Monday, June 20, 2011

Oh no, not more awards discussion!

Yup. The Hugos aren't even cold yet, and I'm already talking about another award. I've been catching up on episodes of the StarShipSofa podcast, and I just got around to #178, which contains three of the four nominees for the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Award for Best Short Story. The nominees were "Flying in the Face of God" by Nina Allen, "The Shipmaker" by Aliette de Bodard, "The Things" by Peter Watts*, and "Arrhythmia" by Neil Williamson. The winners were announced at Eastercon on April 23rd this year; Aliette de Bodard took out the Best Short Story category.

It's a little tricky to compare this shortlist directly with the Hugos -- the BSFA defines a short story as anything shorter than a novel, so the Hugos have three categories (short story, novelette, novella) where the BSFA Awards have only one. Nevertheless, I want to note three things, one in brief and two in more depth. First, I think "The Things" is the weakest of these four stories. That's interesting, because I think it's pretty much guaranteed the Best Short Story Hugo this year.

Aliette de Bodard had "The Jaguar House in Shadow" on the Best Novelette Hugo shortlist. I didn't think very much of that story (too much like a fragment from a larger narrative). "The Shipmaker", however, I loved. Part of that is probably because it was about a Chinese spaceship, and the woman responsible for building it, which is a combination of ideas practically tailor made for me. What was really striking, though, is that "The Shipmaker"  takes place in the exact same setting as "The Jaguar House in Shadow" and yet (in my opinion) suffers from none of its flaws. I intend to go back to both of them later, and do a comparison to try and work out why one of them worked so well for me, and the other failed.

I've been thinking recently about a 2009 novella written by Jay Lake, called Death of a Starship. Not so much the story itself (which was really fun), but the title. I'd love to write a story under that title. It's a phrase that sparks off all sorts of nifty ideas. And, as it happens, it's a title that could have worked for "The Shipmaker". Perhaps not really well, but it wouldn't have been completely inappropriate.

Lastly, "Arrhythmia" by Neil Williamson was interesting because it's pretty much exactly what I was talking about in my earlier post on music in SF. This is a story about music, and the way it permeates life and grinds you down and inspires you and all that stuff music does. Unfortunately, I don't think it's a great story -- it's very obvious -- but it was fascinating to see how Williamson tackled the ideas I was having so much trouble articulating earlier.

I haven't even mentioned "Flying in the Face of God" by Nina Allen, which I really liked. I'm not sure what the rules are for nominating for a BSFA Award, but whoever the nominators are, they did a great job this year.

Next time, promise I'll talk about something other than awards! 

* This was the story that wasn't included in StarShipSofa #178.

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