Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Hugo Short Story Reading

Since I am attending Worldcon 75 in Helsinki in August, I am eligible to vote in the Hugo awards and hence am starting to read my way through the shortlist. Happily, I've already read two of the novels, which lessens the word pile a little.

For now, I decided to start with short stories. Because they're short. Also because they're all available to read for free online (even the one originally published in an anthology) so there's no need to wait for the Hugo packet. Very convenient!

My reviews are in my reading order, which is semi-random. Publication info links go to the story itself. Final impressions of the stories as a whole are at the end.

“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies”, by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny Magazine, November 2016)

A gloriously angry story about revenge. I started with this one because it was the shortest, but it packed a lot of emotional punch in a short space. A supernatural being (a siren?) was brutally attacked by a human and she did not rest in peace. A scathing commentary of the media response to rape and murder, both real and fictional. Not a warm, fuzzy read.

“That Game We Played During the War”, by Carrie Vaughn (, March 2016)

A very different kind of story to the above. Longer, more drawn out, a gentler read. In the aftermath of war (or during a ceasefire, anyway) a nurse from one side goes to visit a soldier from the other, telepathic, side. Full of reminiscences about the war during which they were each other's prisoners at various times, the story culminates in a game of chess... and we learn how one can play chess against a telepath.

“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers”, by Alyssa Wong (, March 2016)

Another powerful story about desperation and helplessness and that even magic can't fix everything. Not if it's too late, not if it's been too late for too long. The narrator tells us about the world ending as she tries to use her weather-working powers to save her sister, also a weather-worker. The story begins with powerful imagery and continues in that emotional vein.

I am sensing a theme.

“The City Born Great”, by N. K. Jemisin (, September 2016)

This one is a story about the gestation and birth of cities and the people who help them through it and protect them. Another fantasy story that felt more fantasy-ish (as opposed to science fiction-y) than "A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers". It was well written, but the concept didn't grab me as much as the previous stories have and I felt like it dragged a little. Also, I don't care that much about New York, which might have contributed. Not a bad story, but not one that stands out.

“Seasons of Glass and Iron”, by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press, reprinted in Uncanny)

A gorgeous story. I left the author I had read before to last (which is not to say I haven't been meaning to read the other authors for some time) and it seems I also left my favourite story to last. This is a story about how cruel fairytales can be to women, who suffer punishments while their male peers are given boons. Two women with magical burdens meet and give each other comfort. It's a seemingly gentle story that nevertheless gives the finger to the patriarchy. It also contains some lovely wry turns of phrase that I would share if this were a different style of review. Instead, I urge you to go read it for free online where it has been reprinted in Uncanny.

How do they rate overall?

The story I unequivocally loved best was "Seasons of Glass and Iron", which I will be ranking first. The remaining stories all rate pretty similarly to me and are tricky to order. I may change my mind, but I think "A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers" will come next, then "Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies", "The Game We Played During the War" and finally "The City Born Great" before No Award.

You might have noticed that I omitted one shortlisted story from the above. Well it's my blog and I can ignore puppies if I want to.

Overall, this shortlist has been a rewarding read. I haven't read all that many short stories of late (slush is a bit of a drawn-out burn out) and this experience reminded me of what I love about the form as well as the variety possible within our genres.

Onward to the next category!

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