Flour, Water, Salt, and Speculative Fiction

As photogenic as I could possibly make it.

As photogenic as I could possibly make it.

I mentioned last post that I took a shot at making demi-baguettes again recently. Baguettes and I haven’t always been BFFs. They never quite turn out like I would hope. Even within the same batch, they turn out differently. This last time, I followed the Bread Baker’s Guild of America 2008 Coupe du Monde formula to the letter–scaled down such that flour in the main formula was 250 grams (disclosure though–I could not find and therefore did not use malted barley powder). The results were good and after having made demi-baguettes periodically for over a decade, I’m still learning nuances to shape and crumb and texture. The more hydrated the dough, the more open and attractive the crumb, but the harder it is to shape and score (65-70% hydration seems to be the sweet spot). I usually add too much water in the initial mixing and too much flour for the shaping. I learned from this last attempt that if the dough is not a little tacky without being too sticky, it is almost impossible to make the finished bread look as it should. This dough used a tiny amount of levain and a lot of poolish to give it that extra kick.

All that to say flour, water, salt, and maybe a little yeast can yield an incredible range of flavors. That’s what I love about baking.

What I love about writing is that arrangements of letters can yield even greater diversity.

I’m a little late to the party, but the Nebula Award Nominees for 2012 are out there. Furthermore, many of them are available to read for free online, including all of the short stories. I can’t help but feel like this is an exciting time to be a reader of speculative fiction.

Robot” by Helena Bell gets props in my book for successful use of the second person.

Ken Liu’s “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” defies conventional plot structure and manages to be meta in the process.

I appreciated Aliette de Bodard’s “Immersion” and couldn’t help but think of my own bicultural family through this sci-fi lens. Oh yeah, and more second person!

I found “Fragmentation” by Tom Crosshill beautifully poignant, especially for a story evocative of mobile operating systems.

Maria Dahvana Headley’s “Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream” is the only fantasy story in the mix–to me, not very relatable (disclosure–I think “love at first sight” is silly) but so beautifully wrought.

Leah Cypress’ “Nanny’s Day” is a whole different animal–almost plausible–and it resonated with me like none other. I can’t help but feel like it takes the easy way out in the end, but then it goes to a very real, vey uncomfortable place for many readers–myself included.

Cat Rambo’s “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain” is a fascinating speculative story and gets props in my book for being one of only stories not published in ClarkesWorld or Lightspeed.

I didn’t really read short fiction until not long ago. I always imagined stodgy, contemplative works in the tradition of Chekhov. These nominees make a fascinating study of how tense, tone, plot structure (or lack thereof) interplay–like a simple lean bread, complexity from a simple foundation. My favorites were “Nanny’s Day” and “Give Her Honey.” Curiously, the former is the most realistic of the bunch and the latter: the most out-there. I appreciated their places on different dimensions of pleasurable writing.

So, reader, if you have not read this year’s nominees, you are doing yourself a disservice. Any other thoughts on the the nominees for this year? Favorites?

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