As often happens, the presentation of this year’s Nebula Awards took place before I was able to complete all my posts on the short-form nominees, and there was only one in the Novella category I was able to read in advance. The winner was Nancy Kress’ “After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall,” which I’m sure was an excellent story.
The novella I did read was Ken Liu’s “All the Flavors,” a tale of Chinese immigrants who came to America in the 1800’s seeking their fortunes, and found both more and less than they expected in the boomtowns, mining camps, and railroad gangs of the American West. Prominent in the tale is one Lao Guan, who might be a Chinese god of war, accompanying the immigrants to look after them.
Or maybe he’s just a big, blustery, likable storyteller with a larger-than-average portion of common sense. Either way, he’s found something irresistible in this new land and the people trying to carve a civilization out of it…something worth fighting for.
Having spent a good fraction of my formative years in California, where the story of the Chinese immigrants who helped win the West is woven deeply into the historical and cultural tapestry, I found “All the Flavors” delightful from beginning to end. Lao Guan and his friends endure oppression in China, then a difficult passage to America—and the challenges become even more daunting once they arrive. Despite all the adversity they face, the story is heartwarming, optimistic, and ultimately triumphant. Give it a read. You’ll be glad you did.