Word Puppets by Mary Robinette Kowal

Word Puppets by Mary Robinette Kowal

Rating: 2.5 Stars


Word Puppets is a collection of short stories by Robinette Kowal. They are set both in the present and on Earth as well as on a range of different planets.


The Bound Man

1.5 Stars

Li Reiko is playing with her kids when she is suddenly thrust into another world, conjured by a Viking to save them from the Troll King.

This story was weird. It felt unfinished. There’s a lot hinted at but the most interesting parts are left out.


2 Stars

Far away from her home on earth, a lonely documentarian watches as an alien larvae-like creature struggles to complete his work before he has to spin himself into a chrysalis, evolving into his adult form, loosing his memories in the process.

It was a cool alien world but I couldn’t bring myself to care about any of the characters.


2 Stars

The story before Rapunzel, it tells of how the deal between husband and witch came to be.

This story was really, really short and nothing much happened. It was fleshed out too little, there’s not much more there than in the traditional fairytale.

At the Edge of Dying

3.5 Stars

In a world where only those close to death can access the goddess’ magic and use magic, Kahe, a sorcerer and his wife Mehahui fight for the united tribes against invaders from another continent.

I liked this story. It was a really interesting world an magic concept. The closer someone is to death, the more powerful their magic. I also liked the relationship between the couple in the face of both war and death.

Clockwork Chikadee

3 Stars

In this fairytale, a clockwork chikadee is annoyed at a clockwork sparrow’s arrogance. He thinks he is better than her because he can fly and she is determined to bring him low.

This was a interesting, mischievous little fairytale.

Body Language

2 Stars

Saskia is a puppeteer and her most famous creation is eDawg, a mechanical dog that resides in many a children’s room as a toy. When a rich man’s son is abducted and the kidnappers demand the money to be sent by his eDawg, Saskia is recruited to lend a camera-equipped dog its character.

The idea was cool. A puppeteer, the future, a jealous AI. But it was too warbled together and let’s be honest, the whole eDawg thing was kind of stupid. A girl moving a mechanical dog around? A mechanical dog to deliver ransom money? Kinda dumb.

Waiting for Rain

2 Stars

Bharat is a troubled man. He has spent all his family’s money on the wedding of his daughter and now he can’t pay the weather bill that ensures his vines have optimal weather conditions.

I liked the idea of micro-climates and the culture it was set in but I really hate stories where the main point revolves around two people not talking to each other and keeping dumb secrets from the other.

First Flight

2 Stars

Elois is chosen as one of the first time travellers, mainly because she is incredibly old and one can only travel back to one’s own time. She is tasked with filming the Wright brothers during their first flight. Things don’t go entirely as planned however.

Meh. Time travel is pretty cool but this story was a bit boring. I was hoping for a badass grandma in the past. We get a grandma that travels back a bit, meets a boy, tells him about time travel, films the Wright bothers and goes back again. Bit disappointing.

Evil Robot Monkey

1 Stars

Another incredibly short story, it is about a chimpanzee turned intelligent by a chip in his head.

That’s it, basically. The chimpanzee likes pottery, doesn’t like humans, does not deal well with being intelligent and not belonging to either humans nor animals.

The Consciousness Problem

2 Stars

After an accident, Elise is left with a mind crippled through concussion. She used to work in a lab that made clones, trying to solve the problem of how to recreate consciousness and memories, together with her husband, Myung.

Meh. I wanted to know more about her hallucinations. I didn’t like Myung particularly and his clone was so obsessed with her it was creepy.

For Solo Cello, op. 12

2 Stars

Julius was a world-famous cellist before he lost his hand in an accident. He is desperate, unable to play anymore. But then his agent offers him a chance to get his hand back. But the price he would have to pay is steep.

An unlikeable protagonist, a very short story and not enough emotional impact.

For Want of a Nail

3 Stars

On a generation ship making its slow progress to another world, one family’s history is kept by an AI, Cordelia. When she starts to malfunction, her wrangler Rava is faced with a hard choice.

I really liked the idea of the generation ship and also the relationship between Rava and Cordelia.

The Shocking Affair of the Dutch steamship Friesland

1.5 Stars

Rosa is on her way to be married, with a trusseau full of finest Murano glass. But then two of the passengers on the ship die, poisoned. Two strange gentleman take charge of the case – a certain Mr Holmes and a Dr Watson.

This story gets the tone of the classic Holmes stories right but not much else. It was a bit boring and the mystery wasn’t much of one.

Salt of the Earth

2 Stars

On another planet, salt is as precious as gold. People collect their own sweat to save salt and it is given as a treat to small children. Tragedy strikes one family, grown rich from salt.

Again, I loved the world and the idea but the actual story… was a bit underwhelming.

American Changeling

2 Stars

Kim is a changeling, the only fae born on earth after the gate to Faerie was closed. And her fate is to get a key and open the gate again.

A short, urban fantasy-style story with a lot of action and some okay scenes about the relationship between a daughter and her parents.

The White Phoenix Feather: A Tale of Cuisine and Ninjas

2.5 Stars

On another planet, the white phoenix feather is every gourmet’s dream. But eating it comes with a lot of danger, for it attracts the spider-like inhabitants of the planet. Viola specializes in providing this experience for her clients and keep them safe.

The planet sounded awesome and I wanted to know more about it. What was a bit annoying were all the food descriptions.

We Interrupt this Broadcast

2 Stars

Fidel worked on the Manhatten program and now he works to get rockets to space, ready to launch death on any city of the world. He is deeply disillusioned, but he has a plan to change the fate of humanity.

It was kind of heavy handed on the morals, which always annoys me. It is a prequel to the Lady Astronaut of Mars.

Rockets Red

2 Stars

For the twentieth anniversary of the landing on Mars, a great firework is planned. But in order to pull it off, the whole community has to work together

This was another very short story in The Lady Astronaut of Mars universe. I liked the optimism of this future.

The Lady Astronaut of Mars

3 Stars

Elma became famous as the first female astronaut on Mars. Now she has grown old, but she hasn’t quite given up the dream of once again flying through space. But she is bound to Mars and her beloved husband, who is slowly but surely dying.

I liked this story. A female astronaut on Mars, sent there through the science of punchcards? Really cool. It was also a very sweet story about the relationship between Elma and her husband, between loyalty and her yearning to go to space again.


Overall, this anthology didn’t entirely wow me. I setting and ideas behind most of the stories but didn’t connect with the actual story and their characters.


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