Yesterday Cass and I were waiting for our el train to pull out of Howard, the Red Line terminus, and a disheveled man walked onto the train with a battered book of word puzzles in each hand. He waved one of them — a fat book of word-find puzzles — vaguely around in the air and said "Word search? Word search? Anybody wanna word search?" When no one responded, he tossed it into an empty seat and then wandered back off the train, still clutching the second book. I would love to know what that was about. The book looked pretty well-used already. Now I suddenly wonder if it was full of important secret messages he didn't dare just pass on out loud. And we all shied from touching them, more fools us.
Also yesterday in the A.V. Club/Onion offices, the newly arrived Onion staffers shot an online video that involved roughly four hours of an actor shrieking and ranting and railing. It also involved a huge amount of fake blood. We were all tweeting about it all day because it was a novelty, but it's certainly weird trying to work in an office where someone is just screaming his head off 30 feet away for hours on end. The finished video is supposed to go up Monday, and I'm looking forward to seeing that.
Further proof that timing is everything when it comes to appreciating pop culture: Time is running out for Hugo voting, so I've been trying to catch up with the 2012 Hugo voter's packet. This morning, on the way to work, I read all the short-story entries. One of them (E. Lily Yu's "The Cartographer Wasps And The Anarchist Bees") is a weird, fiddly, ursulav-worthy bit of serious whimsy about a conflict between radically different hives. I enjoyed that one just because it was so different from anything I've read recently. And three of the others are deeply emotional, serious stories: Nancy Fulda's "Movement" is about a future-autist trying to decide whether she wants gene therapy to make her "normal," and Mike Resnick's "The Homecoming" and Ken Liu's "The Paper Menagerie" (my probable pick for the award) are both touching stories about broken parent/child relationships and attempts at recovery. The latter two both made me tear up on the train.
Night had come to the city of Skalandarharia, the sort of night with such a quality of black to it that it was as if black coal had been wrapped in blackest velvet, bathed in the purple-black ink of the demon squid Drindel and flung down a black well that descended toward the deepest, blackest crevasses of Drindelthengen, the netherworld ruled by Drindel, in which the sinful were punished, the black of which was so legendarily black that when the dreaded Drindelthengenflagen, the ravenous blind black badger trolls of Drindelthengen, would feast upon the uselessly dilated eyes of damned, the abandoned would cry out in joy as the Drindelthengenflagenmorden, the feared Black Spoons of the Drindelthengenflagen, pressed against their optic nerves, giving them one last sensation of light before the most absolute blackness fell upon them, made yet even blacker by the injury sustained from a falling lump of ink-bathed, velvet-wrapped coal.
ONE SENTENCE. If I'd gotten a sentence like that in something I was editing, the mockery of the writer would have been epic and enduring.
I know it's meant as humor writing, but coming on the heels of three leanly written, sincerely emotional, conceptually simple stories in a row, it read like a bad joke, like following a haiku with a Norse epic written in Pig Latin. Still, I really wonder what my reaction would have been if I'd read them all in the exact opposite order. Sometimes things hit you in the wrong way just because you encounter them at the wrong time. (That said, no way was there a right time for a total stranger to hand me a battered, well-used book of word searches.)
Edited to add: I've linked to 'em all online, so you can read them in any order you like and see if you can recreate my experience, or try them in the opposite order and see if all the serious stories seem boring and plain by comparison. Also, here's a link to some books of word finds in case you want to order them and recreate that experience, too.
My problem with "The Paper Menagerie" is that the fantasy element is superfluous to the story. It's a cool conceit on its own, but if you made it into some other handicraft you get exactly the same reflection on the immigrant/second-generation conflict.
(More believably, if anything-- prilicla persuasively argued that the protagonists' friends' indifference to seeing his mom's handiwork is pretty implausible as things are.)
Between that and Liu's other story (a worthy effort to shed light on an underpublicized war crime shackled to a lot of implausible reactions to time-viewing technology), I sort of wonder if he wants to be writing SF at all. (Though if he wins one or both Hugos, I guess that'll show how much I know.)
I can see finding the fantasy element superfluous, but I still find it to be an evocative metaphor for his mother's uniqueness, her specific qualities.
But I don't see any issue with the kid's friend's reaction to his paper toys: I think the fact that the friend's toy also moved on its own, and talked as well, was pretty clearly meant to indicate that he was used to such things, and wouldn't see another moving toy as surprising. The part about dismissing it because it was "made of trash" and not as expensive or trendy as a talking Obi-Wan strikes me as an entirely believable reaction given how people at one point thought anything "store-bought" was automatically better quality and more prestigious than anything handmade. (How times have changed…) Add in the business where the protagonist isn't even sure the toys really did move, and it wasn't just his imagination, and it all becomes even more plausible.
I've already voted my selections and Liu's story was my favorite too. In fact, his other story was also a favorite so technically I voted for him twice. He's remarkably talented.
As for John Scalzi's story...it was originally an April's Fools joke and I didn't like it then. Personally, I'm horrified it got nominated.
E. Lily Yu is also nominated for the Campbell but I didn't like her other stories at all. The one you mentioned was interesting but it seems that she has a thing for writing about insects and animals and that actually makes "The Cartographer Wasps And The Anarchist Bees" less enjoyable for me.
Yeah, I'm properly ashamed. It's a transparently manipulative story with a really broad, abrupt reversal and some infuriatingly convenient senility, but the ending hit me in a sentimental place. And hey, it was just a little misting, not public weeping.
You know, I read that sentence by Mr. Scalzi, and I heard it in Eddie Izzard's voice and delivery, and it made me smile. It would be a great opening to one of his shows, and when he looped back to it at the end of the hour, it would be the funniest thing you had ever heard.