E. Lily Yu

Hugo Short Stories

First off, happy book day to my friend Lisa Shearin, whose book All Spell Breaks Loose [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is out today. And last week marked the release of Mira Grant’s Blackout [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy].

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This year will be my first Worldcon, and the first time I’ve voted in the Hugos. I’ve been diligently downloading and devouring the Hugo Voters Packet, starting with the short stories, because … well, they’re short!

Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue, by John Scalzi. I wonder how I’d feel if a story I wrote for an April Fool’s Day joke made the Hugo ballot. On one hand, it’s delightfully random and unexpected. At the same time, I think I’d have this nagging sense of, “Wait, what about all the stuff I wrote that wasn’t a joke?”

As a joke, this was marvelous. Tor and Scalzi went all out, including cover art, and the story was an amusing read. It’s nice to see humor on the ballot. And there’s an actual story here amidst the jokes and the over-the-top fantasy tropes. I can honestly say that when I finished reading, I wanted to know what happened next.

You could tell Scalzi was having a good old time with this one. That said, some of the humor felt a little forced. While it’s a fun read and you should check it out, I don’t see this one taking home a rocketship.

Movement by Nancy Fulda. This is a first-person SF story set in the near future about a girl named Hannah with temporal autism. Hannah’s parents are trying to decide whether to pursue a new technology which could help her integrate into society, but becoming more “normal” isn’t always a good thing. This made me think of Elizabeth Moon’s award-winning novel The Speed of Dark, which I reviewed here. Like Moon, Fulda does a very good job of capturing her protagonist’s voice, showing us the world through Hannah’s eyes. As the father of an autistic child, it’s hard for me to be entirely objective about this story, but I really appreciated it, and I thought the ending worked well.

Also, even though Hannah doesn’t think it’s terribly effective, I totally want to invest in shoulder-mounted mosquito-killing laser technology!

The Homecoming by Mike Resnick. Resnick is one of the most prolific writers in our field, and “The Homecoming” has a lot going for it. It’s an emotional story of an estranged son (Philip) coming home to visit the father who wants nothing to do with him. His mother has Alzheimer’s, and has only a few lucid minutes each day. Philip left Earth years ago, after radically redesigning his body into an alien form, in order to explore another world. His father took it as a rejection of family and humanity.

To me, it felt like a metaphor for a father unable to accept his son’s sexuality. I could be reading into it, but this is how the story resonated for me — the father mourning his lost grandchildren, hating the life his son has chosen, while the mother takes on the role of peacemaker, bringing them together despite her infirmity.

While the SFnal elements were wonderful, the ending felt too quick and easy, and didn’t really work for me. It didn’t feel true.

The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu. This is, in my mind, a good example of that sense of truth I’m talking about. Jack’s mother was a mail-order bride from China. When he’s young, she makes origami animals and infuses them with life: a paper tiger purrs and prances, the tinfoil shark swims, and so on. It’s amazing and beautiful. But as Jack grows older, he rejects his Chinese heritage, wanting to fit in with his “American” peers. In doing so, he rejects his mother as well. Only after she’s gone does he learn the rest of her story.

There is no neat ending here, but there is … understanding. Movement. Regret and loss, but with a thread of connection through the story’s magical element.

One of the things I admire about this one is that it’s not overstated. Jack has little understanding or compassion for a mother who sold herself in a catalog, but there’s a line later on where he’s prepping resumes and says, “I schemed about how to lie to the corporate recruiters most effectively so that they’d offer to buy me.” It’s just one line, and Jack doesn’t see the connection, but the reader does. One line is all it takes.

This story has already won the Nebula award, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it take the Hugo as well. Yeah, it’s really good.

The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees by E. Lily Yu. Let me put it this way: this is a story that made wasp nests beautiful and magical in a mere two paragraphs. It’s a story of clashing civilizations, in which the wasps colonize the less powerful bees, a situation with many real-world parallels. The wasps take tribute from the bees, but offer them “the honor of watching us elevate [you] to moral and technological heights you could never imagine.”

This kind of story could become preachy, but it never does. It is what it is, unapologetic and disturbing. Yu takes advantage of the shorter insect lifespan to show the evolution of a new line of bees: anarchists who set out to create a new future.

Like Liu’s story, the ending isn’t neat or happy, but it feels right. There’s a sense of movement that feels circular even as it moves forward. There’s a lot going on in this one, and I may have to reread it to catch things I missed my first time through.

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Discussion is welcome, and since the stories are all online, you don’t even have to be registered for Worldcon to read them.

Campbell Interview: E. Lily Yu

Welcome to the third of my interviews with the finalists for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. You can read all of the interviews by clicking the Campbell Award tag. Today’s author is E. Lily Yu, who is also on the Hugo ballot for Best Short Story.

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1) In exactly 21 words, who is E. Lily Yu?

A tetchy paper caterpillar with teeth. That’s all. And I’ve got the scrappiest cat and purdiest sister east of the Mississippi.

2) Tell us about the kind of fiction you write, and where we can find some of it!

The vast majority of my work is on my hard drive, and you can find it by hacking or stealing my laptop. For the less larcenously inclined, I have two stories in The Kenyon Review Online, here and here, one stock-market fairy tale in the May/June issue of Cicada, and half a novel on my computer that I’m hoping to finish this summer. I have several stories circulating and picking up rejection slips, and others in various drafts, which might or might not appear soon.

3) What has been the best moment of your writing career thus far? And if you’re comfortable sharing, what was the worst?

There’s nothing like the first time you have something published. I was fifteen, heading home on the school bus one afternoon in March, when I checked my rarely-touched Nokia and found a message over a month old, telling me my entry had won The Writer’s 69-word story contest and that I needed to call them to get my $50. The check arrived, the story was put online, and my parents, lovely people, were happy for me but pointed out that this was not a good way to make a living. There. I just made both of us feel old.

I was rejected from my university’s creative writing program almost exactly a year ago. That’s small beer, though.

4) Which is better: yo-yos or juggling? Defend your answer!

Juggling, hands down. You can’t set yo-yos on fire and perform the same tricks with any real panache. Neither can the common yo-yo stand against a juggler’s clubs, knives, and torches. If you mean diabolos, though, which under the right conditions are lethal spinning wheels of death, complete with nunchuks, then I’d have to abstain.

5) As a writer, where would you like to be in ten years?

Snoozing on a towel beside a small pile of elegantly bound books that I’m proud of having written, amid the wreckage that is the draft of the next one, with wavelets slinking up the white sand to just below my toes.

More realistically, it would be nice to have access to a good public library system, perhaps also access to a very good university library system, and health insurance. I’ve just started sending out job applications and thinking about these things, and what I’m thinking isn’t too good.

6) You’ve also been nominated for the Best Short Story Hugo for “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees.” Congratulations! I love the voice and imagery of those opening paragraphs. How long did it take before you felt the story was ready?

That’s kind of you. I had about four full drafts of the story between December and the third week of March, when Clarkesworld accepted it, and I was tinkering with it up until the last minute. There was one clunky sentence that I was deeply unhappy with, but I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. The deadline kept crawling nearer. I was biting through the caps of my pens. Three days before it was published, I came up with a better sentence. The audio had been recorded by that time, though, so if you try to listen to the story while following the text, you’ll notice that the first paragraph is different in each version. Escape Pod is just about to podcast the story again, this time including the change.

7) So what do you do when you’re not writing fiction?

Poetry. Plays. Actually, the last year has been all schoolwork and applications. Two academic theses: one submitted, one I’m struggling with. The deadline’s been extended to three days after the Nebulas. I’ve put everything else aside to work on those.

Jim C. Hines