Short Story Review: The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees by E. Lily Yu

I read ‘The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees’ short story a couple of months ago, when I was reading the “Best of Science Fiction and Fantasy for 2012.” It is the second story in the collection after Neil Gaiman, which says a lot about the writer’s ability to follow him. I had never heard of Ms. Yu and didn’t know about the success of the story or the way it is received by readers; I am thankful for my naïvety. For anyone who hasn’t read this story, I say stop now and read the story here on don’t let the opinion of others define how the story will affect you.  It is a beautifully written story with hidden and obvious themes. Enjoy it and let your mind come to its own conclusions.

The things that first drew me into this story were the pace and the genre. I’m a huge fan of the fairy tale as a learning tool because the characters and setting are easily changeable to fit whatever setting you choose but the moral stays the same. A good fairy tale moves along at a pace differently from a novel or a short story, it has the ability to whisk you away on a journey and leave the reader contemplating its meaning and how it can be reflected in their own lives.  In ‘The Cartographer Wasps…’ Yu spends just enough time describing the settings, characters and actions to bring it to life and express her ideas but not bring down the mood, flow or sound preachy.

I don’t like when I get to the end of the story and feel the need to flip back, expecting more. I expect this from a novel, but I don’t from my short fiction. ‘The Cartographer Wasps…’ does exactly this in a good way. The story ends a little while after the last bees have managed to end the war with the wasps. Another group of bees not a part of the original conflict come across the anarchist bee writings and they are inspired. Yu doesn’t explain what they are inspired to do with this knowledge it is left up to the reader to make this judgment and that I can appreciate.  Colonialism, dictatorship, revolution and anarchy have had profound impacts on civilizations and just like in life after the major conflict is over it is up to us to create the ending we want to live.

‘The Cartographer Wasps…’ was nominated for the Hugo Award in 2012, so it was reviewed by several review websites. I am mentioning two of their websites in particular for their opposite reviews on the same story. I knew I wanted to write a review for this story as soon as I finished it but I like many found myself stumped at the ending thus it took me awhile to write one. The blog “Promethus UnBound,” believes that the story “warns of the transitive and cyclical nature of violence from thoughtless destruction to calculated imperialism.” It’s some pretty heavy declarations but the writer, Geoffrey Allan Plauche, then goes on to highlight how the story supports his theory.  The blog “Talkfiction” delves into the levels of allegorical meaning in the story in regards to revolution, subjugation, power of education, colonialism, and the desire for survival.

Overall I truly enjoyed ‘The Cartographer Wasps…’ and the reviews on the story. It takes a powerful story to inspire the reader to focus on the message behind it over the way it was written. Most of the time it is easy to focus on the writing style of the writer, I feel it stands out more than the idea behind the story, but not this time. I highly recommend this short story.


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