Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hugos 2011: the short stories

I just got through reading the nominees for this year's Best Short Story Hugo. I don't like sounding negative, but I'm just going to say it: I wasn't particularly impressed.

I'm unfamiliar with Carrie Vaughn, and "Amaryllis" doesn't really make me want to rush out and read any of her other work. It's a story about the captain of a fishing boat in a resource-scarce community. She's had a tough life, we're told, but I didn't see any sign of hardship. There was a conflict with a bullying official that was resolved so quickly and simply it barely seemed like a conflict at all. I'm not sure how this one ended up on the ballot.

I am familiar with Kij Johnson's short stories. She was nominated in this category last year for "Spar", which I enjoyed very much. Well, not so much enjoyed as found compelling. Anyway, this year's nominee, "Ponies" seems so obvious that I really don't know what to say about it. It's a very short piece, about using girl's toys as a tool for enforcing conformity. Not much here, and none of it very interesting.

Mary Robinette Kowal's "For Want of a Nail" is a bit better than the previous two. It's about a young woman on a generation ship who is in charge of maintaining her family's AI. When she accidentally breaks its wireless connection, she stumbles on to a startling secret. Which is actually a pretty good setup, and I like the way Kowal writes, but the problem is the story gets a bit jumbled. The world building feels like it doesn't make sense, and the story manages to undermine its own message about the choice between senility or death. The result is a bit frustrating.

The pick of the list is "The Things", by Peter Watts. It is, I gather, a re-telling of the 1982 John Carpenter film The Thing from the point of view of, umm, the Thing. I haven't seen that film, so I had to take the story on its own merits. What I saw was a story about a very alien alien struggling to understand a group of humans who were reacting very badly to it. Watts' writing is kind of punchy, while I quite like. I do think "The Things" is held back a little by over-reliance on its source material, though. There were bits I struggled to follow, since I know nothing about the film's chronology. And honestly, I don't think those bits added much to the story.

So there you have it. My vote on a fairly average shortlist is for "The Things", with "For Want of a Nail" a fairly distant second. A quick google pops up tables of contents for three 2010 Year's Best anthologies, edited by Rich Horton, Jonathan Strahan, and Gardner Dozois. I am unsurprised to see that the only story from this shortlist which appears in all three is "The Things". Apart from "Amaryllis" in Dozois' Year's Best, none of the others appear at all. I'm okay with that.

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