It made me sad

Word Puppets - Mary Robinette Kowal

I received this short story collection through NetGalley


I love this author’s novels and I couldn’t pass up her short story collection when I saw it on NetGalley. The intro says that the stories are arranged in chronological order, and it’s fascinating to read them in that order, to witness the author’s writing maturing from story to story. There are 19 stories in the collection, and not all of them were to my taste, but overall it was an impressive read. All the stories have at least one speculative fiction element. Most are somber or even downright sorrowful tales. Not a happy collection, but it will stay in my memory.


The Bound Man – a fantasy story with trolls and elves and destiny scrolls, but I didn’t like that one. I think it is an earlier story. It’s derivative and underdeveloped.  


Chrysalis – a lovely sci-fi story. A documentary filmmaker on another planet plays a benevolent god with the alien lives. She plays Cupid. Nice.


Rampion – fantasy, but not really a story, just the beginning of one.


At the Edge of Dying – another fantasy, a bloody, brutal story of war, politics, and love. Powerful.


Clockwork Chickadee – an evil, ruthless toy protagonist. It’s almost horror, something in the veins of E. T. A. Hoffmann.


Body Language – a marvelous story about a puppeteer and an AI, somewhat between fantasy, sci-fi, and reality. Of course, a puppeteer herself, Kowal made this puppeteer one of her best characters.


Waiting for Rain – a love story with wine. Poignant and sweet.


First Flight – an original concept of time travel plus a hundred-year-old heroine. Delicious.


Evil Robot Monkey – very short and very painful. Who has the right to decide if a creature is sentient or an animal? What are the criteria?


The Consciousness Problem – a love story about clones and brain damage. Very sad. Actually, most stories in the collection have at least a tinge of sadness. There is not much optimism there.


For Solo Cello, op. 12 – this was a horrible story. Not horribly written, no, but horribly powerful. It describes such a painful, impossible situation, I wanted to scream. There was no good way for the story to end, and it didn’t end well. The fantasy element was tiny but it enclosed the story, made it into what it is – a display of humans’ bottomless ability to hurt each other.


For Want of a Nail – another sad story, a sci-fi about choices. Does dementia makes its sufferers subhuman?


The Shocking Affair of the Dutch Steamship Friesland – a Sherlock Holmes story, also sad. Both choices the young heroine faces are extremely painful. There is no good choice available.


Salt of the Earth – I was sorry I read this story. It is too tragic, too hopeless. Is murder ever justified? What about revenge?


American Changeling – a charming tale of a teenage fairy in the modern world.


The White Phoenix Feather: A Tale of Cuisine and Ninjas – this is a farce for gourmets, a burlesque with food.


The last three stories are all sci-fi, all set in the same world of space travel, even though computer programmers still use punchcards – something no computer needed since the 1980s.


We Interrupt This Broadcast – a dystopia. Programmers make terrific terrorists. Screen them, people! Make sure no programmer wants to take over the world, because they can.


Rockets Red – an amusing anecdote about fireworks on Mars.


The Lady Astronaut of Mars – a heartbreakingly sad story about aging.


A note of complaint: My e-reader is a Kindle. This book was only available on NetGalley in one digital format, incompatible with Kindle. It took me several hours and a few downloads to finally create a file I could read, and the formatting didn’t survive the conversion process. It would’ve been nicer if the book was available on NetGalley in several digital formats, including the one for Kindle. The fact didn’t impact my opinion of the stories in any way but it created a vague feeling of dissatisfaction with the author. Why didn’t she offer a Kindle format? I’m not the only reviewer who reads with Kindle.