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Short story discussions > July 5, 2011 - FOR WANT OF A NAIL by Mary Robinette Kowal

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message 1: by Candiss (last edited Jul 08, 2011 08:04AM) (new)

Candiss (tantara) | 1207 comments Welcome to July, everyone! Now that the Nebulas are over and done with for the year, we're back to a less structured reading schedule. I thought I'd better get my tail in gear and get a story linked up for us to discuss, so here we go.

I've chosen a story I have yet to read but which I've heard good things about...and which happens to be a Hugo nom this year. ("Ponies" by Kij Johnson, one of our Nebula nom reads and one of the two Nebula winners, of course, is also up for the short story Hugo.)

Mary Robinette Kowal is known for her subtle fantasy or science fiction within a historical framework...or rather, perhaps, her historical fiction with a fantastic undercurrent. Her short story For Want of a Nail first appeared in the September 2010 issue of Asimov's and is being re-run in the September 2011 issue to celebrate the Hugo nomination.

The story is available online in various formats on several different sites:

- Print format at the author's personal website: For Want of a Nail (online)

- PDF download from For Want of a Nail (PDF)

- Audio podcast from Escape Pod 296, read by Mur Lafferty: For Want of a Nail (MP3 online or download)

(This thread will host all discussion for this story. Please feel free to chime in anytime. Spoilers are to be expected.)

message 2: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) I read it, but didn't care for it too much. Overall, an interesting concept, but there were too many technical problems, IMO.

Here's my review:

Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides (upsight) | 187 comments I listened to the audio version not too long ago and liked it. Yes, the technical parts required some suspension of disbelief, but I closed my eyes and tried to think of the conceptual/thematic parts.

message 4: by Stefan, Group Founder + Moderator (Retired) (last edited Jul 08, 2011 03:57PM) (new)

Stefan (sraets) | 1667 comments Mod
I just read the story too, and I roughly agree with Jim's review (linked above). I did like the idea of the AI trying to protect Georgo by feeding him lines. I wasn't familiar with the proverb referenced in the title, so I looked it up:

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.

So far I've read two of the Hugo-nominated short stories, and while they're both good stories, neither of them really blew me away. I've definitely read considerably better things in several anthologies and magazines last year. I'm hoping one of the two remaining nominated ones will be more to my taste.

message 5: by Candiss (new)

Candiss (tantara) | 1207 comments I've heard that proverb (or one very much like it) before and have always liked it. It seems a succinct way of stating the concept of cause-and-effect and putting it in simple, practical terms. (It also makes me think of the "butterfly effect.")

message 6: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Thanks for posting that, Stefan. I've been meaning to look it up. Mom used to quote it often, but I haven't seen or heard it fully in years.

I agree, Candiss. Another is 'the devil is in the details' or 'a good house starts with a good foundation'.

Considering what we pay to keep our horses shod & how often plans have gone astray due to a loose or lost shoe, the original saying really strikes home with me. To top it off, 'finding' the lost shoe with a tractor tire can be expensive & time consuming, too. The butterfly effect is so true.

message 7: by Candiss (new)

Candiss (tantara) | 1207 comments I actually liked this story a lot more than I expected to. Maybe I'm in a weird headspace right now, but it got me a little choked up. I thought it was an interesting commentary on several interweaving things at once: memory, truth/lies, loyalty, family, technology, our reliance on said technology, and obsolescence (of both tech and of people), for starters. There was a lot more packed in that I had anticipated in the first few paragraphs.

Also: You know the addage that a novel should hook the reader in the first paragraph, but a short story only gets the first sentence in which to accomplish the same job? Well, I personally feel that "With one hand, Rava adjusted the VR interface glasses where they bit into the bridge of her nose, while she kept her other hand buried in Cordelia’s innards." is a doozy of an opening sentence.

message 8: by Kerry (new)

Kerry (rocalisa) | 487 comments This just won the Hugo. Congratulations to Mary Robinette Kowal.

message 9: by Candiss (new)

Candiss (tantara) | 1207 comments Congratulations to Ms. Kowal!

message 10: by Jon (new)

Jon (jonmoss) | 626 comments Just read this short story. Excellent! Loved it!

message 11: by Stefan, Group Founder + Moderator (Retired) (new)

Stefan (sraets) | 1667 comments Mod
This got third place on my ballot, after "Ponies" and "Amaryllis". Nice story, but I felt that it rattled in a few places.

message 12: by Jon (new)

Jon (jonmoss) | 626 comments I'll have to read "Ponies" and "Amaryllis" next. :)

message 13: by Stefan, Group Founder + Moderator (Retired) (last edited Aug 21, 2011 07:51AM) (new)

Stefan (sraets) | 1667 comments Mod
There are links in this folder, somewhere. All the short form works (except for one) that were nominated for Hugos are available online. If interested, you can find the links in these articles:

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