2010 BSFA Awards Shortlists

The BSFA is pleased to announce the shortlisted nominees for the 2010 BSFA Awards.

The nominees are:

Best Novel

2010 BSFA Awards Best Novel Nominees

Paolo Bacigalupi – The Windup Girl (Orbit)
Lauren Beukes – Zoo City (Angry Robot)
Ken Macleod – The Restoration Game (Orbit)
Ian McDonald – The Dervish House (Gollancz)
Tricia Sullivan – Lightborn (Orbit)

Best Short Fiction

Nina Allan – ‘Flying in the Face of God’ – Interzone 227, TTA Press.
Aliette de Bodard – ‘The Shipmaker’– Interzone 231, TTA Press.
Peter Watts – ‘The Things’ – Clarkesworld 40
Neil Williamson – ‘Arrhythmia’ – Music for Another World, Mutation Press

Best Non-Fiction

Paul Kincaid – Blogging the Hugos: Decline, Big Other
Abigail Nussbaum – Review, With Both Feet in the Clouds, Asking the Wrong Questions Blogspot
Adam Roberts – Review, Wheel of Time, Punkadiddle
Francis Spufford – Red Plenty (Faber and Faber)
Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe – the Notes from Coode Street Podcast

Best Art

Andy Bigwood – cover for Conflicts (Newcon Press)
Charlie Harbour – cover for Fun With Rainbows by Gareth Owens (Immersion Press)
Dominic Harman – cover for The Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (Gollancz)
Joey Hi-Fi – cover for Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot)
Ben Greene – ‘A Deafened Plea for Peace’, cover for Crossed Genres 21
Adam Tredowski – cover for Finch, by Jeff Vandermeer (Corvus)

The BSFA Awards Administrator will shortly make a voting form available for members of the BSFA and this year’s Eastercon, who will be able to send advance votes based on the above shortlists. Advance votes must be received by Monday 18th April. After this date, ballot boxes will be made available at Illustrious – the Eastercon Convention taking place at the Hilton Metropole in Birmingham. The ballots will close at Midday on Saturday April 23rd and the winners will be announced at a ceremony hosted that evening at the convention.

Congratulations to all of the nominees!

P.S. Voting details are here.

BSFA Nominees So Far: Best Novel

And the final category: Best Novel. As for the other lists, everything below has received at least one nomination. The five books with the most nominations at the end of today (23.59 GMT) will go forward to the shortlist. So, last chance: send your nominations in!

  • The Technician by Neal Asher (Tor)
  • A Festival of Skeletons by RJ Astruc (Crossed Genres)
  • The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Orbit)
  • Blood and Iron by Tony Ballantyne (Tor)
  • Surface Detail by Iain M Banks (Orbit)
  • The Holy Machine by Chris Beckett (Corvus)
  • The Reapers Are The Angels by Alden Bell (Tor)
  • Zoo City by Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot)
  • Engineman by Eric Brown (Solaris)
  • Guardians of the Phoenix by Eric Brown (Solaris)
  • Farlander by Col Buchanan (Tor)
  • The Orphaned Worlds by Michael Cobley (Orbit)
  • Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard (Angry Robot)
  • Zendegi by Greg Egan (Gollancz)
  • Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (Voyager)
  • Empire of Light by Gary Gibson (Tor)
  • Zero History by William Gibson (Viking)
  • The Places Between by Terry Grimwood (Pendragon)
  • The Evolutionary Void by Peter F Hamilton (Macmillan)
  • Horns by Joe Hill (Gollancz)
  • Alison by Andrew Humphrey (TTA Press)
  • The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Gollancz)
  • The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod (Orbit)
  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion (Vintage)
  • Absorption by John Meaney (Gollancz)
  • Kraken by China Mieville (Macmillan)
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (Sceptre)
  • Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness (Walker)
  • City of Ruin by Mark Charan Newton (Tor)
  • Silversands by Gareth L Powell (Pendragon)
  • The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (Gollancz)
  • Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz)
  • New Model Army by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
  • Time Crystal vol 1 by Wyken Seagrave (Podiobooks)
  • Birdbrain by Johanna Sinisalo (Peter Owen)
  • The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross (Orbit)
  • Lightborn by Tricia Sullivan (Orbit)
  • Above the Snowline by Steph Swainston (Gollancz)
  • The Scarab Path by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor)
  • Orgasmachine by Ian Watson (Newcon)
  • The Noise Within by Ian Whates (Solaris)
  • City of Dreams and Nightmare by Ian Whates (Angry Robot)
  • How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (Corvus)

BSFA Nominees So Far: Best Short Fiction

Not surprisingly, the longest list so far: here’s all the works of short fiction that have received at least one nomination from BSFA members. Send yours to awards@bsfa.co.uk by the end of the day.

  • “Flying in the Face of God” by Nina Allan (Interzone 227)
  • “The Phoney War” by Nina Allan (Catastrophia)
  • “Feet of Clay” by Nina Allan (Never Again)
  • “Darwin Anathema” by Stephen Baxter (The Mammoth Book of Alternate History)
  • “Our Land” by Chris Beckett (Conflicts)
  • The Heart of a Mouse” by KJ Bishop (Subterranean)
  • “Hanging Around” by Neil K Bond (Shoes, Ships and Cadavers)
  • Hothouse Flowers” by Chaz Brenchley (The Bitten Word)
  • “Sussed” by Keith Brooke (Conflicts)
  • “Have Guitar Will Travel” by Chris Butler (The Immersion Book of SF)
  • The Nightmare of You and Death in the Room” by Christopher Adam (Hub 126)
  • “In the Long Run” by David L Clements (Conflicts)
  • “A War of Stars” by David L Clements (Analog Jan/Feb 2010)
  • “The Maker’s Mark” by Michael Cobley (Conflicts)
  • “Where the Vampires Live” by Storm Constantine (The Bitten Word)
  • “The Shoe Factory” by Michael Cook (Interzone 231)
  • “The Shipmaker” by Aliette de Bodard (Interzone 231)
  • “Spare Change” by Jay Eales (Murky Depths 12)
  • On Not Going Extinct” by Carol Emshwiller (Strange Horizons)
  • The Mad Scientist’s Daughter” by Theodora Goss (Strange Horizons)
  • Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain” by Yoon Ha Lee (Lightspeed 4)
  • The Issuance of One Hundred and Thirty-Six” by Mark Harding (Future Fire 21)
  • The Red Bride” by Samantha Henderson (Strange Horizons)
  • “The Pearl Diver with the Gold Chain” by Paul Hogan (GUD 5)
  • “Ne Cadant in Obscurum” by David Hoing (The Company He Keeps)
  • Dali’s Clocks” by Dave Hutchinson (Daybreak)
  • On the Banks of the River Lex” by NK Jemisin (Clarkesworld)
  • Reflection” by Jessica E Kaiser (Future Fire 19)
  • “Hibakusha” by Keevil Tyler (Interzone 226)
  • “The Earth Beneath My Feet” by James Lecky (Jupiter 29)
  • “Torhec the Sculptor” by Tanith Lee (Asimov’s Oct/Nov)
  • “Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life” by Rochita Luenen-Ruiz (Interzone 229)
  • Second Journey of the Magus” by Ian R MacLeod (Subterranean)
  • Havana Augmented” by Tim Maughan (M-Brane 12)
  • “War Without End” by Una McCormack (Conflicts)
  • Seven Sexy Cowboy Robots” by Sandra McDonald (Strange Horizons)
  • “Hirasol” by Melissa Mead (Bull Spec 2)
  • The Isthmus Variation” by Kris Millering (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
  • “The Untied States of America” by Mario Milosevic (Interzone 228)
  • “The Raft of the Titanic” by James Morrow (The Mammoth Book of Alternate History)
  • “Trouble with Telebrations” by Tim Nickels (Catastrophia)
  • “The Cloth From Which She is Cut” by Gareth Owens (Fun With Rainbows)
  • Abandonware” by An Owomoyela (Fantasy)
  • “Fallout” by Gareth L Powell (Conflicts)
  • “Pallbearer” by Robert Reed (The Mammoth Book of Alternate History)
  • “Psi.Copath” by Andy Remic (Conflicts)
  • “Partly ES” by Uncle River (Albedo One)
  • A Serpent in the Gears” by Margaret Ronald (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
  • “Red Letter Day” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Analog)
  • “In the Face of Disaster” by Ian Sales (Catastrophia)
  • Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra” by Vandana Singh (Strange Horizons)
  • “A Winter’s Tale” by Sarah Singleton (The Bitten Word)
  • “Songbirds” by Martin Sketchley (Conflicts)
  • “Coldrush” by Kari Sperring (The Bitten Word)
  • “Star in a Glass” by Vaughan Stanger (Music for Another World)
  • “The Shostakovich Ensemble” by Jim Steel (Music for Another World)
  • “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” by Eric James Stone (Analog)
  • “I Won the Earth Evacuation Lottery” by Tim C Taylor (Shoes, Ships and Cadavers)
  • To Soar Free” by Todd Thorne (Lorelei Signal)
  • “The Insurance Agent” by Lavie Tidhar (Interzone 230)
  • Cloud Permutations by Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)
  • “Lode Stars” by Lavie Tidhar (The Immersion Book of SF)
  • Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time” by Catherynne M Valente (Clarkesworld)
  • “Dark Mirrors” by John Walters (Warrior Wisewoman 3)
  • “A Walk of Solace with my Dead Baby” by Ian Watson (Shoes, Ships and Cadavers)
  • The Things” by Peter Watts (Clarkesworld)
  • “The Cruel Ship’s Captain” by Harvey Welles and Philip Raines (Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet)
  • “Mano Mart” by Andy West (Shoes, Ships and Cadavers)
  • “The Abomination of Beauty” by Ian Whates (The Bitten Word)
  • “Several Items of Interest” by Rick Wilber (Asimov’s)
  • “Arrhythmia” by Neil Williamson (Music for Another World)
  • “A to Z in the Ultimate Big Company Superhero Universe (Villains Too)” by Bill Willingham (Masked)

BSFA Nominees So Far: Best Artwork

With just a few days to go (midnight on Friday) until nominations close for this year’s BSFA Awards, the Awards Administrator Donna Scott has been diligently posting lists of the nominees so far on the BSFA forum. To provide an excuse to remind you all several times to email her with your nominations, I’m going to post one category per day here, starting with Best Artwork — for which you can find some additional suggestions here and here.

So, the list of all artworks that have received at least one nomination currently looks like this:

  • Cover of Conflicts, ed. Ian Whates (Newcon Press) by Andy Bigwood
  • Cover of A Capella Zoo 5 (“Acrobats”) by Martha Brouer
  • Cover of Silversands by Gareth L Powell (Pendragon Press) by Vincent Chong
  • Cover of Shine ed. Jetse de Vries (Solaris) by Vincent Chong
  • Illustration for “Flying in the Face of God” by Nina Allen (in Interzone)
  • Cover of Crossed Genres 21 (“A Deafened Plea for Peace”) by Ben Greene
  • Cover of Fun with Rainbows by Gareth Owens (Immersion Press), by Charlie Harbour
  • Cover of The Immersion Book of SF ed. Carmelo Rafala (Immersion Press), by Charlie Harbour
  • Cover of Engineman by Eric Brown (Solaris), by Dominic Harman
  • Cover of The Noise Within by Ian Whates (Solaris), by Dominic Harman
  • Cover of Cats Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (Gollancz), by Dominic Harman
  • Cover of Zoo City by Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot), by Joey Hifi
  • Cover of Rigor Amortis (Absolute Xpress) by Robert Nixon
  • Cover of Elric: Swords and Roses by Michael Moorcock (Del Rey), by Jon Picacio
  • Cover of Clarkesworld 44, by Rodrigo Ramos
  • Cover of Go Mutants by Larry Doyle (HarperCollins), by Owen Smith
  • Cover of Crossed Genres 17 (“Our Hell”) by Tania Sousa Ribeiro
  • Cover of The Voyage of the Sable Keech by Neil Asher (Tor UK), by Jon Sullivan
  • Cover of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (Corvus), Unknown
  • Cover of The Holy Machine by Chris Beckett (Corvus), Unknown
  • Cover of Finch by Jeff VanderMeer (Corvus), Unknown
  • Cover of Lightborn by Tricia Sullivan (Orbit), Unknown
  • Cover of The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang (Subterranean), Christian Pearce
  • Cover of The Stories of Ibis by Hiroshi Yamamoto (Haikasoru), by Natsuki Lee
  • Cover of Music for Another World ed. Mark Harding (Mutation), Unknown
  • Cover of The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M Valente (Night Shade Books), by Rebecca Guay, design by Cody Tilson.
  • Cover of Feed by Mira Grant (Orbit), Unknown
  • Cover of Version 43 by Philip Palmer, Unknown
  • Cover of Cthulhurotica (Dagon Books), by Oliver Wetter
  • Cover of The Future Fire 20, by Rebecca Whitaker
  • Cover of New Model Army by Adam Roberts (Gollancz), by Blacksheep

Future Classics: #8

Lavinia by Ursula K Le Guin (2008)

Lavinia cover

Le Guin’s revisioning of the later parts of Virgil’s Aeneid from the point of view of Aeneas’ wife was widely hailed as a masterpiece; within the genre, it picked up a Locus Award for best fantasy novel, made the Tiptree Award honor list, and was nominated for the Mythopoeic and BSFA Awards. Adam Roberts was as effusive as anyone:

Ursula K. Le Guin’s beautiful, haunting new novel, due out in the UK in May 2009, has already been published in America. Accordingly, the bound proof I read came pre-endorsed for the Britreader: “a winning combination of history and mythology featuring an unlikely heroine imaginatively plucked from literary obscurity” (Booklist). That rather undersells it, actually. “Deserves to be ranked with Robert Graves’s I Claudius” (Publishers Weekly). That’s more like it. Although Le Guin’s pre-Roman first person narrative has a very different flavour to Graves’s Imperial Roman first person narrative, they are of a similar stature: classics in essence as well as theme. “Arguably her best novel” (Kirkus). Arguably so. Certainly I enjoyed this novel more than any Le Guin since the 1970s; and that (it’s almost tautological to add this) means that I enjoyed it more than pretty much any novel since the 1970s. It possesses a depth, clarity and wonder greater than most of the fiction being published nowadays.

Other reviews: Charlotte Higgins in The Guardian, Tobias Hill in The Observer, Cecelia Holland in Locus, John Garth in The Telegraph. See also a four-part discussion of Lavinia started here last year, and continued here, here, and here, with follow-ups here and here.

Ranking calculated from 101 responses to a poll run during October, November and December 2010.

Zoo City

Zoo City coverWelcome to Zoo City:

People who would happily speed through Zoo City during the day won’t detour here at night, not even to avoid police roadblocks. They’re too scared, but that’s precisely when Zoo City is at its most sociable. From 6pm, when the day-jobbers start getting back from whatever work they’ve been able to pick up, apartment doors are flung open. Kids chase each other down the corridors. People take their animals out for fresh air or a friendly sniff of each other’s bums. The smell of cooking — mostly food, but also meth — temporarily drowns out the stench of rot, the urine in the stairwells. The crack whores emerge from their dingy apartments to chat and smoke cigarettes on the fire-escape, and catcall the commuters heading to the taxi rank on the street below. (132)

What I like about this passage is its incongruous homeliness. Despite the fact that none of the details are original — several are close to cliche — and for all that it’s clear that Zoo City is a pretty beat-up place, this isn’t a judgmental portrait. These people may be caged, but they’re not animals. Our narrator is matter of fact about the meth being cooked alongside the food; if we didn’t already know by this point, we probably wouldn’t be too surprised to learn that she lives here, that she is part of the community she sets out for our consumption.

It’s clearly a place for people short on choices, however. Zinzi Lelethu December is out of prison but far from out of debt, and has been forced to turn her journalistic tricks to 419 scams: a role she’s good at playing, but not happy about. What’s weighing her down is the novel’s fantastic conceit, so thoroughly normalised that taking the above passage in isolation you might miss it. In Zoo City‘s alternate day after tomorrow (the novel is set in March 2011), there’s a new outcast class, sufferers of a fantastical condition termed Acquired Asymbiotic Familiarism by researchers, and animalism or worse on the street. Its defining symptom is the appearance of a flesh-and-blood animal familiar (and these are animals, not talking pets), it seems to afflict those condemned by society or even by their own conscience (justice be damned) and those affected are excluded, exoticised, or both; and they need places like Zoo City to live. The resonances with Pullman’s His Dark Materials in this setup are unavoidable but, apparently, coincidental, although the similarity is acknowledged and there is at least one witty reversal: familiars often reflect their host’s inner character through a mirror darkly. So Zinzi’s sloth, which appeared after the death of her brother, tells you that she’s smart, sharp, and constantly on the move.

As she has to be, to navigate the competing currents that make up the novel’s plot. There’s her desire to pay her way out of her scamming debt; her uneasy relationship with Benoit, a Zoo City hustler whose presumed-dead wife may in fact be alive; the cryptic emails that keep mysteriously appearing in her inbox; and her private enterprise, her magical talent for finding lost things. It’s the last of these that provides most of the forward motion in Zoo City, as Zinzi is recruited by two deeply shady animalled, on behalf of mysterious music mogul Odi Huron, to track down the missing half of the twins that make up his latest pop sensation. The quest takes her, naturally, out of the zoo and into the wilds of the middle and upper class enclaves of Johannesburg: and back, in some cases, into the circles in which she used to swim.

So far so noir, an impression reinforced by the cool terseness of Zinzi’s narration and, at times, of Zinzi herself — “There are two things in the interrogation room with me and Inspector Tschabalala. The one is Mrs Luditsky’s ring. The other is twelve and a half minutes of silence” (28) — and by the pervasive unfairness of the unfolding story. AAF confers something between the stigma of the ex-con and, as the pervasive presence of AIDS reminds us, the stigma of the disease sufferer. Like those, it is based as much or more on assumptions as it is on any empirical reality. Found documents scattered through Zoo City tell the story of AAF — the journal article, the documentary synopsis, the prison tales. The fantastic nature of the conceit has put some reviewers in mind of Jeff Noon’s surreal Vurt (1993), although I was reminded of the more rationalised fantastic of Kit Whitfield’s Bareback (2006). Either way, for most of the novel what’s striking is how low down in the mix it seems to be: a back-note, not a central flavour. It’s only quite late on that it becomes clear, not just from those found documents, how much the existence of AAF has shaped the society Beukes describes.

More immediately obvious, however, is the care with which Beukes sketches the jungle of Johannesburg, and the people Zinzi meets. We watch, fascinated and helpless, as they are used and use each other in turn. Like Beukes’ first novel, Moxyland (2008 South Africa, 2009 UK, 2010 US), Zoo City is distinguished by its texture. The husbandry of information is mostly superb; the glimpses of Zinzi’s world captivate, from the gated high-rise where a broken lift means the wealthy residents simply throw their rubbish out of the windows, to be cleaned up once it hits the ground, to a “Great Gatsby by way of Lady Gaga” (219) nightclub and Zinzi’s own cluttered, crappy flat; and the various characters Zinzi meets, from Huron himself, to popsters Song and S’bu, to current and ex lovers Benoit and Gio, are captured with precision and detail. Per John Clute’s review, Zoo City is indeed an energetic read; but it’s Zinzi’s binding voice that makes it a visceral one, and more transporting than the earlier novel.

Less welcome is the way in which the marketing-driven cynicism familiar from Moxyland — “it’s not just about the music anymore,” Zinzi is told, “it’s about the brand” (120) — becomes here something of a red herring. Shadowing the brisk surface narrative is the Undertow, a metaphysical darkness that threatens to consume those with AAF. It is the attrition of stigma, and the burden that the novel’s villain seeks to use power and privilege to escape. The impeccably chroegraphed ending that Beukes contrives from these ingredients however, is a betrayal, an imposition of justice that everything else Zinzi has told us, and everything Moxyland might have lead us to expect, insists is unearned. And it diminishes an otherwise fine novel, even if the clue was there from the start. The thing about a zoo, after all, is that it’s a lie: the real world is a jungle.

Short Story Club Post-Mortem

So, another round of short story club is complete. For reference, here are the links to the various stories and discussions:

As previously mentioned, I’d now like to open the floor for a more general discussion. There are two topics here. The major one is the stories themselves — which ones you liked, which you didn’t, what patterns or trends you spotted. And the minor one is about the logistics of the club — too many stories? Too few? Too similar? All feedback welcome.

Short Story Club: “Throwing Stones”

Plenty of comment for the final story, starting with Lois Tilton:

This is a lovely fantasy, mannered and sensuous. There is also a subtle subtext about the nature of gender roles that rouses echoes of our own culture.

Karen Burnham goes into more detail:

Baker offers a beautiful tale of identity, politics, power, and love, all intertwined together. Tuo feels just slightly alien, slightly Other, in an effectively disconcerting way. The gender power reversal works well, and the relationship between the goblin and the man, both physical and emotional, queers gender on several levels. Of course, much is left to the imagination of the reader. But in an allusive tale, the poetry of the prose is key, and lines such as:

I leaned forward and pressed my lips to the slick skin of his forehead; it tasted of salt and fish and something acrid I could not identify. The immediacy and honesty of it hit me like a gust of dry wind blowing fog from water.

show a mastery of craft — the repeated use of water imagery, the contrasts of dry wind and lake fog, and the overall rhythm of the piece all come together to make this tale well worth reading.

Matt H wasn’t so impressed by the gender reversal:

This is a story about a society with inverted gender roles, but the story feels like it was written about a woman in a male dominated society, then had all gender references inverted in revision. Certainly it doesn’t read any differently than its opposite, except perhaps to readers so new to the genre that they haven’t encountered a story challenging gender roles before. The story finally approaches interesting territory as the narrator is given a transient female body via magic, but the author seems like she’s in a hurry to reach the ending by this point and nothing much is done with it.

However:

all that said, I found myself won over to large degree upon finishing the story. Nothing about the writing jumped out at me as really superlative, but as a whole I was impressed with the execution: the slimy, amphibian true form of the goblin, the narrator’s hatred for his own body, the way the goblin’s chaos infects and destroys the narrator’s life in a way that he observes but doesn’t see as important, and then the implication that the goblin is here acting as an agent of Ru, the very goddess in whose name the matriarchs suppress the men in their society. These elements weren’t enough to turn this story into one more to my particular tastes, but they did make it unexpectedly enjoyable to read.

For Chad Orzel:

It’s very well written and paced, and what we see of the world is nicely detailed. But it seemed a little too obviously to be making a Point, and as a result didn’t really connect with me. Despite the fact that it’s a well put together story, I still found myself doing the “Yes, you’re very clever, now move it along,” thing, and that’s never good. But, of course, the usual disclaimers apply– it’s entirely possible that this is an idiosyncratic reaction on my part.

The one thing that struck me as a real flaw in the story, and not just something that failed to work for me, was the passivity of the narrator. I mean, this is supposedly a person who has embarked on a dangerous plan to subvert the basis of his whole society, and yet he never takes any initiative, ever. He doesn’t approach the goblin until the goblin notices him first, he just sort of falls into the relationship with the goblin without really wanting it, and he doesn’t really have a plan for how to get into the Temple structure until the goblin practically pushes him into it.

Maria Lin appears to disagree:

You could call “Throwing Stones” a romance, as the whole of it centers upon the relationship between these two characters. Baker manages to make slimy, froglike creatures sensual, which is some feat. Both the narrator and Luo are reserved, calculating people, but for the narrator at least the strength of emotion pushes through and makes things more complicated. By the end of the story the narrator has entered training in the temple, but their conspiracy has yet to be revealed, and the relationship between himself and Luo remains uncertain.

Because “Throwing Stones” leaves the stone still poised to be thrown in the end, the reader is left to come to their own conclusion about what will happen when our protagonist starts making ripples in his society. Baker has written a neat story with a sympathetic narrator that is worth checking out. She is also apparently working on a novel set in the same world, so if this story appeals you might have more to look forward to.

And for Pam Phillips:

The story attempts to turn our expectations about gender upside down, like the customers at the teahouse being powerful women, or the narrator blaming his/her shyness on being male (rather than just being born shy). And yet, I still mostly read both the narrator and the poet as men. Both feel stifled by the society they live in. Tuo wants the narrator to “throw a stone” into the lake of civilization, raising ripples that will someday lead to change.

But what is the change they want? The way the women in Jiun-shi are keeping (at least some) men from being what they want to be, suggests that no matter what, one side will oppress the other. Or maybe the idea of a city ruled by women is just trying to get us to think about how our world feels to some people. And this is where trying figure out what this story wants to be gets all slippery on me.

So, as ever, the floor is open. And pop back next Friday for a general discussion of the short story club — favourites and least favourites, what worked and what didn’t.

Short Story Club: “Stereogram of the Gray Fort, in the Days of Her Glory”

Some quite divergent opinions for this story. We start with Rich Horton, in the June Locus:

I was impressed last year by Paul M Berger’s Interzone piece “Home Again”. Now he contributes a brilliant story to Fantasy, one of the stories of the year so far, “Stereogram of the Gray Fort, in the Days of Her Glory”. Loran, an old elven warrior, has taken Jessica, a young human, as his wife, and the pair visit a tourist attraction, the ruins of the Gray Fort, one of the last human redoubts in the long war that ended with humans enslaved. We learn of the pair bond between the two, such that they both feel and sense what the other does, and some of human/elf history that led to the current debased state of humans. The title artwork is a very clever invention, and nicely reflected in the story’s two parts, one from the POV of each character. The direction the story takes is on the one hand predictable, but nicely executed, and with some ambiguities and surprises that give it freshness and depth.

For Pam Phillips the story is

the sort of story I was hoping to find when I decided to join the Short Story Club at Torque Control.

A elf, Loran, and his human wife, Jessica, visit a ruined fort. From the first words, the story does an excellent job of portraying how the bond between them allows them to share sensory input, but not thoughts.

Their conversation is filled with suggestions of an epic history, war, conquest, and resistance. Loran is so arrogant, you just know he has underestimated his wife. That we confirm when we read Jessica’s side of the story. I like the Rashomonization in getting different meanings from the same events, but I could live without the verbatim repetition of dialogue.

Only after the story is allowed to take shape, do we get to the conceit that spawned it: a stereogram that can only be comprehended by a bonded pair. This stereogram is wonderful enough, but the best part is the way it pays off in the ending.

Excellent.

And for Matt H it’s the best so far:

Perhaps the most interesting part of the setting, and probably the concept the author meant to actually show in the story’s “stereogram”, is the nature of the colonial government. Loran’s narrative makes it very clear that the Elves only respect strength and were in fact disappointed when they finally defeated humans. Unlike the colonial powers of our world, they don’t seem to be extracting labor or natural resources. There’s likewise no equivalent of the White Man’s Burden, or at least, not since the war ended, since they see humans as only being worthy of respect when they are capable of fighting the Elves. Yet Loran says that in his role as a sort of regional governor he is responsible for “teaching” the humans under his control. What could he want to teach them, then, if not to fight back again? It seems like we are meant to conclude that he has essentially planned his own murder. Although this level of manipulation seems well beyond his ability to comprehend human psychology, even Jessica’s despite the link between them, at least we can say he shaped the outline if not the detail of what happened. Thus what might have seemed like a rousing stick-it-to-the-man ending becomes fairly ambiguous. As readers we’re predisposed to be sympathetic to Jessica’s stand, but when we realize that in doing so she’s adopting the values of the colonial power, suddenly it doesn’t seem like such a good idea. Loran has made her into a William Wallace when humanity would be better served by a Mahatma Ghandi.

But Lois Tilton is ambivalent:

The narrative follows the stereogram pattern by relating the story first from Loran’s point of view and then Jessica’s. What’s going on here is subversion of the notion of the noble High Elf, as Loren regards himself, revealing them as a race that would destroy another civilization to give its people the perverse gift of recovering their own capacity for martial glory – and themselves a partner for war that they could consider worthy even as they destroy them. Loren’s own words indict him even more thoroughly than Jessica’s version of the events. I love the vision of the ruined fort, the scene of former glories, even knowing that the vision is false. But too much of this story depends on the notion of the marital pair-bond, which I can’t help finding contrived.

As is Chad Orzel:

I ended up being unimpressed with this, and I’m not sure exactly why. Mostly, it’s that I could see exactly where it was headed from about the point where the brain-sharing thing was explained, and knew it exactly by the time she picked up the dagger. The shift in perspectives was not that much of a revelation, and the whole thing unfolded with a sense of inevitability rather than a sense of wonder.

But again, as I say, I’m not really sure why my reaction to this is a jaded “Meh”– it’s not like there’s a huge glut of psychically linked elf stories on the market, and as a technical matter, it’s well done. Berger also deserves credit for having a return of magic without turning it into a My Awesome Werewolf Boyfriend kind of story.

It’s just… Something about the way it all unfolded wound up feeling, for me, more like the completion of a checklist than a compelling story. Remark about technology making humans weak, check. Remark about our world being too amazing to be true, check. Change in perspective making “courtship” seem really creepy, check. One of linked couple able to hide thoughts and plans from the other, check. And so on.

I’ll be interested to see where everyone else comes down on this one.