For the second year in a row, Adam-Troy Castro has a short story nominated for the Nebula Award which I think the best of the nominees. “Her Husband’s Hands,” originally published in Lightspeed Magazine, posits a world in which medical technology is so advanced that virtually any bit of a soldier can be retrieved from the battleground and kept alive, complete with a memory recorded at some point before the attack that “killed” him or her. In Rebecca’s case, only her husband’s hands have survived. They have been fitted with light-sensitive apertures at the fingertips, which allow her husband to see; the wrists end in thick silver bands that house his life support and his “brain.” It’s at least as creepy as it sounds, particularly as Castro describes how the relationship between Rebecca and her husband’s hands proceeds, complete with post-traumatic stress disorder and all the other adjustments military spouses and the soldier-mates must make after a long deployment. Of course, there are a few additional adjustments that the partial nature of Rebecca’s husband makes necessary, as Castro spells out in detail.
When I reviewed Nancy Fulda’s “Movement” in Asimov’s last February, I called it “a short story of exceptional power,” and, upon rereading it, I still feel that way. It is about Hannah, a girl – very nearly a woman – who has temporal autism. I cannot find any indication that such a condition has been identified in our world, but in the context of the story it means that Hannah experiences time differently from the rest of us. Conversations can take weeks in her brain; a question you asked her on January 5 might receive an answer on January 28, but it takes that long for her to choose the right words to answer your inquiry precisely. The real question Hannah must answer is whether she wants to be “cured.” What would she give up if medical personnel started messing about with her brain? Would it be worth the price? And who should make that decision, Hannah or her parents?
Aliette de Bodard revisits the world of her series, OBSIDIAN AND BLOOD, moving it far forward into the future in her short story, “Shipbirth.” In this universe, Mexico is the dominant world power. It has extended that power well into space with ships capable of traveling faster than light through the “deep planes.” This travel is made possible because certain women give birth to Minds – not children, precisely, but entities capable of traveling the deep planes without losing their sanity. In this story, originally published in Asimov’s, one woman has given birth to such a Mind, but neither it nor she seems to have survived, at least not whole. It is a story of great pain and powerful gods.
Ken Liu’s “Paper Menagerie” is a charming story from F&SF about a mother who makes origami animals from old Christmas wrapping paper for her son. She is Chinese, picked out of a catalog by her American husband in 1973. She spoke no English when they met, and learned little in the years following their marriage and the birth of her son. But she has a magic: her origami animals are alive. The story is a quiet one about the relationship between this Chinese mother and her American son, ending on a melancholy note that will give you goose bumps.
“Mama, We Are Zhenya, Your Son” by Tom Crosshill is a story originally published in Lightspeed Magazine of a child sold by his mother for use in a scientific experiment to run a quantum motor. The physicist running the experiment, however, fails to take the extreme youth of her subject into account, not to mention that she might not know everything there is to know about quantum mechanics. It’s a mad scientist story with a twist, and that twist stings.
“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu is getting lots of love this year, as it has been nominated for the Hugo as well as for the Nebula, which must be making Clarkesworld Magazine quite happy. I concede that the story of a war between bees and wasps, and the movement among young bees to find a new way to live that doesn’t include slavery, is clever. So is the notion that wasps draw detailed maps inside their hives, and that an enterprising scientist would find this of great interest. Indeed, the story is bursting with ideas. But it lacks any emotional punch whatsoever, and the ideas are not quite clever enough to make up for the absence of a genuine plot.
Whether free will really exists is the question David W. Goldman poses in “The Axiom of Choice,” a story told in much the same way as those old “choose your adventure” books for kids – except that, quite often, when the reader is told to go to a certain paragraph upon making one choice, that paragraph isn’t there. In other words, there is no choice, which is sort of the point. The “you” to whom the story is addressed is a musician who survived a plane crash, but whose hands were so mutilated that guitar playing will no longer come easy. What happens from there? You choose. Or do you? The story was originally published in The New Haven Review.
These six stories come from four different sources. It is perhaps no longer noteworthy that two of the sources (for three stories) are online-only publications. Certainly it is a blessing for those without magazine subscriptions that all the stories are available to read online. Which story is your pick for the Nebula?