I’ve been so absorbed in writing my own, hopefully cool stories lately, it’s been a while since I’ve highlighted something nifty I found whilst wandering the ‘net. As sometimes happens, I stumbled upon not one, but two cool stories this time.
It’s awards season again, and if you’re a speculative fiction fan, that means it’ll soon be time to check out the nominees for this year’s Nebula Awards, Hugo Awards, and various and sundry other venues that recognize superlative writing. These are good places to find examples of “what right looks like,” especially if you’re a writer wondering why agents and publishers aren’t beating down your door. Sigh. Don’t quit that day job yet, Bubba. Amongst the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) short fiction award nominees, I found a familiar name, which led me to a less-familiar name and a pair of jaw-droppingly good stories.
I’ve featured Aliette de Bodard several times in this series. I can’t help it–she just keeps writing cool stories. “The Shipmaker” is a tale from her Xuyan universe, an alternate-history in which the New World was colonized by a Chinese empire that never fell. North America exists in a three-way split between the Chinese Xuyan, the Mexica, and a subdued United States confined to the eastern side of the continent, struggling to catch up to its powerful neighbors. Interstellar space travel is a reality, and starships are painstakingly crafted to the needs of cyborg Minds that pilot them. The ships are equal parts art and technology, everything carefully tailored to work in harmony with each individual Mind.
In this world, we encounter Dac Kien. She is a talented shipmaker, working on what is to be her masterpiece. When she learns her ship’s Mind will be born prematurely, Dac Kien’s careful plans are thrown into disarray, threatening the success of her project, the survival of the Mind, and the suddenly fragile life she has built for herself, a life as intricately balanced as the ships she designs. When she meets the woman carrying the Mind within her womb, Dac Kien’s assumptions about her own identity and the meaning of her life come into question. This is a beautifully-written, haunting tale of women bound together in both creation and loss who must live with the consequences of their very difficult choices.
Nina Allan’s “Flying in the Face of God” is another story of two women linked in creation and loss, set against the background of a different interstellar mission, a short distance into the future of the Earth we know. Anita Schleif is a documentary filmmaker chronicling the life of Rachel Alvin, a starship pilot undergoing biological engineering that will extend her lifespan and her body’s ability to cope with the rigors of long-endurance spaceflight. The treatment exacts a toll on Rachel’s humanity, and Anita watches helplessly as her friend slips away from her. When she learns the truth about a tragedy from her own past, Anita discovers that her connection with Rachel is closer than she ever imagined.
These are two masterful stories, well-deserving of their award nominations. Though told in two different styles in very different settings, they both vividly illustrate the special challenges faced by women pursuing dreams that often conflict with social and biological imperatives, revealing that our path to the stars may well be mingled with tears, and will likely come at great personal cost.
Read and enjoy.