short fiction

Anarchist Bee

“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” is a delightful fable,1 not only on account of the political themes it explores but also some very fine writing. The short story was first published in Clarkesworld Magazine (Issue 55, April 2011) and then republished by Escape Pod (Episode 343, March 2012). If you’re partial to audio fiction, you can spend a pleasant half hour listening to the story being narrated by Kate Baker (Clarkesworld) or Mur Lafferty (Escape Pod).2 Yu’s tale has been nominated for a 2011 Nebula Award and a 2012 Hugo and is a finalist for a Locus Award and the Million Writers Award, and it is deserving of all of these honors. Yu, a student at Princeton, is a new author to watch.

Yu’s tale warns of the transitive and cyclical nature of violence — from thoughtless destruction to calculated imperialism. It begins with a boy attacking a wasp nest and ending the uneasy truce between the wasps and his village. The villagers make an amazing discovery: the wasps had inked beautiful maps of the land (China) into the walls of their nest. Soon the wasps were hunted to near extinction and a group of survivors manages to escape.

The leader of the surviving wasps has learned well the hard lessons of realpolitick. Once the new nest has been established, she orders her wasps to expand aggressively. A nearby bee hive is enslaved and forced to pay tribute. The victim of violence has resolved to avoid being the victim ever again by becoming the oppressor.

But the subjugation of the bees has unintended consequences. Some of the bees are educated and trained in philosophy, science, and cartography. One day a bee with an inclination to anarchism is born and so educated and trained, and she produces a brood of anarchist sons…

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  1. Yu believes (see the comments over at Clarkesworld) her story is hard science fiction for some reason to do with studies of bees, but since wasps and bees aren’t capable of cartography, philosophy, science, and the like, the story simply cannot be classified as hard science fiction; it’s fantasy. What do you think? 

  2. If you have to choose, I’d go with Baker. To me at least, she is by far the better narrator. 

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Lots of news to catch up on with this post.

  1. Over a decade ago, a Russian paleontologist wrote an alternative take on the War of the Ring from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Recently translated into English, Kirill Yeskov’s The Last Ringbearer tells the tale from the point of view of Mordor, the bad guys in Tolkien’s epic.

    History is usually written by the victors, but now the truth of the War of the Ring has finally come out. Gandalf is portrayed as a warmonger bent on destroying a bastion of civilization dedicated to reason, science, technology, and industrialization because science “destroys the harmony of the world and dries up the souls of men!” The elves are bent on world domination and Aragorn is a Machiavellian schemer whose strings are pulled by his wife, Arwen.

    If you’re intrigued, you can learn more about The Last Ringbearer from the Salon.com article “Middle-Earth according to Mordor” and, also on Salon.com, the author’s own account of why he wrote the novel. You can download The Last Ringbearer for free and give it a read. Here’s to hoping Christopher Tolkien doesn’t aggress against Yeskov by launching a copyright or trademark infringement lawsuit.
  2. Finally, the print magazine, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, is entering the digital age and switching from snail mail to an electronic submissions system.
  3. In my previous news roundup, I posted the trailer of the upcoming movie adaptation of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged as well as some reports from people who had seen an advance preview and an interview with the producer. Here’s more footage, the scene in which Henry Rearden returns home and gives his wife a bracelet made from the first pouring of Rearden Metal:
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BOOK REVIEW | The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker Thumbnail

The Empress of Mars
By Kage Baker
Trade paperback, 304 pages
Tor (2009), $10.87

The Empress of Mars was written by the late Kage Baker (June 10, 1952 — January 31, 2010; 1st name pronounced like ‘cage’). It started out as a novella (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine July 2003), which won the 2004 Theodore Sturgeon Award and was nominated for a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award, but was later expanded into the full-length novel published in 2009 that I review here.

The Empress of Mars is not Martian royalty. This is not Barsoom, the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs. You won’t find a John Carter-type hero fighting native Martians and rescuing princesses within these pages, though Baker does pay homage to Burroughs’ Mars tales. Tars Tarkas makes an appearance as the Martian Santa Claus, for example.

No, The Empress of Mars is a restaurant and bar owned by one Mary Griffith, an early settler of Mars and former biological scientist. A tough, motherly figure, Mary Griffith embodies the rugged individualism and pioneer spirit that pervades Baker’s The Empress of Mars. Baker’s tale is more scientifically literate than Burroughs’, and qualifies (mostly at least, see below) as hard science fiction, leavened with superior writing and humor. It is set some unspecified time after the year 2186 — marking a past event, the year the Kutuzov expedition discovered Olympus Mons is not an extinct shield volcano, it was the only date I recall seeing in the novel.

The story revolves around Mary, her three daughters, and a host of other quirky characters, some of whom she takes under her wing, others she befriends or does business with, as they deal with at first neglect by and then interference from the bureaucrats of the British Arean Company (BAC).

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