Friday, February 8, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Mary Robinette Kowal

Today is Mary Robinette Kowal's birthday ... I just read her enjoyable novel The Calculating Stars, but here's a set of my Locus reviews of her short fiction, a varied and quite impressive lot:

Locus, February 2006

Strange Horizons opens 2006 with a series of solid shorter pieces. Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Portrait of Ari” is a bittersweet tale of a couple, one of whom is perhaps not quite human, and how that fact alters their happy relationship.

Locus, February 2008

The Australian popular science magazine Cosmos publishes SF stories each issue, and also occasionally features stories on their website (sometimes reprints from the magazine, sometimes exclusively online). In February/March 2007,  they featured an excellent piece by Mary Robinette Kowal, “For Solo Cello, Op. 12”, about a cellist who has lost his hand, but is given a chance to restore it – except that the cost is very high indeed.

Locus, November 2007

Two further Summer issues from the small press: both from magazines distinguished both by longevity and attractiveness. Talebones’ 35th issue has perhaps slightly more of a horror focus than usual – at any rate, my favorite story is a clever horror piece, Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Death Comes But Twice”, in which a man finds a way to be revived from death, hopefully to live forever – but there is a terrible catch.

Locus, August 2009

At Asimov’s for August...A strong issue also includes Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Consciousness Problem”, an effective look at the identity problem as applied to clones with memories matching their originator’s: here dealing with two married scientists, and the feelings of the clone of the husband.

Locus, November 2009

There’s more good stuff at Mary Robinette Kowal’s “First Flight” is a time travel story, with the gimmick being that people can only travel to events in their own lifetime (an idea I think Philip K. Dick used once … otherwise it’s new to me). Eleanor Louise Jackson, at well over 100 years old, is chosen to go back and witness the Wright brothers’ first flight, but in so doing she runs afoul of guidelines concerning interacting with historical people. But Eleanor has her own ideas of her duty to history and to people – which Kowal unspools cutely.

Locus, January 2010

Another subscription-based online magazine is Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. The November issue includes a nice enough, but not quite convincing, near future SF story from Mary Robinette Kowal, “Body Language”, in which a puppeteer is enlisted to control a robot dog she had helped create deliver the ransom for a kidnapped boy. I enjoyed it, but with reservations, particularly about the somewhat ordinary kidnap plot, complete with ordinary twists.

Locus, September 2010

The other two stories in the September Asimov's are also strong in a very nice issue. Mary Robinette Kowal’s “For Want of a Nail” links with Crowell’s story in being set in a long-term space habitat, here controlled by an AI that, it slowly appears, may be going mad – but the cure feels a lot like murder.

Locus, June 2011

The cover story at Asimov’s for June is “Kiss Me Twice”, by Mary Robinette Kowal, a long novella and a murder mystery. Scott Huang is a detective in near future Portland, Oregon. He is at the scene of a murder – a somewhat shady real estate developer has been killed. The police department uses an AI assistant, who manifests to Scott as Mae West. This AI suddenly “freezes”, and soon it seems that there is a threat to the AI as well as a murder case to worry about. The story turns, then, on the issue of AI rights, and it’s a pretty enjoyable work, with some thoughtful consideration of that subject.

Locus, September 2017

“The Worshipful Society of Glovers”, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Uncanny, July-August) is an uncompromising story set in a milieu recalling Elizabethan London. Vaughn is an apprentice glover, caring for his seriously ill sister. Gloves in this world can be magically altered with the help of brownies, and such gloves can cast a glamor, or give strength – or cure people like Vaughn’s sister. But dealing with Faerie creatures is dangerous, and carefully regulated, but when Vaughn is all but ruined after he is robbed, and rather mistreated by his master, he is tempted to deal with a rogue brownie. Kowal doesn’t shy from the consequences of his decisions. It’s a moving and honest story.

Locus, September 2018

I also enjoyed the opening and closing stories in the July-August F&SF, each set on a moon of Mars. “The Phobos Experience”, by Mary Robinette Kowal, is about Darlene, a lieutenant working at a Martian colony who has a vertigo problem – and who is called upon to investigate the discovery that Phobos is hollow – and gets into a serious scrape.

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