Friday, April 6, 2018

Stone Mad, by Elizabeth Bear

[Tor Novella]
★★☆☆☆ Not Recommended

(Steampunk Fantasy; Karen Memory) There’s trouble in Rapid City (Washington Territory, 1879) when apparently supernatural forces shake a downtown hotel, and Karen is determined to get to the bottom of it. (40,540 words; Time: 2h:15m)

Note: This novella is only of interest to readers who have already read and enjoyed the author’s novel, Karen Memory. See related articles on

"," by (edited by Beth Meacham), published on by .

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

Pro: Karen and Priya’s relationship troubles form the heart of the story. The strongest tension occurs when Karen keeps getting delayed even though she knows she needs to go after Priya before she gets too far away, and the most emotional moment is when Priya bursts through the wall in the modified Singer. Priya might be mad at Karen, but Karen is the whole world to her.

Karen’s discovery that she can communicate with the borglum makes for a cute solution, made all the sweeter by the borglum’s obvious appreciation.

I loved Mrs. Horner’s speech about what a marriage really is. Clearly it fits into the theme about Karen and Priya’s struggle to define the boundaries of their own relationship.

I enjoyed the scene with the cannonball magic trick, even though it didn’t really contribute to the story. It shows us that Priya means the world to Karen too, but we already knew that.

The borglum in the story closely matches tommyknockers in Welsh, Cornish, and Devon folklore.

Con: The story is very, very slow. For example, it starts with Karen and Pria in a restaurant, and 2000 words later they haven’t even ordered yet. And once the Borglum has been relocated to the mine, most of the rest of the story (almost 10,000 words!) is anti-climax (albeit pretty good relationship advice). Even the landslide scene appears to serve no purpose.

Karen’s dialogue is uneven. Sometimes she speaks in absolutely perfect standard English, but most of the time she uses a rough dialect, even for narration.

In the novel, there were no magical creatures, so I thought it was a bit of a cheat half-way through this one to meet the Borglum. Has anyone else seen steampunk stories where magical creatures were real?

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1 comment (may contain spoilers):

  1. This is a 3-star for me, and almost a 4-star but it did have a very slow start (so it is a 3-star).

    I have read “Karen Memory” by Elizabeth Bear, and liked it so much I nominated it for the Hugos, where it was long-listed. I do agree that in order to appreciate this story you do need to have read the novel, and I did, and I am glad I purchased this story to read as well.

    This is like a massive epilogue of the novel. I think the author wrote it to give readers a chance to see what “happily ever after” looks like for the 2 young women, after the adventure has ended and regular life begins. It delves into the relationship going forward, and becomes rather serious reading.

    As to the question of magical creatures in steampunk – Gail Carriger in her Parasol Protectorate series has steampunk, comedy, romance, adventure, alternative history and supernatural beings rolled in together.