Review of “The Curse of Giants” by Jose Pablo Iriarte

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This story was published by Daily Science Fiction. It currently has nine recommendations on the Nebula Reading List.

Danny was born a “giant,” which means he never fits in. He is clumsy and is called Dumbass Danny at school, where he sometimes responds to the bullying by acting out, knocking over chairs and tables and kicking things. When this happens, he gets disciplined at home, as well. He tries to report that he’s being bullied, but nothing happens. When the acting out happens again, his father beats him with a belt. Danny goes to the principal’s office and lifts his shirt, showing the marks.

This is another feel good story with strong anti-bullying and anti-child abuse messages. However, like most of the stories I’ve read on the Nebula Reading List this year, it’s not fully developed. Danny has made a strong statement at the end, but the story should have gone on to tell what happens in Danny’s life when Child Protective Services intervenes. Also, I don’t think this one is SFF. I can’t see any science fiction or fantasy content at all, except that Danny thinks he’s a “giant” instead of a disabled child.

Three stars.

Comments on the Nebula Reading List top five short stories


It takes 10 nominations to make a story a Nebula finalist, so these five stories I’ve just reviewed look to be the ones with the best likelihood to make it.

Since I’m reading down the list, there are a few trends sticking out. As far as I know, only SFWA members can make recommendations. Because the listing has been recommended by professionals in the genre, I’d expect to get good quality on the list. These stories I’ve just reviewed have recommendations in the double digits, but I’m just not finding a lot of what I’d call substance in the content. I’m thinking all those people are clicking the “recommend” button because they want to affirm the message. If I’m looking for quality stories to nominate, does that mean I can put any confidence in the number of recommendations the stories have gotten at all? Hm. Maybe not. Does this mean the trend to sentimental stories has shifted and this year message fiction is the in thing? Hm. Maybe so. Hopefully there’s more substance further down the list.

Next, I’m seeing a lot of repetition in the names. Caroline Yoachim, for example, has 5 stories on the list; A. Merc Rustad has three; José Pablo Iriarte has three, etc. I’m not sure what to make of this, except that these people must be very consistently high quality writers.

Third, I don’t see any real, serious hard SF in the top five. I commented on this trend a couple of years back after the awards cycle, the fact that hard SF is in trouble, being replaced (this year) with somewhat humorous message fiction dressed up in a thin veneer of SF or fantasy. I have to agree that the stories are entertaining and fun and that the messages are progressive, but there are no fully developed short stories in this group of five with, for example, strong character development, great world building, vivid imagery, thoughtful themes and universal questions about the human condition. What’s happened? Is this the influence of “Cat Pictures Please,” last year’s Hugo winner? Or has pressure from the Puppies encouraged the SFWA to promote progressive political messages at the expense of well-developed, serious science fiction and fantasy stories?

One last observation is that just a few magazines seem to be dominating the list. For example, Lightspeed has 20 entries in the current list, Daily Science Fiction has 12, Clarkesworld has 10, F&SF has 10 and Strange Horizons has 10. Glancing at the titles, I don’t think hard SF is the reigning paradigm. This isn’t a new trend, either. Analog did make a better showing this year than it sometimes does, with 5 entries. Where should I look for stronger substance? Is Asimov’s still the indicator there?

Review of “43 Responses to ‘In Memory of Dr. Alexandra Nako'” by Barbara A. Barnett

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Here’s another short story published by Daily Science Fiction with 10 recommendations.

The format looks like an exchange of Twitter messages. The first is from puppyhugs42 thanking Dr. Bates for his tribute to Dr. Alexandra Nako. The next is from Chekhov’s Jellyfish opining that there really is something beyond death, and that Dr. Nako is a martyr. The third is from AlexandraNako, addressed to Kevin. She tells him he needs to stop the research immediately. Contributors take this as insensitive use of Dr. Nako’s name, and Dr. Bates responds that the research will continue. Nako continues to post, and is banned twice, but quickly returns under other usernames to continue her warnings. Bates posts that he considers this harassment and has called security. Spam starts to come over his feed.

Like most of Daily SF stories, this one is very short. The format is creative and the story emerges from the exchange of posts as the users carry on a conversation. It remains only suggestive, as Nako is never able to post a complete warning—the letters jumble when she tries. Because of this, it never really says anything, only reveals small bits of information about the characters and what they might possibly have been doing. This means it doesn’t present thoughtful ideas or ask much in the way of questions. The story is entertaining, but again a hard sell for a Nebula nomination.

Three stars.

Review of “17 Amazing Plot Elements… When You See #11 You’ll Be Astounded” by James Beamon

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A friend has pointed out that I’m falling down on the reviews for the Nebula Award nominations (now open) so I’m going to look at some of the highest rated short stories on the reading list. Here’s the first, published by Daily Science Fiction with eleven recommendations.

The story is arranged in 17 paragraphs, each labeled as a plot element. For example, it begins with #17, “in media res.” It continues with elements like metaphor, backstory, cliffhanger, etc. Because it starts with #17 and the plot elements don’t order the story correctly, it’s jumbled. You have to read the whole thing and then put it together into a whole story. In plot element #17, the protagonist climbs a tree, seeking for a sturdy branch, and then attempts to hang himself. In #16, he speaks to the readers, breaking the fourth wall. In #15, we learn that the story is about someone else who is the leader of a revolution. The narrative isn’t especially straightforward, includes a bit of the contemporary and plays on the word “alien.” In this way Beamon avoids giving away the key plot element until #1.

Daily SF is mostly very short stories, and this one is no exception. I won’t give away the plot elements, but recommend you read the story online at their website. The format and narrative are very creative and I had no idea of the ending, so I’m impressed. I can see why people like it enough to give it 11 recommendations. However, regardless of this, it’s not much of a thought piece, and not a fully developed story. Also, I’m not sure it’s SF or fantasy, regardless of the play on words. That makes it a hard sell for a Nebula nomination.

Three and a half stars.

Review of “Invasive Species” by Alex Shvartsman

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Edward LearStill doing my bit for the short-shorts. This story was published by Daily Science Fiction.

Earth is engaged in a ten-year war with the Hauch’k. Samuel Kanu, a university researcher, braves the environmental degradation to present a proposal for biological warfare at the Department of Defense. He recommends seeding of the Hauch’k world with species that will cause damage and undermine their war effort. He is laughed out of the meeting, as the committee thinks the effort will take too long and have zero effect on the war.

This is a straightforward narrative, military SF, third person with a twist ending. The hook is weak and there’s no real point of rising action. Small climax as Kanu realizes his proposal won’t be accepted. Nice twist. This story includes diversity, as Kanu is not a European name. This implies he’s Asian or African.

The OCD Grammar Nazi checks in: Another misspelled word, Capitol vs. Capital. Capitol is the building, and capital is the city.

Review of “Madhouse on aisle 12” by Kris Dikeman

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turkey-clip-art-MTLKerBTaThis short-short story was published by Daily Science Fiction.

An unnamed character (maybe female) pushes his/her cart down the shopping aisle and the food products talk to him/her about food safety. Not only is this entertaining, but it’s also highly informative. If you happen to be in the dark about how food is produced, packaged, regulated and stored, then this will likely scare the pants off you.

As an added note from me, a 2014 study linked consumption of ramen noodles to a metabolic syndrome leading to diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Grammar Nazi here: Contains a misspelled word, leeching vs leaching. Editing isn’t what it used to be.

Review of “Dichotomous key to “animals” discovered by the first settlers on Quintana: Kepler-186F” by Melanie Rees

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royalty-free-writing-clipart-illustration-1146779This short story was published by Daily Science Fiction. You can look for it in their archives.

I’m really running behind on reviews I promised, specifically The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu. His novel is about 650 pages and I didn’t get to it over the holidays. Instead, here are a few more short stories that made the Nebula Recommended Reading List.

Rees’ story is a creative format, and takes some sorting out. However, the staff at Daily Science Fiction has helpfully included links that will take you back and forth between the key, the species descriptions and the footnotes. I gather that Quintana is not a welcoming environment for genus homo. Hilarious and highly recommended.

P.S. RIP Doctor Kym Raul.

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