SHORTS: Resnick, Kinney, Chatham, Byrne

There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about. 

The Manamouki by Mike Resnick (1990, originally published in Asimov’s magazine, anthologized in Hugo and Nebula Award Winners from Asimov’s Science Fiction, also included in Kirinyaga). 1991 Hugo award winner (novelette), Nebula award nominee.

Kirinyaga is a terraformed planet where the inhabitants, descendants of a Kenyan tribe, the Kikuyu, have adopted the lifestyle and practices of pre-colonial days of their tribe. Koriba, the mundumugu or witch doctor character who narrates this story, is one of the leaders of the people. He’s also the only person in the group who has access to a modern-day computer, or even knows what a computer is; everyone else lives like the Kikuyu would have back in, say, the 1700s.

In The Manamouki, a married couple from Earth immigrates to the planet Kirinyaga and joins the tribe. Even though the husband is a Kenyan, Koriba cautions the couple that they may not be able to assimilate fully, due to the hardships of daily life and the group’s dedication to the old ways, but they ― especially the wife ― are entranced by the idea of the natural lifestyle in a beautiful, unspoiled setting, and don’t want to listen to Koriba’s warning. The back-to-basics life has its appealing qualities, but if that also entails adhering to beliefs that utterly clash with our modern views, what is one to do? Can one pick and choose beliefs? Mike Resnick clearly shows the dangers and limitations of each viewpoint: those who think we need to completely reject all modern technology and adhere to traditional beliefs, even if repugnant from a modern point of view, and those who think refusing to make any concessions to change is foolish and stagnating. Either way, decisions tend to have unintended consequences that come back to haunt us. Resnick skillfully weaves in native legends that relate to the events of the tale, adding color and depth to the tale.

I first read The Manamouki several years ago in an anthology, Hugo and Nebula Award Winners from Asimov’s Science Fiction, and it’s one of the few short SF works I’ve read that has imprinted itself permanently on my brain. It’s amazing and appalling and unforgettable. ~Tadiana Jones


Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge by Mike Resnick (1994, free at Subterranean Press, $3.99 Kindle version). Winner of the 1994 Nebula and 1995 Hugo awards (novella).

In another award-winning work by Mike Resnick, humanity once controlled much of the galaxy due to its ambition and ruthlessness, but then declined for unspecified reasons and is now an extinct race. About five thousand years after mankind’s extinction, a group of diverse alien anthropologists travels to Earth to excavate Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, which is considered by many scientists to be the birthplace of humanity. The team finds several ancient artifacts in Olduvai Gorge from different layers in the strata, representing different periods of time in the past: a triangular rock, a broken chain link, a knife handle, and so on. One alien, known as “He Who Views,” has the convenient ability to temporarily absorb an object into itself and experience key moments in history related to the object. He Who Views retells seven stories of mankind’s past based upon these artifacts, revealing both our strengths and our weaknesses.

The depth and details of the history that He Who Views relates don’t entirely make logical sense, as much of each story is only indirectly related to the particular artifact that plays a role in that story, but the artifacts do provide a convenient hook for each story and a framework for the account of humanity’s rise and fall. The tale of an African photo safari in the year 2103 was particularly memorable. Though some may differ, I thought it was an overly grim view of our race (though the abysmal current U.S. presidential campaign does, I confess, give me pause for thought). This novella focuses almost exclusively on mankind’s penchant for murder, enslaving each other, abusing our planet and its environment, and other types of destructiveness, while giving a nod to our resolve and hardiness. As a whole, it’s a compelling and sobering look at who we are as a people, and why we might be viewed with alarm by other intelligent beings. ~Tadiana Jones


“The First Confirmed Case of Non-Corporeal Recursion: Patient Anita R.” by Benjamin C. Kinney (June 2016, free at Strange Horizons)

The spirit of Anita R. finds herself haunting the home where she died. The afterlife is frustrating: Anita finds herself repeatedly reenacting the final few minutes of her life to surprised human viewers, berating them with the same words she yelled at her husband Luis in their argument just before she died. With a great deal of concentration, Anita discovers that she has the ability to say different words to the humans she encounters, but she is still only able to use sentences and phrases that she said during her lifetime. Her spirit is also temporarily dissipated by any touch of sun or moonlight. When Anita’s ghost encounters Malati, a young woman with troubles of her own, Anita is moved by her plight to push the boundaries of her abilities to try to help Malati.

This story has both light-hearted and serious elements. Anita’s limited communication abilities, though hugely frustrating for her, are the impetus for some amusing and inventive efforts by her to communicate indirectly. Although the story isn’t entirely believable (even if one does believe in ghosts), the ingenious plot, touches of humor, and sympathetic characters made it a pleasure to read. ~Tadiana Jones


“Mortal Eyes” by Ann Chatham (June 2016, free at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, 99c Kindle magazine issue)

A servant woman, sleepless because of her pregnancy, wanders the hall of the lord’s house in the night, when the Hunt comes. She hears the noise outside and unlatches a window to see what the commotion is. The inhuman participants in the Hunt, after recovering from their surprise at seeing a mortal awake when they had used their powers to put all to sleep, inform her that a human life from the house is required as recompense for the time when, a century ago, their folk had granted someone in the house a life. The leader of the Hunt concedes to her that it is a life they want; a death is of no use to them. With this as some comfort, the woman is compelled by their powers to leave the house and accompany the Hunt to accomplish their unknown purpose for her.

The plot of “Mortal Eyes” is a bit thin, and it’s a somewhat simple and straightforward tale, but it’s well and imaginatively told, with intriguing and often disturbing details that pulled me into the story.

[S]he scooted another awkward distance backwards until she fetched up against something firm. She looked up to see the feathered steed that had brought her here. It stood steady, its three-hooved feet planted firmly on the shaking ground, and bent its head to whiffle at her hair the way a real horse might. She tried to ignore the carrion scent of its breath; it did not seem like to eat or step on her at present, which seemed as near to safety as the moment had to offer.

The ending is rather abrupt and left me with several questions about whether what happened was for good or ill, and what the future would bring for this woman and her child, but the ending does fit the nature of this mythic tale. ~Tadiana Jones


“Traumphysik” by Monica Byrne (June 2016, free on Tor.com, 99c Kindle version)

A self-described “brilliant” co-ed, after graduating from MIT, volunteers for the war effort in WWII. The Navy assigns her to a small atoll in the Pacific, responsible for periodically sending up a signal light to guide warplanes to their proper destination. She lives there alone, isolated from all human contact except radio communications with the Navy.

To pass the time, the woman begins a set of experiments, on herself and her surroundings, dealing with lucid dreaming, and how the laws of physics may be altered in dreams. In honor of the Gaertners, the German husband-and-wife team who were her physics professors and mentors at MIT, and because “everything sounds more rigorous in German,” she calls her experiments “Traumphysik,” or dream-physics. Gradually her dreams become increasingly odd, affecting her waking life. She also often reminisces about her difficulties fitting in socially at MIT, and the way the Gaertners helped her through some trying times.

As the story goes on, the woman’s thought processes become increasingly bizarre, culminating in a surprise ending that recasts the entire story. The name Gaertner means, in English, “gardener,” which I am reasonably certain is not a coincidence. Unfortunately, I found the storyline disconnected and too often random and unclear. In that sense it was dreamlike, but ultimately, like many dreams, not very satisfying. ~Tadiana Jones


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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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6 comments

  1. I love the paragraph you quoted from “Mortal Eyes!”

    I thought “Seven View of Olduvai Gorge” was a bit grim when I first read it, but I thought the story itself was fascinating. One of his best.

    • I liked that quote from “Mortal Eyes” as well, probably because it reminded me of Robin McKinley’s writing. :)

      And yes, “Seven Views” is a fascinating story. I do hope we’re not THAT bad, but I guess we’ll see where we are in about 100 years.

  2. I loved “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge.” I have not read “The Manamouk” but will add that to my list.

    One of the best story collections I’ve ever read is Mike Resnick’s The Incarceration of Captain Nebula and Other Lost Futures:

    http://www.fantasyliterature.com/reviews/the-incarceration-of-captain-nebula-and-other-lost-futures/

    • I keep thinking about ordering a copy of Resnick’s Kirinyaga, where he collects the whole cycle of Kirinyaga tales. I’ve read three or four of them elsewhere; they’re excellent and heart-wrenching.

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