The bells of hell (2784 words) by Naraht
Fandom: Return to Night - Mary Renault, The Charioteer - Mary Renault, Purposes of Love - Mary Renault, North Face - Mary Renault
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Hilary Mansell, Donald Scot-Hallard, Ralph Lanyon, Alec Deacon, Miss Fisher, Original Male Character(s), Original Female Character(s)
Additional Tags: 1940s, World War II, Hospitals, Medical Procedures
Series: Part 3 of The bells of hell
Summary: Dunkirk and the Blitz shake Bridstow City Hospital, while a war of the sexes is fought inside the hospital walls. But for Hilary nothing is more important than passing her Fellowship exams.
(And if you feel uncomfortable doing this in public, I've set this entry to screen any anonymous comments, so if you want privacy, comment anonymously and I won't unscreen it. Also: yes, by all means, cheer each other on when you see something you want to give props to!)
Home from a lovely WisCon 40 …with
- detailed panel notes
- enlightening chats with old friends
- hazy memories of chats with new folks
- fist-bumps with all folks
- joyous spreading of gifts in the con suite
- and only one shoulder squeeze
I actually stayed up until 1:30am today, which is highly irregular. I’m feeling droopy but not brain rotten. (Hope this psychic warm front continues; I’m not manic yet.)
More to come.
Sonya Taaffe recently wrote about Jack Schaefer's short novel Shane on her LJ, and I was intrigued enough to hunt down a copy. I have vague memories of having seen this book in elementary school libraries and classrooms, but had never felt particularly motivated to pick it up. And by some miracle, I escaped having been assigned it for class. I say "miracle" not because the book is bad, but because the book is excellent and I would have hated for it to have been ruined for me by being turned into an assignment and a bunch of reading comprehension questions. I had good English teachers and less good ones, but some books hold up better to this kind of treatment than others.
Shane takes place "in the summer of '89," which I'm guessing means 1889 from the description of the society and technology. It's told from the viewpoint of Bob Starrett, a boy, and concerns what happens when a stranger--Shane--rides into town and stays with his parents, Joe and Marian Starrett. Shane, Joe, and Marian become friends in a relationship untainted by jealousy, and courteous in every way. But the valley's other settlers distrust Shane for his aloofness and air of danger, and the rancher Fletcher, who has been wanting to gobble up the homesteaders' territory, feels particularly threatened by him. Also, there is a quite literal Chekhov's gun. (This being a Western, I don't feel I am giving anything away by saying this.)
The language is unpretentious and lucid, and beautiful in the way of clear water. Although Bob is recounting the story years after the fact, we only see things through the perspective of a boy. In particular, a lot of the complex but loving relationship that binds Shane, Joe, and Marian has to be inferred. We never learn much about the facts of Shane's origins, but everything we need to know about his character--the essence of the man--shines through the pages.
I am not sure that I feel compelled to read more Westerns--in particular, I was jolted out of the narrative when the characters talked casually about killing Indians, which should not have surprised me but did--but I am glad that I read this one.
[cross-post: Patreon & DW]
Was exhausted yestereen and skipped out and went beddybyes after the GoH speeches and the Tiptree Award Ceremony.
Got up somewhat early this morning in order to get to the panel 'What happened to the Women SF Writers', which, in spite of the somewhat depressing topic and the fact that it was Monday morning and the last panel session of the con, was extremely good and lively.
In the Dealers' Room, I finally succumbed to Dept of Vain Adornment and bought 2 necklaces, both of which, however, were marked down for closing sale.
A book I had spotted on the PM Press stall turned out to be sold out, but I managed, with some cursing, this afternoon in purchasing and downloading the e-version. On the whole I have been resisting buying books when I might be able to get e-versions.
After the post-mortem panel I went for a walk by the lakeside - hot, and a bit humid, but I think I've known it more oppressive.
Walking along, observed the head of a brown animal pop up by the shore: a chap walking past said 'beaver', but I didn't get a chance to look at it long enough before it ducked down again to see whether it had the right sort of teeth - might have been an otter?
Also, there was a train pulling a vast number of freight trucks came along the line by the lakeshore just as I was trying to get across the road. Think it may be the first time I have seen an actual train on that line.
Lots of boats of various kinds out on the lake.
I did the Monona Terrace roof-garden the other day (also the roof terrace of the public library): there are a whole lot of inscribed plaques set into the ground with peoples' names, commemorations, etc. One was '[X] loves [Y]', which struck as possibly being in the same category as getting a tattoo to that effect: it could be a regrettably permanent testimony to something that did not last. wot me cynical.
Editors are a vital part of the whole literary business. The work they do in selecting, acquiring, nourishing, critiquing, shepherding, and making ready for publication at all levels the fiction we love to read is invaluable, as much as it is, to the reader, invisible (except when it's been poorly done, or not done at all, and then we can all see what the editor brings to the bookshelf).
In considering the Hugo finalists for best editor, short and long forms, I paid attention both to the work done by the finalists during the past year, and to public statements I could find by the finalists about their philosophies and approaches to editing and to science fiction. I consider the latter to be important because editors are gatekeepers, and their attitudes and philosophies determine what works are published, and thus shape the future of this complex genre.
Editor, Short form
This year's finalists were all well-known to me, John Joseph Adams, Neil Clarke and Ellen Datlow in particular. I don't read Asimov's regularly, but I do often enough to be familiar with Sheila Williams. Jerry Pournelle I know mostly as a writer of hard sf.
Adams is a remarkably prolific editor - in addition to editing the online magazines Lightspeed, Fantasy and Nightmare, he edited or co-edited five anthologies in 2015 (that I know of). Under his guidance, special editions of Lightspeed, Fantasy and Nightmare devoted to the work of women and queers were published, and a new round of special editions featuring the work of people of colour is in the works. I've read any of the anthologies he's edited, and many stories from those online magazines.
Neil Clarke is the editor of Clarkesworld, an online magazine publishing some of the most interesting and innovative short fiction around. Last year's offerings included two of the best short stories of the year - Naomi Kritzer's "Cat Pictures Please" and Aliette de Bodard's "Three Cups of Grief, By Starlight."
Ellen Datlow has been a name to conjure by in the workd of science fiction for a very long time. In addition to her many print anthologies - three of them released in 2015 - she is one of the editors at tor.com, another source of innovative new short fiction. Among the pieces she edited for tor.com in 2015 were the excellent novellas "The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn" by Usman Malik and "The Waters of Versailles" by Kelly Robson, and the wonderful novelette "Fabulous Beasts" by Priya Sharma.
Sheila Williams is the editor of Asimov's Science Fiction, which has long been one of the giants in the field. In 2015, works published under her aegis included Eugene Fischer's compelling novella "The New Mother," and Sarah Pinsker's "Our Lady of the Open Road."
Jerry Pournelle is a noted science fiction writer. He also edited a fair number of anthologies back in the 80s and 90s. However, the work he edited in 2015, There Will Be War X, appears to be his first sf anthology in over 20 years. And my impression after skimming it was that it was uneven - some very good work, some average work, some work that coukd have been stronger, clearer, or better written. Not an impressive body of work from 2015 on which to hang a Hugo, I'm afraid.
Editor, Long form
Sheila E. Gilbert, Liz Gorinsky and Jim Minz provided the Hugo Voters Packet with lists of novels they had edited in 2015 in support of their finalist status. The other two finalists did not, and I was rather disinclined to hunt for further information in either case.
Sheila Gilbert is co-publisher of DAW Books. Her list of 2015 works included Michelle West's Oracle and Tanya Huff's An Ancient Peace - both works from writers I consider to be among my favourite "must buy" authors.
Liz Gorinsky is an editor at Tor Books / Tom Doherty Associates. Her list included such notable works from 2015 as Liu Cixin's The Dark Forest, Catherynne Valente's Radience, and Mary Robinette Kowal's Of Noble Family.
Jim Minz is an editor at Baen Books. I was not familiar with any of the books mentions on his list, but a quick check of reviews indicated that while the books he worked on were not to my taste, his editorial hand was involved in several popular and well-received novels.
Toni Weisskopf is both editor and publisher at Baen Books. She may well have edited some remarkable books in 2015, but as she didn't care to let the Hugo voters know what they were, there's no way I can assess her editorial contributions in 2015 or consider her as a finalist in this category.
The last of the finalists also failed to provide any indication as to the works he edited in 2015, or the books put out by his small press publishing house. But that's just fine by me, as everything I have read by the man confirms my belief that his vision of science fiction is so antithetical to mine that I could never vote for him.
A Diary Without Dates is Bagnold’s memoir of nursing soldiers during WWI. It’s also written in an unusual, distinctive style, with an unusual, distinctive atmosphere, both gritty and impressionistic. She captures fleeting moments of beauty or horror or unexpected humor, and the sense of how fleeting those moments are, in a way that reminds me a bit of Banana Yoshimoto, of all the unlikely comparisons. I’ve read a number of memoirs by WWI nurses, and this is by far the most interesting on the level of literature. It’s not so much a diary as a record of memorable moments, thoughts, and feelings.
Though it’s not about therapy, it’s one of the books that comes closest to capturing what doing therapy feels like for me. Bagnold delicately and precisely observes the odd mixture of intimacy and distance between nurse and patient, in an institutional setting with inhuman rules against which intensely human dramas are played out, and how you can share a person’s greatest agony one hour, and then walk outside and be moved by the beauty of a flower or annoyed by the next nurse over, and have all those moments be equally real and deeply felt, though some seem trivial and some profound. But to Bagnold, they're all profound because they're all real moments of life, and life itself is profound. A few other works that have that feeling to me are the Tove Janssen's The Summer Book and Anita Desai's The Peacock Garden, and the WWII movie Hope and Glory.
Though it’s not particularly an expose, Bagnold writes rather unflatteringly about some of her bosses and some of the rules at the hospital where she worked. As a result, she was fired when the book came out. So she went to London and became an ambulance driver. I think she must have been quite an interesting person, and reading her diary, I wished that I could have known her. I think we might have had a lot in common and a lot to talk about.
Note: Contains some of-the-period racism and other isms. Not a lot and it’s typical of books written in that period by white people (as opposed to being more racist than usual), but there’s at least one instance though I have now forgotten the details.
A Diary Without Dates (Free on Kindle; the print version almost certainly has better formatting, though the free version is readable.)
audio: Vienna Teng, "The Breaking Light ft. Alex Wong"
stream: on Vimeo
download: 266MB mp4 on dropbox
summary: “Speaking of ways, pet, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.” ― Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
My wiscon_vidparty premiere!
( Notes and lyrics )
People are noticing that the cage door is open and that the world outside offers a rainbow of possibilities.Valerie Tarico, AlterNet.
Sex and love that are not controlled by the Church compete with the Church. If individuals who are young and elderly, stable and transitioning, queer and straight, partnered and single, parenting and childfree, claim the right to pleasure themselves and each other and to form intimate bonds based on no authority save their own mutual consent and delight, the Church is screwed.
Also, I spent a couple hours reading up on the Albigensian Crusade.
1381: Brentwood, Essex, England - John Bampton arrives to investigate the non-payment of the poll tax. In the resistance that follows, Wat Tyler's Rebellion (a/k/a the Peasant's Revolt, a/k/a the Great Rising) breaks out. Among the outcomes will be the abolition of serfdom in England.
1431: Rouen, France - Jeanne d'Arc is burned at the stake for heresy and cross-dressing.
1536: England - Henry VIII marries Jane Seymour.
1539: Tampa Bay, FL - Hernando de Soto arrives with 600 soldiers, in hopes of finding gold.
1631: France - The first issue of La Gazette de France, France's first newspaper and first weekly publication.
1806: Adairville, KY - Future President Andrew Jackson and attorney Charles Dickinson fight a duel over Dickenson's claims that Jackson's wife was a bigamist. Dickinson dies.
1854: Washington DC - the Kansas-Nebraska act becomes law, creating the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. It allows "popular sovereignty" in these territories with respect to slavery, causing the situation known as "Bleeding Kansas" and pushing the nation further towards civil war.
1868: Decatur, IL - John A Logan, "Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic," declares this day Decoration Day, for decorating the graves of the war dead with flowers. This custom spreads and eventually becomes Memorial Day.
1899: Cane Springs Canyon, AZ - Pearl Hart and "Joe Boot" rob a stagecoach, one of the last such robberies in the Old West.
1922: Washington, DC - Dedication of the Lincoln Memorial.
1943: Oświęcim, Poland - Josef Mengele becomes the chief medical officer of the Romani family camp at Auschwitz.
1961: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic - Dictator Rafael Trujillo is assassinated.
1966: Cape Canaveral, FL - Launch of Surveyor 1, the first US probe to make a soft landing on the Moon.
1967: Nigeria - The Eastern Region declares independence as the Republic of Biafra.
1971: Cape Canaveral, FL - Launch of Mariner 9, which will map 70% of the surface of Mars.
1989: Beijing, China - In Tiananmen Square, the 33' tall "Goddess of Democracy" statue is unveiled.
1814: Mikhail Bakunin, founder of collectivist anarchism.
1846: Peter Carl Fabergé, goldsmith and jeweler, creator of the imperial eggs.
1902: Stepin Fetchit, comedic actor.
1903: Countee Cullen, poet.
1908: Mel Blanc, voice actor.
1909: Benny Goodman, clarinetist and bandleader.
1922: Hal Clement, science fiction writer.
1926: Christine Jorgenson, pioneering trans woman.
1962: Kevin Eastman, writer, co-created Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
1971: Idina Menzel, who was Elphaba and Elsa.
1975: Marissa Meyer, CEO of Yahoo!
Asian-American actors fighting for visibility amid whitewashing. And John Cho starring in every movie ever made? A diversity hashtag is born.
And because this is Memorial Day, some words from Maj. General Smedley Butler, a Quaker and a soldier: War is a racket.
When I started this project of posting a story a day for every remaining day in the month, my idea was to focus on my short stories in order to show prospective patrons what I have to offer in that area, to give you the reader an idea of what you’d be getting if I offered you one new short story every month for supporting me on Patreon.
But the thing is, short stories aren’t all I have to offer. Over the years, I’ve written quite a bit of “flash fiction”… short stories of a few hundred words. A lot of it is collected on the website Fantasy In Miniature. I use flash fiction as a writing exercise, a way to spin out ideas or get words flowing. Interestingly, a number of my poems started life as a flash fiction experiment, and vice-versa. It was the poetic quality of some of my shorter flash pieces that convinced my poetry mentor and all around superfan Elizabeth McClellan that I had more poetry in my soul than I had ever let on.
So today’s example of my short fiction consists of two of my pieces that straddles the line between flash fiction and a short, and a poem that tells a story.
Who Said Life Was Fair?
By Alexandra Erin
“So, you’re after the fair folk, are you?” the old lush said to me.
I’d been pointed his way as part of my quest. I had been told not to expect any information about where I needed to go or what I needed to do, but that I needed to hear what he had to say, all the same.
“I am,” I said.
“Then you need to hear my warning,” he said.
“I’ve heard lots of warnings,” I said.
“About accepting gifts, or refusing gifts, or eating food, or declining it, right? Things like that. This is a different sort of warning,” he said. He paused, then threw back his glass, draining the last of the beer from it. “I met just one fairy in my life. Saved its life, by its own admission. Three wishes it offered me… three wishes. Said it would come back on the new moon to hear and grant the first of them.”
“I full-on expected it wouldn’t… I worked hard to resign myself to the notion that my one and only encounter with the wondrous was all I would get out of it, and to be happy with that. But as the month wore on and the moon waned, I started to feel a flicker of hope and yearning. You see, my father had died of a bum ticker when he was three years younger than I was, and I had a certain recollection that his father had also died young in a similar fashion… so it had often been in the back of my mind that a similar thing might happen to me.”
“You wished for a good heart?”
“Good health in general,” the old man said. “So of course the blasted thing came back, and it heard my wish… that my heart and liver and other organs and parts should be strong and healthy until the day I die. And no sooner than the words were out of my mouth than it struck me that the quickest route to fulfilling that one would have been to kill me on the spot, but no, the fairy just crossed its arms and said ‘It is done’ and damned if I didn’t feel the difference right away, and double-damned if I haven’t felt it since. So, the fairy told me it would be back in a month for the second wish.”
“What did you wish for?”
“This time I knew it was on the up-and-up, so I started to plan ahead. I had my health, and could expect to live a good long life, barring misadventure… as a fit man, I could look forward to a few more decades more of hard labor followed by a miserly retirement. So I decided what I really wanted was a certain measure of comfort, security, and leisure to live out my life in style. That’s not one wish, of course, but the thing that secures all of that is. I decided to wish for money. A million dollars. That’s a chunk of change with the power to change lives today, but back then… well, it was a sight more than it is now. I could have wished for more, but I didn’t want to abandon my old life. A million dollars could be explained. It seemed like a credible windfall.”
“So what happened?”
“Well, the fairy returned, and heard my wish… which was for a million dollars to come to me in some fashion that was legal and brought no misfortune to anyone else… and it suggested I spend the next afternoon removing a certain stump from my property. Under there was a cache of old coins, worth just over one million dollars even after the tax man took his share. And I went a little wild with it, for a while, though my brother-in-law was a banker and he invested the lion’s share of it for me, and I’ve done quite well by him over the years.”
“So two wishes worked out well,” I said. “What happened with the third?”
“Well, the fairy again said it would be back when the moon was new. And I had health and I had wealth,” the old man said. “So for my third wish I wanted something special, something extraordinary… something that couldn’t have been come by any other way. I didn’t know what I wanted when the fairy left, but as the weeks slipped by I thought back to all the times in my life I’d been thirsty and couldn’t beg up a drop of drink to wet my whistle. I knew my liver was good for the duration, so I decided to make sure that never happened again.”
“You were rich,” I said. “You could have bought beer anytime you wanted. You could have bought a brewery.”
“Right,” he said. “But the same could be said for nearly anything I might have wished for. Besides, I said I wanted something special. So I made up my mind to wish that I had but to snap my fingers and the glass nearest to me would fill itself up with whatever I wanted most to drink, the best quality. I had a good week and a half to fix this wish in my mind, to think on the possibilities… the exotic liquers I could try, the fond remembrances I could relive. I could sample thirty-year scotches and the greatest wine collections the world had ever known. And if ever I met a man who didn’t believe my good health and great fortune were a gift from the fairies, I could strike them dumb just like this.”
The old man gave a loud snap with his fingers. I looked at the glass he’d set on the counter, but it remained empty and inert.
“…what happened?” I asked.
“The little devil never showed up!” the old man said. “That was its trick, you see.”
“It gave you perfect health and more money than you needed?”
“It made me believe,” the old man said. “It made me hope. It made me wish… those first two things, they were things I wanted. They were things I asked for. But they weren’t a wish like this was a wish. I’d never felt a deep-seated yearning for a million dollars, you see. I’d prayed for health, in the off-hand sort of way that you do, but I had never fallen to my knees and begged for it.”
“You still had your money,” I said.
“You don’t understand,” he said. “If it had said two wishes, I would have been satisfied. If it had said two wishes, I would have walked away perfectly happy. I wouldn’t have been disappointed if from the start it said I could have one wish, or it offered its thanks and went on its way. But it promised three wishes, and it spread them out so I had time to get used to the idea, to come round to the way of thinking that this was how things worked.”
“But have you ever in your life since then actually gone thirsty?”
“No,” he said. “Not thirsty, exactly. Not for lack of drink.”
“Thanks for the warning,” I said.
“But you still mean to press on.”
“If I’m offered three wishes, I’ll know what not to do,” I said.
“If you’re counting on two, you’ll get one,” he said. “Or three but something else will go wrong. Or you’ll be offered something else, something that isn’t wishes. You see, the lesson here isn’t how it played out with me. The lesson is about what happens when you trust a fairy.”
“I think I could manage a long, rich life,” I said.
“You think I don’t feel lucky?” the old man said. “I do, if only because I’ve heard from others who’ve had their dealings and come away much worse for it. But no matter how lucky I am and how lucky I feel, I also feel cheated… and I’ll always feel cheated. It’s a bigger thing than you think.”
“I could stand to feel a little cheated if I had your life.”
“That’s what they all say, when they find me,” the old man said. “But they all find me in a bar.”
“I won’t make the same mistake you did,” I said.
“No, you’ll make your own.” The man raised his empty glass. “Here’s hoping you come out the other end of it.”
How The Minotaur Lost Her Way
By Alexandra Erin
Well, she lit out from Kellisport
so many years ago
bound for Hulmouth Harbor
before the winter snow.
Her holds were packed with cargo,
her sails were full of wind
and not a mortal living
knows where she met her end.
Who can know? Who can say
where the Minotaur lies today?
She started out so swiftly
but somehow she lost her way.
My heart was packed inside her
when she went down that day.
Oh, my heart was packed inside her
when she went down that day.
She carried tonnes of cotton,
and barrels full of rice,
casks of hearty wine
and sweetly scented spice,
treasures from the conquest
and priceless works of art.
and one lonely young sailor
I trusted with my heart.
They only know that she was lost.
The bankers know the value,
but no one knows the cost.
Now my heart lies under waters
no ship has ever crossed.
Oh, my heart lies under waters
no ship has ever crossed.
It happened of a sudden,
one calm and moonless night.
My sailor left his watch-post
and doused his lantern-light.
Urged on by the promise
I’d etched upon his skin
he drew steel and crept astern
and did the captain in.
Who can know? Who can say
how the Minotaur lost her way?
Only one man’s certain,
and he will never say.
He took my heart down with him
when the ship went down that day.
Oh, he took my heart down with him
when the ship went down that day.
The Minotaur lies quiet now
in the darkling deeps,
and prowling round about it
my sailor never sleeps.
In the ribs of the wreck
a light no depths can kill,
and at the center of it
my heart beats even still.
By Alexandra Erin
The two stood near the corner of the roof.
“Okay, watch this,” one of them said to his less enthusiastic companion. He pointed down across the street, where a well-dressed but harried and tired looking woman was fumbling with a set of keys beside a dark-colored sedan. She set a laptop case down on the roof of the car. “She’s just come out of the coffeeshop where she waited over an hour for an interview with a man who never showed up. She’s been out of work since her bank shut down eight months ago. She needs a job, needs it badly, but even more than that she wanted this one. It was the perfect fit for her. It was her dream job. It was actually in her field, and the location would have been perfect.”
“How long have you been watching her?” the other one asked.
“The whole time,” he said. “Now take a look directly across the street from her. What do you see?”
“Another coffee shop.”
“The same as the one she walked out of.”
“They built two shops at the same street?”
“I know… crazy, isn’t it?” the first one said. “Now watch, because she’s going to look up and see it in about five seconds… three, two, and one.”
As they watched, the woman’s head tipped up in response to the flash of movement from a passing car and the expression on her face became one of surprise, then dawning realization and horror. Her car keys fell from her suddenly limp fingers, straight through the grating at her feet.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” the first watcher said.
“If you saw that coming, you might have done something,” the other said. “Or you might have let her know that the man she was waiting for was across the street.”
“He actually wasn’t, though. He never showed up. He forgot about it. That’s what’s so beautiful about it. She’s going to be kicking herself forever, thinking that she fucked up, when actually it didn’t matter which of the cafes she went into. When he realizes that he blew off a prospective employee, he’s going to rationalize it away so it’s not his fault. He’ll decide he wouldn’t have hired her so he doesn’t have to call her to admit his mistake and reschedule. Nothing she could have done would have made this turn out differently.”
“Are you planning on letting her know that?”
“Are you? Of course not. We’re watchers. We watch.”
“We could let someone know.”
“That’s not my department. Anyway, it’s about to get better,” the first one said. “She’s blaming herself right now, but as long as she’s only blaming herself, there’s still the possibility in her heart that the universe is a kind and loving place. That just makes her kick herself all the harder, of course, because God was good enough to give her the chance to land her dream job and she blew it. What we’re about to see is the moment that she loses all faith.”
“That’s kind of morbid, isn’t it?”
“We’re creatures of faith,” the other one said.
“Yeah, but we’re not like storybook pixies or anything. I don’t think we’re going to die just because someone doesn’t believe in us. We’d probably be long gone if that were the case.”
“Lots of people believe in angels,” his companion said.
“Yeah, but most of them don’t have a clue what Grigori are.” He pointed. “Okay, okay… watch this.”
The woman was looking around for something to fish her keys out. A young man who had just walked past the woman’s car suddenly doubled back and snatched the laptop, then took off running. The woman reacted as if in slow motion, turning, rising, and calling hoarsely for him to stop as he vanished around a corner.
“See, that’s it!” the watcher cried, slapping his knee. “Poof! All gone! Her heart’s breaking in two. She’s never going to believe in a higher power again… and the stupid thing is it’s no more her fault than the missed interview is. It’s just the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Not getting even a disgusted reply from his companion, he turned around and found that he was alone on the roof. The other angel had vanished.
“Probably just left,” he muttered to himself, unconvincingly.
He felt very cold, very small, and not at all sure of himself.
Again, if you like these and want to read more like them, please consider supporting me on Patreon. As an author, I have been limping along on a sub-subsistence level for years, and I know now that I can’t keep going like this. Only your support can keep me writing.
If you don’t have the cash to help, you can help by spreading awareness and joining my thunderclap, which will broadcast the link to these stories in a tweet-length message on the social media platform(s) of your choice on May 31st, two hours after the last story goes live.
Ignore the book/short story from which it came. The movie's heroine is a woman who runs a jewel smuggling business, based in India; all of her staff are women, and they are capable, intelligent and heroic. And none of them are needlessly killed or tortured. There are no female victims in this movie. There are some extremely greedy, stupid and sexist men (but that's par for the course with a Bond), but she is their equal and wins every time. Also -- Q, the original Q (Desmond Llewelyn), gets out of HQ, flies a balloon, knocks out someone threatening the women, and gets laid.
The McGuffin in the case is a Faberge egg and some of the Russian state jewels that date back to the Tsars. There is a circus (Bond gets to be a clown with a red nose); back in India there is a chase after Bond involving a tiger that understands when told to sit; there are jugglers everywhere, and people doing acrobatics, and one of the best escapes ever by means of a sari.
It's a Roger Moore movie, which doesn't appeal to everyone, but it manages to let him have his sense of humor without venturing into either twee or smarm. The smarm is left to Louis Jourdan, who has been smarmy ever since Gigi, so no surprise. Maud Adams is Octopussy, who owes Bond a favor because of something he did for her father years earlier; Vijay, Bond's guide in India, is Vijay Amitraj, the tennis pro.
What I like about this one is that it is the *only* older Bond movie I know (before Judi Dench became M) where a) women are generally treated as equals to men, b) women aren't disposable objects to further the plot, c) the Bechdel test is passed several times, d) all of Bond's romantic interests survive at the end of the movie, and e) none of the women are demonized, disrespected, considered evil or anything similar. Considering the track record of the original run of movies with Sean Connery, this one's a miracle.
Two of the finalists in the Best Novelette category were stories I'd already read - “Folding Beijing”  by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu, which was one of my own nominations, and Brooke Bolander's "And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead,"  which had been on my 'for consideration' list right up to the final cut. Both were reviewed earlier in the year - URLs are in the footnotes.
While I don't feel that Stephen King's "Obits" is quite as powerful as either of these, it is nonetheless a creditable finalist. Dark fantasy rather than outright horror, it tells the story of a young journalist who inadvertently discovers that he kill anyone he chooses by writing their obituary. King explores both the addictive power of the ability to decide between life and death, and the visceral recoil of the average human from it. In the end, though, it is a story of hope, arguing that it is possible to turn away from the seductive draw of such power.
"Flashpoint: Titan” by Cheah Kai Wai, published in the anthology There Will Be War X, is a relatively straightforward milsf story about a battleship, its captain, and a battle in space that is won at significant cost. The writing is clear, with minimal infodumping, the story stripped of all narrative elements other than those which further the military encounter. Commander Hoshi at least emerges as a well-developed character - though this cannot be said about most of the other characters. The leanness of the narrative means that we have little sense of the political milieu in which the encounter takes place, and no real understanding of the motivation of the enemy combatants. This is essentially battletech porn - each manouevre is detailed, every strike and counterstrike described. The opening gambit, the set up, and the battle are the story. Competently written, but too limited in scope for my taste.
On the other hand, “What Price Humanity?” by David VanDyke, the second finalist in the novelette category from the There Will Be War X anthology, is a well-written and thought-provoking piece with much to recommend it. The premise of the story is that Earth is under sustained attack from aliens with superior firepower, the defense of Earth and its colonies is going poorly, and the only way to survive is to push both technology and ideas of appropriate use of personnel to the limits - and possibly beyond. The story begins with a crack pilot waking up in a virtual simulation. At first he assumes he has been injured and the simulation's purpose is to communicate with him and check on his healing while his body regenerates. But as time passes, the simulation widens to contain 23 other pilots, all of whom he's served with, some of whom he's sure were killed in action. There are simulations within the simulation, as the pilots are given the opportunity to train on a different kind of individual fighter ship, with new mission parameters and tactics.
While I was able to figure out quite easily what was really happening and why, the 'twist' at the end isn't really the point of the story. It's more about establishing the essential humanity of consciousness - done through solid characterisation and a deft balance between the simulated actions of the pilots and the introspective ruminations of the key protagonist - and asking each reader to decide the title question for herself. A good and thoughful story.