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4.5 stars for “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu (2011, free at Clarkesworld). 2012 Hugo award nominee and 2011 Nebula award nominee (short story)The village of Yiwei has an uneasy truce with the many paper wasps that live in and around the village, until one day, when a boy throws a rock at a wasp’s nest, causes it to fall to the ground, and is badly stung. His angry mother scalds the fallen nest and kills the wasps inside.In this way it was discovered that the wasp nests of Yiwei, dipped in hot water, unfurled into beautifully accurate maps of provinces near and far, inked in vegetable pigments and labeled in careful Mandarin that could be distinguished beneath a microscope.The villagers, presumably acting out of superstition and fear, systematically kill off the other wasps until only a handful of wasps are left. This last group of wasps, led by an intrepid foundress, creates a portable nest in the form of a paper boat and floats forty miles downstream, piping sea chanteys as they go. They land in a good, fruitful place, look about them with satisfaction and, in the manner of privileged conquerors, take over the area and exact a heavy tribute from the kindly bees that were living there first.E. Lily Yu creates a lovely story that manages to deal with serious themes of colonialism, slavery and how we treat others when we’re in a position of power, while lightening the heaviness with the story’s mythic, fable-like feel and her use of dry humor. I couldn’t help but be charmed by the many whimsical details, like the wasps’ lovely, microscopic maps and the wasp foundress entertaining the bee ambassadors, serving them nectar in paper horns. Yu claimed, in Comment #13 to this story on Clarkesworld, that because it is based on the science of wasp and bee behavior, this story is hard science fiction. The conversations and some of the details of the lives of the bees and wasps (e.g., labeling maps in Mandarin and studying philosophy) argue that it’s ultimately a fantasy, but either way it’s a delightful tale given heft by its deeper themes.

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