaps what I am really saying is that the strings were showing, metaphorically, and I could see the author twisting events to suit their desired outcome (surely the most cursory prenatal tests ought to have prevented the surprise!) but I can't figure out why the author so strongly wanted things to end that way.

You Say You Want a Revolution, by Jerry Oltion - [****-]
This one takes a little while to get off the ground, and I put it down several times at first, but once the Hronan begins talking it is absolutely gripping. This was my favourite 'world' in this issue. It is revealed to us from just the right viewpoint -- a retrospective on tyranny, delivered to the tyrants. Perfect. On a more subtle note, it was well-framed with the specific audience members' reactions; the story would have become too simplistic if they had all been earnest and apologetic, or if they had all been unwilling to listen. It strikes a better balance, having one who responds with sympathy and two who attempt to justify themselves -- I think that's why the ending is as satisfying as it is.

Follow-Up, by Stephen L. Burns - [***--]
The concept caught my interest right away, but there's something about the execution... This is a story that is trying to operate within only one character's viewpoint, while simultaneously allowing the reader to see and understand things that the character doesn't notice. It's a tricky way to tell a story, but it's a great way to engage the reader in a process of discovery and it can really add depth to stories whose events operate on a fairly small scale; it was a good choice for this story. But (and you knew there was a but coming), I think the reader doesn't get enough clues. I kept going back to re-read certain scenes, and even went through the whole story a second time after I finished -- this says a lot of good things about the author's general writing skills, that I cared enough to read it twice, but it's less good that even after the re-reading I felt unsatisfied. The reader has just enough clues to find out that something untoward is happening, and to mostly figure out what is happening, but it's deeply unsatisfying without understanding why it's happening, and I've pretty much given up on that one. So as much as I enjoyed re-reading it, and found its little mystery compelling, I just can't stack it alongside my favourites.

To Serve Aliens (Yes, It's a Cookbook), by Eric James Stone - [*****]
Funny, and it even manages to have hints of a plot toward the end! Absolutely delightful.

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