I Found a Cool Story the Other Day, #19: They Came from the Nebula

The 2011 Nebula Awards have come and gone. The trophies sit in honored spaces on their owners’ desks, bookshelves, and mantelpieces, the convention center has been turned to other purposes several times by now, and most of us spec-fic fans have turned our attention to the current year’s crop of stories.

Most of us. I don’t usually notice Nebula-quality stories in the ordinary course of my reading. Other people find them, vote, and thus compile a list of nominees that always seems to catch me unawares, and I spend the next couple of months perusing what I’ve missed.

The novels always get the lion’s share of attention, but since I’m a short story man myself, I leave the novels to the glitterati and focus on the nominees for short story, novella, and novelette. And so, I read, and I sort. This one’s pretty good. I don’t know what they saw in that one. If I’m lucky, I’ll finish a story and think, If this one doesn’t win, there’s no justice in the world. 2011 was a good year, and there were a lot of gems on the list. I’m going to highlight three of them today, and they’re all cool stories.

First is Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie,” a heart-rending tale of a mail-order bride with a special talent and the son who struggles to comprehend her. This story won the short story Nebula. Yes, there is justice in the world.

“Kan,” she said. “Laohu.” She put her hands down on the table and let go.

A little paper tiger stood on the table, the size of two fists placed together. The skin of the tiger was the pattern on the wrapping paper, white background with red candy canes and green Christmas trees.

I reached out to Mom’s creation. Its tail twitched, and it pounced playfully at my finger. “Rawrr-sa,” it growled, the sound somewhere between a cat and rustling newspapers.

I laughed, startled, and stroked its back with an index finger. The paper tiger vibrated under my finger, purring.

“Zhe jiao zhèzhi,” Mom said. This is called origami.

Another contender in the short story category was E. Lilly Yu’s “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees.” It’s a pseudo-historical fantasy blended with a dose of political allegory, and the language is beautiful.

They found their sisters in the hive who were unquiet in soul and whispered to them the strange knowledge they had learned among the wasps: astronomy, military strategy, the state of the world beyond the farthest flights of the bees. Hitherto educated as dancers and architects, nurses and foragers, the bees were full of a new wonder, stranger even than the first day they flew from the hive and felt the sun on their backs.

Finally, in the novella division, there’s Mary Robinette Kowal’s cop-buddy whodunit, “Kiss Me Twice,” perhaps the most appealing, entertaining, and poignant portrayal of artificial intelligence I’ve yet read, and most good stories only manage to hit one of those three notes. It didn’t win the Nebula, leaving me to wonder once again about the state of justice in the world.

A group of trendy-somethings milled outside the police line, clearly torn between curiosity and the need for a caffeine fix at the coffee shop next door. Scott Huang glanced to the corner of his VR glasses where the department AI hovered. “I guess murder trumps coffee, huh?”

Metta, currently wearing the face of Mae West, lowered her voice to the star’s husky range. “I take my coffee black, like my heart.”

“You don’t have a heart.”

“Then I take my coffee black, like my processor.”

“Nice.” Huang grinned at her. She customized her interface for all the officers on the force, but tended toward silver screen starlets with Huang. Her Diamond Lil was pretty special though; she’d even gone black and white for the occasion.

Awards aren’t everything, and I predict we’ll see this story reprinted more than once in anthology. If you find you like M.R.K’s style as much as I do, you’ll probably enjoy her speculative romance novels Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass, tales of magic and illusion inspired by Jane Austen.

I’ve only scratched the surface of Nebula goodness here, and I’ve a lot of reading yet to do. You can find the complete list of nominated stories, many with links, at http://www.sfwa.org/2012/02/2011-nebula-awards-nominees-announced/.

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2 thoughts on “I Found a Cool Story the Other Day, #19: They Came from the Nebula

  1. Thanks so much for this post! I did one on the Nebula novel winners for the past few years, and was inspired to purchase and read one of the books. I may read more as time and finances permit. And now I have to figure out how to get the short stories as well, you make them sound interesting.

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