The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal

I was crying by the end of Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars.” The titular lady astronaut of the story, Elma, is an aging 63-year old who has to make a heartrending decision. The story is the end note of a love song as Elma’s husband, Nathaniel, is at death’s door with a body that is deteriorating rapidly.

Elma’s and Nathaniel’s lives are intersected by Dorothy’s, a girl in whose life Elma played a small but crucial role years ago. Things come a full circle as now Dorothy plays a crucial role in the couple’s life as they near the end of their journey through space-time. This circling back, of the first paragraph and the last, was poignant and unexpected.

Like with the last short story that I talked about, I love how this one too really is an exploration of what it means to be human, set against the background of stars and space and planets. You can go read it for free at Tor.com. And this one too has been nominated for a Hugo.

After reading this short story I just have to ask—what in the heck’s name are the Glamourist Histories all about, Miss Kowal? I did not like the first one, and stopped reading the second one mid-way through the fifth chapter. Those books are just bland. There’s absolutely nothing there to engage my mind or my heart. On the other hand, “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” crackles from the first paragraph to the last. It’s heart-breaking and heart-soaring. And has made me want to go hunt up more of Miss Kowal’s science-fiction.

 

The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere by John Chu

The work that I want to talk about today is a short story. It’s been nominated for a Hugo and you can go read it for free at Tor.com. It’s called the “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere.”

Onto the story—I really really liked it. The thing that I like the best may very well be the thing that might annoy some people though.

In the world in which the story is set, water has been falling on folks out of nowhere, no matter where they are—inside their homes or outside on the road. It rapidly becomes clear that this rainfall is a clever plot device. You see, the rain only drenches somebody (and it is apparently a very very cold drench) when they open their mouth and a falsehood comes out of it. A nifty way to know whether the person in front of you is saying something they really mean or not!

And that’s it. That’s the extent of the “science fiction” element of the story. Against this background the actual story unfolds which is about Matt, a Chinese man, coming out to his parents and telling them that he is gay.

I found Matt annoying to start off with but Mr. Chu redeemed him for me as the story progressed. Matt’s sister sounds somewhat unbelievable—his relationship with her is a source of central conflict in the story—and I sincerely hope that nobody has a sibling that awful! (Do not even say that she did all those horrible things to him out of sisterly affection!)

As I said, I can see how this story may very well annoy folks who would rather have the science fiction play a stronger role. For me though, it was just perfect. An integral part of the story but not the whole story. I am now tempted to go read the other short stories that have been nominated too!