“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu is one of the most gorgeous, surprising and strange stories I’ve ever read. Some stories just seem to wing free of convention, to follow an unexpected trail to something excitingly new. Sometimes Carmen Maria Machado does that. Sometimes Kelly Link.
Lily Yu masters the technique in this beautiful story, made even more striking by the fact that she published it so early in her career. In recognition of this piece and her other first publications, she won the Campbell Award for new writers in 2012.
The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees:
“For longer than anyone could remember, the village of Yiwei had worn, in its orchards and under its eaves, clay-colored globes of paper that hissed and fizzed with wasps. The villagers maintained an uneasy peace with their neighbors for many years, exercising inimitable tact and circumspection. But it all ended the day a boy, digging in the riverbed, found a stone whose balance and weight pleased him. With this, he thought, he could hit a sparrow in flight. There were no sparrows to be seen, but a paper ball hung low and inviting nearby. He considered it for a moment, head cocked, then aimed and threw.
Much later, after he had been plastered and soothed, his mother scalded the fallen nest until the wasps seething in the paper were dead. 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.”