I have now finished all of the short fiction on this year’s Hugo Award ballot (links to most nominees are available here), and I have to say, the pickings here are pretty slim. The stories that aren’t forgettable or preachy are deeply unpleasant, leaving me wanting to put a lot of stuff below “No Award.” And there’s one story that makes me want to bleach my frontal cortex.
More detailed comments, category-by-category, below the fold:
- “Act One”, Nancy Kress (Asimov’s 3/09)
- The God Engines, John Scalzi (Subterranean)
- “Palimpsest”, Charles Stross (Wireless; Ace, Orbit)
- Shambling Towards Hiroshima, James Morrow (Tachyon)
- “Vishnu at the Cat Circus”, Ian McDonald (Cyberabad Days; Pyr, Gollancz)
- The Women of Nell Gwynne’s, Kage Baker (Subterranean)
I like John Scalzi quite a bit, but The God Engines is just unpleasant and depressing. It’s certainly inventive, but not in a good way. Shambling Towards Hiroshima is pretty amusing for the first two-thirds or so, but becomes almost unreadably preachy in the last section. I’m not sure how it should’ve ended, but the tone shift is just crashingly awful. “Vishnu at the Cat Circus” is longer than it needs to be, and would presumably make more sense if I had read McDonald’s River of Gods, or some other work set in that universe, because it feels very much like the reader is supposed to recognize the background events. The Women of Nell Gwynne’s is steampunk, and I’m pretty tired of steampunk.
That leaves Charlie Stross’s “Palimpsest,” and Nancy Kress’s “Act One,” both of which are marred by being crashingly obvious– neither ending is much of a surprise. Stross probably gets the nod here, because he at least provides some old-school sense of wonder with a sprawling mess of time-travel paradoxes and galactic-scale engineering. Though the story does contain a little bit of “Aren’t I clever?” mugging.
- “Eros, Philia, Agape”, Rachel Swirsky (Tor.com 3/09)
- The Island”, Peter Watts (The New Space Opera 2; Eos)
- “It Takes Two”, Nicola Griffith (Eclipse Three; Night Shade Books)
- “One of Our Bastards is Missing”, Paul Cornell (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume Three; Solaris)
- “Overtime”, Charles Stross (Tor.com 12/09)
- “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast”, Eugie Foster (Interzone 2/09)
Michael Fucking Resnick has forever ruined stories about emotional robots for me, bad luck for Rachel Swirsky. “Overtime” is an extended Santa Claus joke, and almost precious enough to knock “Palimpsest” off the Novella list, just for spite. “The Island” is less a story than an extended lecture about how all living things suck. It would be crashingly depressing if it weren’t overwrought to the point of being almost funny. “One of Our Bastards Is Missing” is, according to the final page of the file from the Hugo Voter’s Packet, the second story in a series featuring the same character, and it shows, because there are a lot of details left unexplained in that “as you recall from our last episode…” sort of way. “Sinner, Baker…” is well-done, but so high-concept that it ends up feeling like a completely formal exercise, with no real emotional kick to it.
That leaves “It Takes Two,” which has an awfully obvious Point about biology and free will, but is also a pretty decent character study. Some details of the plot don’t quite make sense, but I’m perfectly happy to vote for it.
Best Short Story
- “The Bride of Frankenstein”, Mike Resnick (Asimov’s 12/09)
- “Bridesicle”, Will McIntosh (Asimov’s 1/09)
- “The Moment”, Lawrence M. Schoen (Footprints; Hadley Rille Books)
- “Non-Zero Probabilities”, N.K. Jemisin (Clarkesworld 9/09)
- “Spar”, Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld 10/09)
After last year’s debacle (not to mention the godawful crying robot story), I have sworn never to read another Michael Fucking Resnick story, even if it’s on the Hugo ballot. Especially if it’s on the Hugo ballot. “Bridesicle” is every bit as enjoyable as the name suggests. It was hard to read the last few paragraphs of “The Moment,” because my eyes were rolling so hard it looked like the e-book reader was on a turntable.
And then there’s “Spar.” Which is certainly shocking and offensive, but has no discernible point beyond “Look at me, I can write something shocking and offensive.” And, you know, that’s great. Here’s a cookie. Next time, just stab me with an icepick, and get it over with, ok? because, really, I’m never going to be able to use those neurons again without feeling dirty.
That leaves “Non-Zero Probabilities,” which is… Enh. It’s a perfectly nice slice-of-life story, but it doesn’t really go anywhere, or do anything. I guess it gets my vote by virtue of being inoffensive in a category full of stories that fill me with rage, but that’s kind of weak tea.
In summary: Bleagh. At least seven of these seventeen stories are going below “No Award” on my ballot, and it may be more than that, depending on how cranky I’m feeling when I sit down to fill it out. If this is really the best short fiction the field has to offer, maybe it’s time to just shut down the magazines and call it a night. Eighty-odd years was a pretty good run.
I really kind of doubt that this is the best the field has to offer, though. And when we had dinner with Jo Walton last week, she assured me that the Jonathan Strahan “Year’s Best” anthology contained a half-dozen stories of various lengths that were better than any of the crap that’s on the ballot. In which case, the question becomes “Who is nominating these horrible, horrible stories, and how can we get them to stop?”
Because, really. Life is too short to have to read stuff like “Spar.”