Salute Your Shorts: For Want of a Nail by Mary Robinette Kowal


June 21, 2012 by Heidi

Salute Your Shorts

Salute Your Shorts is a weekly (ish) feature here at Bunbury in the Stacks highlighting and reviewing short stories and novellas. Everyone is welcome to join at any time, just grab the pic above and shoot me a link in the comments so that I can include your post in a roundup.

book cover of For Want of a Nail by Mary Robinette KowalTitle:  For Want of a Nail [Amazon|GoodReads|Read Online]
Author:  Mary Robinette Kowal [Website|Twitter]
Standing: Stand alone short!
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: April 27th, 2011. Was published in the September 2011 issue of Asimov‘s.
Format: Kindle edition is 36 pages; I read it online.
Read on author’s website, here.

Can you guys believe I totally missed International Short Story Day yesterday?  Terribly noobish of me.  Such a fitting holiday for the Summer Solstice!  Thanks much to Flannery over at The Readventurer to tipping me off and posting an absolutely amazing list of excellent short stories.  I may not have gotten anything up on the blog, but I did celebrate by reading some of the short stories that have been languishing on my TBR for far too long!

For Want of a Nail by Mary Robinette Kowal is one such story, which has been on my list since being awarded with 2011’s Hugo for Short Stories and since I saw Marissa Marr touting it on her blog.  Considering it’s available to read for free online, I highly suggest you check it out and decide for yourself if it deserves the notoriety.

For Want of a Nail is science fiction, taking place in a world where reproduction is controlled, the useless are destroyed, and one family’s history is recorded in the coding of their AI, Cordelia.  When Cordelia’s ability to continue to record without losing past memory is put in jeopardy, her wrangler attempts to fix what she hoped would be a minor problem without calling her own abilities into question.  However, wrangler Rava soon learns that seemingly simple problems can be far more difficult than anticipated, and the solutions even more so.

Kowal’s short story is well deserving of the praise it has received at it is one of those that manages to pack rich worldbuilding and substantial emotion into a tiny page count.  It confronts questions of utility, humanity, and emotions in the way that only the best science fiction can manage.  I was particularly struck by the fear of aging, losing not only self-worth, but worth to one’s society and family.  Fear of those horrible things that relate to aging is something every person can relate to, at least those of us old enough to recognize that it will someday come for us and those we love.  I do have to admit, however, that For Want of a Nail was not my favorite of 2011’s Hugo nominees that I have read thus far, Ponies takes that ribbon at the moment.

If you’ve read For Want of a Nail, what did you think?  If you have time, go read it now!


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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.