I’m lucky to live near so many Little Free Libraries. According to the official website, 10 such diminutive lending centers are located in my zip code, and I’m pretty sure there are a few others that aren’t noted. Whenever I walk my neighborhood, I stop at the libraries located along my route and check out whether anything new and interesting has appeared, and occasionally contribute something to the stash. I recently happened upon a couple of Nebula Awards Showcase collections and decided they’d be great to read during holiday travel.
The 2012 showcase, edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel, comprises 14 stories, poems, novellas, and novelettes and two excerpts from novels (Connie Willis’ Blackout/All Clear and Terry Pratchett’s I Shall Wear Midnight). Incidentally, I consider myself a literary type, but I had no idea that novellas and novelettes were different. Live and learn!
A collection like this is sort of like taking a cruise vacation–you get to dip your toe into a variety of author’s styles without dedicating too much time to any one author, so if you find, say, Puerto Vallarta or Geoff Landis pointless or silly, you’ve moved on before you know it!
I’ll admit that many of the stories in this collection didn’t make a very strong impression on me. As I flip back, I barely remember what James Tiptree’s “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side” was about. I was excited to read Terry Pratchett’s excerpt, though it turns out it didn’t inspire me to pick up the novel.
A few entries stand out in this collection. Kij Johnson’s “Ponies” speaks to the way girls will sacrifice pieces of themselves to be popular. My initial reaction was that it was a bit obvious, but on reflection I was impressed with Johnson’s ability to tell a powerful story in fewer than 1,300 words. Rachel Swirsky’s novella “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window” tells the story of a sorceress (the aforementioned lady) named Naeva who, upon being mortally injured, has her soul bound so that her queen may continue to summon her for counsel. Naeva continues to be summoned over time, not only be the queen’s successors, but by future generations and civilizations. Her poignant weariness is somewhat offset by her disgust at being summoned to help men (hers being a matriarchal society). What responsibility, if any, does she have to help her summoners? Is it wrong for her to refuse to reveal her magic to men, even if, by not doing so, thousands will die? The story asks some interesting questions and is an entertaining read.
The winner of this collection, in my opinion is Harlan Ellison’s “How Interesting: A Tiny Man.” The plot is simple: a scientist, for reasons he can no longer remember, creates a tiny man. At first the world is very impressed at the coolness and novelty of his creation, but eventually they turn on both tiny man and creator, who are forced to flee. Ellison rather gives away the point of the story in his introduction, saying “I view the narrator of the piece as an innocent, as innocent as the man who invented the atomic bomb.” Additionally it would seem to be about the fickleness of society in general, a relevant point in the age of Twitter and public shaming. Ellison also makes this a “choose your own adventure” type story by providing two conflicting endings, saying, “. . . you can take whichever pleases you. . .or neither.” Some may say that’s cheating, and it may be, but then that assumes that the ending is all that matters. I enjoyed this story for its simplicity but also for the humor Ellison weaves, such as when he commissions some tiny clothes for his creation. “He probably won’t be doing much traveling, or sports activities . . . yes, why don’t we stick to just a couple of suits. Nice shirts, perhaps a tie or two.” When people start to turn on the pair, the narrator mentions the that they receive threats, “A great many threats. Some of them curiously misspelled.”
Science fiction and fantasy fans should be able to find something they enjoy in this collection, or at least something to make them think. Each story is introduced by its author, and I’d like to share something Adam Troy-Castro notes in the introduction to his story “Arvies.” Troy-Castro says, “I am proud that my tale has been interpreted, by various partisans on opposite sides of the abortion debate, as being both for and against. . .while being criticized by others for refusing to take a stand.” Good literature (science fiction, fantasy, or otherwise) provokes questions and forces us to consider new angles. Hopefully some gems in this collection will inspire you to ask some questions of your own.