"Fountains of Age" by Nancy Kress (Asimov's July 2007)
"Recovering Apollo 8" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Asimov's Feb. 2007)
"Stars Seen Through Stone" by Lucius Shepard (F&SF July 2007)
"All Seated on the Ground" by Connie Willis (Asimov's Dec. 2007; Subterranean Press)
"Memorare" by Gene Wolfe (F&SF April 2007)
Here is what I wrote about “Memorare” when discussing the Nebula Ballot, it still applies here: “Memorare” is a love story in deep space. Windy is a television producer investigating the practice of burial tombs in the orbit of Jupiter. Kit is his girlfriend who, after a time, joins Windy and brings along a friend in need of a place to stay. Complications arise, as complications are wont to do. The more I read of the story, the more I was impressed with the emotion Wolfe was building. I can’t quite name the emotion, but it is there and it builds. Vague, huh? This is why I don’t write about short fiction on a regular basis. Anyway, the story. An impressive job describing the locations, the actual detail is probably not as vivid as it feels, but there is a definite sense of place to the story. I could picture it. Wolfe does this remarkably well. It’s well worth reading and feels like a more thoughtful science fiction, but that isn’t quite right either, because it would suggest that Bruce Sterling or Nancy Kress aren’t thoughtful writers, and that’s not true.
Here is what I wrote about “Fountains of Age” regarding the Nebula nomination: “Fountain of Age” by Nancy Kress is an interesting story. It deals with gypsies, future technology which can restrict aging (D-Treatment), family, and the goal of an aging man to find a woman he used to know. The odd thing is that I swear I’ve read a different version of this story. Certain characters appeared in each story, there was D-Treatment (same treatment), and a good deal of similarity...but it wasn’t the same story. I’d remember that much. So...did Nancy Kress write the other story, too? Or is this a spin-off of somebody else’s story? Either way, “Fountain of Age” was a bit of a treat. Fascinating story, I’d like more in this milieu, and I’d like to read more from Nancy Kress.
Here is what I wrote about “Stars Seen Through Stone” for the Nebula entry: The story was originally published in Fantasy and Science Fiction and later in The Best of Lucius Shepard collection (forthcoming in August 2008). Like many other Lucius Shepard stories “Stars Seen Through Stone” is not an overtly SFF story. His fiction takes place in the real world, but a real world where sometimes something unexpected and unreal can occur. This is actually addressed early on in the story when the narrator mentions that the world contains all sorts of weirdness, but it is only the most extreme that anyone notices at all. “Stars Seen Through Stone” is set in 1970’s (sort of) Pennsylvania in a town called Black William (great name, by the way). Vernon is a small time, but moderately respected independent music producer and he signs a talented, if creepy, singer. There is an early incident with some odd ghost lights at the town library, but after that early incident the story follows Vernon developing his creepy singer, but comes back to the history of the town and the history of those odd lights. It is a quietly fascinating and compelling story, one that doesn’t necessarily jump out as being the story readers bang down the doors of their friends house to talk about, but it is also a really good story and one definitely worth the recoginition of the various award nominations it has received.
A new story by Connie Willis is generally a treat. Her fiction is a pleasure to read, is highly entertaining and simply tells a story which engages my imagination. “All Seated on the Ground” is no exception. It is a Christmas story, of sorts, complete with aliens, first contact, choral arrangements, dopey religious nuts, the spirit of togetherness, and well placed humor. Aliens land near the Denver convention center and simply stand, glaring at everything, ignoring all attempts to communicate. Thus begins “All Seated on the Ground”. What follows is a story of joy, of laughs, of fear, of disappointment, and of hope. What follows is a Connie Willis story, one which is well worth the time to read it. Wills is quickly becoming an author I want to seek out and find more of her fiction.
After taking a two week break between reading the Connie Willis story and starting up the Kristine Kathryn Rusch, I’ve read “Recovering Apollo 8”, a story which is both alternate history / alternate future, as well as a love letter to the space program and the inspiration it provided during its nascent days. The story is told in several parts, and it opens with the Apollo 8 mission from 1968. It is the same Apollo 8 mission, but different. Rusch takes the framework of what the mission was to be, a lunar orbit, the reading from Genesis, the television broadcast; but turns the framework into a different tale when a mistake is made the crew of Apollo 8 is lost. Jim Lovell, Frank Borman, and William Anders are victims in the first loss of life in United States space exploration (in the story). This is the background to cause young Richard Johansenn’s obsession with space travel and with Apollo 8. When the lost shuttle is spotted, it the older, richer Richard who seeks to recover the ship. The rest of story is Richard’s quest to recover the shuttle and the astronauts. “Recovering Apollo 8” feels like a love letter, a thank you note, to those astronauts and to all astronauts. It is a story about the power of dreaming, striving, and dealing with success as much as failure. It is a story which captures the childhood excitement of space travel and translates it for older readers. Simply put, “Recovering Apollo 8” is outstanding.
Where does this leave us? It leaves us with an outstanding lineup of nominees for the Hugo. The least of these is a very strong story, and the best of these are quite exceptional indeed. So what story deserves the award? This time around I would be more than happy if any of the stories won, and I wouldn’t be surprised by any winner.
My choice: “Recovering Apollo 8”.
Gene Wolfe and Nancy Kress were impressive (Kress won the Nebula for this same story), Shepard puts forth another solid effort, I love the fiction of Connie Willis, but “Recovering Apollo 8” is a story which truly captured my imagination. That’s worth more than a trophy.
John W. Campbell Award