Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Series of Steaks, by Vina Jie-Min Prasad

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(Chinese SF) A blackmailer forces Helena to make entire fake steaks for him or else he’ll tell the authorities about her business printing fake beef for shady restaurants. She’s never tried to make a whole steak though. (7,943 words; Time: 26m)

Rating: ★★★★☆ Solidly structured, well-prepared, tender, and satisfying
Recommended By: SFRevu:4 GDozois:5 RHorton:5 JStrahan JMcGregor:5 CPayseur

"," by (edited by Neil Clarke), appeared in issue 124, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: Helena just wants to make enough money to escape, but she needs companionship.

Lily doesn’t seem to need much of anything, but it’s clear that she not only needs companionship, she needs someone to follow, so the two of them complete each other.

Mr. Yongjing does get his steaks, but we know the outcome of the dinner is not going to be happy. Wisely, the story lets us imagine it rather than trying to describe it.

It’s a nice touch that Helena’s conversations with Mr. Chan bracket the story. He genuinely cares about her as a person, and he’s not at all put off by her leaving. It helps the story end on a high note.

We're able to like Helena without reservation once we learn she wasn’t really to blame for Madam Yuen’s death; she’s not a criminal by choice, and that makes her a more sympathetic protagonist.

Con: Lily isn’t the protagonist, but otherwise she’s a Mary Sue—so perfect at everything that she breaks suspension of disbelief.

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8 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. This was a bit of an unexpected delight. Even though I knew something like it was coming, I still chuckled happily at the ending.

  2. This was wonderfully charming and funny! Agree that Lily is a bit too perfect though. I almost thought she was a 3D print tailored just for Helena!

  3. I agree with the rating.
    Yes - Lily was too convenient.

    Otherwise, this story is really worth reading. Easy to read, well-structured and ends on a positive note. I see why it has so many recommendations - it has general audience appeal.

    Well worth checking out for anyone looking for a Campbell nomination. Or just a good read.

    There are labs looking into how to create meat. They are having some problems with fat levels and flavour, so the SF concept behind this story is plausible.

  4. Lily was convenient, but she was also hilarious, which helps a lot.

  5. Lily was a Mary Sue, and annoying to boot. And while I liked the premise of the story (forging meat), I didn't think the story was all that engaging or interesting.

    On top of that, the ending was unsatisfying to me. The hero's victory seemed unearned and her actions unwise, to say the least.


    1. Another illustration of how different people put different weights on different things. Everyone recognizes that Lily is the #1 flaw in the story, but they vary a lot over how serious they think that is. I think Chuck may be right that Lily makes us laugh, so we'll forgive her for being nearly-divine.

      In fact, there are a number of stories--dating back to antiquity--where the hero has a godlike sidekick who doesn't ruin the story. At least, not for everyone. :-)

    2. I think it has as much to do with Lily being an archetype that's really common right now. There are Lilies all over TV and in the movies, and this one seemed like a carbon copy of all the others. On top of that, I just didn't find her funny.