Sunday, 22 April 2018

Hugo Ballot Discussion: Short Stories

Hugo Award logo; a stylised rocket ship
I've been making good progress on my Hugo reading, especially given that the voter packet is not out yet. Of course, having been focussing on reading more short stories over the past sixish months has helped a lot there. Nevertheless, I had only read two of the shortlisted short stories before the ballot came out.

Since linking to a bunch of short story reviews is kind of annoying, I'm just going to reproduce them for you below, to augment the short story ballot. You can, by the way, see the full Hugo Ballot at the official website, if you feel so inclined. Venue links go to the page where you can read each story online. The discussion follows the shortlist and mini-reviews.


Best Short Story


“Carnival Nine,” by Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2017)

A lovely story about mechanical toy people who live out their lives based on the number of “turns” they get. A metaphor for energy and disability/chronic illness that, I suppose, makes more sense than spoon theory — and in fact for that very reason I’d actually heard of this story before I got to reading it. The main character has more turns than average and the story follows her life from childhood through adulthood, partnering up, and having a child. And focuses on how many turns the people around her have or don’t have.

“Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand,” by Fran Wilde (Uncanny, September 2017)

Not a terrible story but not to my taste. (I say this in light of it’s Hugo nomination.) It had an interesting vibe and the second person narration worked well but I didn’t think the end came with sufficient pay-off (for a Hugo nomination...).

“Fandom for Robots,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Uncanny, September/October 2017)

An adorable story about the world’s only sentient robot who was created in the 1950s and now lives in a museum. One day, someone recommends and anime to him and things spiral out from there. Such an adorable and fun read.

“The Martian Obelisk,” by Linda Nagata (Tor.com, July 19, 2017)

A story about hubris and hope in a post apocalyptic world. I found the main premise, of instructing AIs to build an obelisk on Mars, a bit odd, for all that it made sense in the context. The story didn’t completely grab me, however, which is unfortunate because I think the ending would have had more impact if I’d connected more with the protagonist.

“Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon, (Uncanny, May/June 2017)

A cute story about a man who inherits a magic sword from his warrior grandmother, inhabited by spirits that can train him to fight. But all he wants to do is farm potatoes. I enjoyed the subversion of the magic sword trope, the goat and the tentative queer love story.

“Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™,” by Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex, August 2017)

An eerie story that starts out as one type of science fiction, exploring (Native American) race through a commercialised lens... then turns into a different sort of horrific story. I enjoyed it and didn’t see the second half coming from the vantage point of the first half. Certainly an interesting read and I can see why it made the Hugo shortlist.


Brief Discussion 


It's an interesting mix of stories, half of which directly engage with disability or racism, which is great to see coming out of the Sad Puppy years. They're all strong stories, even if they're not all for me.

For me the clear winner is the story I've loved the longest: "Fandom For Robots" by Vina Jie-Min Prasad. I have a soft spot for adorable AIs. After that, the stories rank themselves rather easily, from my point of view. “Carnival Nine” by Caroline M. Yoachim was very good and just pips "Sun, Moon, Dust" by Ursula Vernon by being a little meatier. "Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™" by Rebecca Roanhorse is also a strong contender while "The Martian Obelisk" by Linda Nagata and "Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand" by Fran Wilde didn't really work for me.

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