Rachel Swirsky. The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers…. (Nebula Awards Showcase)

So I finally got round to reading the much lauded fantasy story The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window, originally published two years ago, and still online on Subterranean Magazine.

Read it on account of having a long train journey, and a copy of the Nebula Awards volume in my briefcase. Magic, queens, dwarves, spells, exactly the kind of stuff that hasn’t ever grabbed me. But I stuck with it, and can see the reasons why those who worship the second F in SFFWA lauded it with the Best Novella Award this year.

The one odd thing that struck me -it may well have struck many others, but I don’t have any time to spare to read other people’s ponderings on SFF – was that the extent to which it was very similar to hard SF in some ways. Partly in the use of a construct to enable a person to live a massively long time, which, in an sfnal form is used often by Baxter and Reynolds, to get their protagonist towards distant millenia, and often the end of time. With them it is cryogenics, or self-repairing dns, or wormholes or such, whereas with Swirsky it was magic. And one of the failings of hard SF is the focus on the technology at the expense of the story or the people in it (I’m thinking more Analog authors here rather than Baxter or Reynolds). “They constructed their spells into physical geometries by mapping out elaborate equations that determined whether they would be cylinders or dodecahedrons, formed of garnet or lapis lazuli or cages of copper strands” is very resonant of techno-babble often used to describe the tech in hard sf.

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