The second of the Hugo nominated short stories this year is For Want of a Nail by Mary Robinette Kowal and printed in the September issue of Asimov’s. This is a story about AI’s and a generation ship. This story though is as much about the people in the story as the science fiction, yet this is a story that couldn’t be told without the science fiction elements.
My only real weakness of this story was that it took a bit for me to really become interested in what was going on. This was because I wasn’t entirely certain what was going on and there was a bit too much tech. This was set up pretty quick and by the end of the story I was considerably more interested.
The basic idea is that Rava is the VR wrangler for her family, but has dropped the AI and damaged the transmitter of the AI making it impossible to connect to its backups and long term memory. Rava can fix this, but in order to do so she needs to get the right part. The problem is that the location of that part is in the long term memory of the AI. This leads to other point which helps to explore what the AI is.
While I do love big stories with mind shattering technology and world changing events it is sometimes nice to read a story that is about a small event that affects a few people rather than changing everything.
The title is in the tradition of science fiction title which require outside information in order to fully understand. In the case of For Want of a Nail it is part of a proverb which reads
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
The idea of this is that some small mistake or point that is missed leads to bigger and bigger problems, but all of those can be traced back to that first small point. This is a good explanation of what happens in this story, yet doesn’t really give away anything which is good.
This isn’t my favorite science fiction story of the year, but I can certainly understand how it was nominated for a Hugo and though I wouldn’t vote for it I will not be upset if it wins.
You can read For Want of a Nail for free at Mary Robinette Kowal's website .