2016’s Light and Shadow: Eight Short Stories by Linda Nagata collects eight of Linda Nagata’s short pieces. Straightforward, that.
Nagata’s career began in 19871, but the focus of this collection is on recent work, published after the years-long hiatus that divides her career in two.
Each story is accompanied by an introduction from Nagata herself.
This is a descriptive introduction, making it clear to the reader what they should expect, not how each story came to be. Those details are told in each story’s introduction.
“Through Your Eyes”
Nothing wins the enduring gratitude of the powers-that-be like embarrassing them in public.
Surviving the mid-ocean plane crash leaves three people stranded on an island. Just the three of them … and a deadly secret.
The story is framed to present the protagonist with a difficult decision. As will surprise no Tiptree readers, there is only one neat thing to do .
Karin Larsen uses a battery of remote sensors to guide soldiers across distant battlefields. She remains in safety; her charges are exposed. Money alone is not enough to keep her at such a demanding, high stress job. What is?
This is set in the same universe as The Red . Until I read this, I had not seen numerous similarities to the TV show Search. I expect that Nagata’s inspiration was drone piloting, not an ancient and obscure TV program. Still, I was amused by the parallels. Perhaps that is just a Nicoll thing.
Zero-gee sport proves to be the killer-app for humans in space. It is way too lucrative an industry that athletes will be allowed to screw things up with their short-sighted ethics. The demanding environment of low-Earth orbit offers many ways to downsize inconveniently ethical employees.
“A Moment Before It Struck”
Compelled by magic to obey, the half-demon is torn between his desire to spare the innocent and the ruthless orders of his owners. The conflict seems both impossible to resolve and impossible to avoid. But is it?
On one side of this conflict, violent misogynists. On the other side, ruthless masters of magical slaves. Both sides are keen on massacring the innocents who get caught between the lines. I am not expected to identify with either of the loathsome combatants.
“Light and Shadow”
New technology means discovering entirely new forms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Nightside on Callisto”
A group of colonists depend on their robots … but the robots have been hijacked by the Red’s protocols. Can they figure out how to rein in their murderous tools without destroying them? It’s too bad that the robots operate under no such constraints. They can destroy any number of humans without consequences.
Nagata has imagined humans settled on Callisto. This makes sense as drama, but it does not make sense in the Red setting. It seems much more likely that human controllers would stay safe in command shacks somewhere and only the robots would be active on the Jovian moon’s surface. But who identifies with robots? No drama there.
“The Way Home”
Trapped in a bizarre hellscape, the soldiers have found only one route home. It can only be opened by the death of a demon and it only allows one soldier at a time to pass. Or so they think. The troop discovers an additional constraint and faces an uncomfortable moral choice.
It might seem some of the soldiers go from revelation to attempted atrocity implausibly quickly. BUT they are characters in a short story. If this had been a novel (or even a series, and I’ve seen quite successful series based on flimsier foundations) they could have taken their time.
Books by Linda Nagata
The stories are a representative sampling of her current work, fantasy and science fiction. If you are unfamiliar with Nagata’s work or just her recent work, this is a good place to start. If you are familiar with her work, I assume you already own this.
Light and Shadow is available here.
1: Young people may be amused to know that many people back in the old days were concerned that an economically troubled, ambitious Russia and an America led by a President of dubious cognitive ability would stumble into a calamitous nuclear war. How far off those memories seem now.