Monday, June 11, 2012

Hugos 2012: the short stories

I thought last year's Best Short Story Hugo ballot was pretty thin. I'm pleased to say that this year, three very good stories have been nominated. Here's the way I'm going to vote:
  1. "Movement" by Nancy Fulda
  2. "The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" by E. Lily Yu
  3. "Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu
  4. No Award
  5. "The Homecoming" by Mike Resnick
  6. "The Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: The Dead City" by John Scalzi
I've revised this list three times since I started writing this blog post. I'm having a genuinely difficult time separating the top three stories, and that's a good place to be. Let's get the ones I didn't enjoy out of the way, before moving on to the rest:

"The Homecoming" is a terribly predictable story about Alzheimer's. Honestly, I don't think I've ever met a Mike Resnick story I particularly liked, and this one is no different. His writing always seems so mechanical. The science fiction element here -- a xenobiologist son transformed into an alien -- seemed to serve no purpose beyond establishing that this story should be called science fiction.

The John Scalzi was a joke story, taking aim (as I'm sure you can guess from the title) at a particular type of epic fantasy. I didn't seem much going on here beyond the joke, which was itself only mildly amusing.

I think I first heard "The Paper Menagerie" on the fantasy podcast Podcastle, and I really loved it then. It was aided by an excellent reading from Rajan Khanna. On re-reading it for this ballot, I felt it was a bit blatantly emotionally manipulative, hence it's third place. Still well worth a read, though.

I'm very, very tempted to put "The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" at the top of my list. I really loved this story, in which a nest of sophisticated wasps conquer a nest of provincial bees, and in doing so grant them the keys to revolution. It's about the clash of societies, and the power of education, and it's lovely.

In the end, I think Nancy Fulda's "Movement" is my favourite. It's the story of a girl with an invented condition called temporal autism. She feels the flow of time differently to everyone else -- the second batter her as they roar past, and yet to the people around her she seems to move and to think so slowly.

I have no direct experience with autism, and the condition here is somewhat fictional, but I thought Fulda explored it beautifully. I also got a thrill at seeing a story on the often-conservative Hugo ballot that admits we, grown-up readers, might just misunderstand youth. Like "The Paper Menagerie", it's a sentimental story, but I felt it was less overtly manipulative.

Really, though, I'd be quite content if any of the top three in my list won the award. If I had to guess at the winner, I'd probably pick "The Paper Menagerie", but I wouldn't feel particularly confident about it.

(If you have access to the Hugo voters packet, take a look at the PDF of E. Lily Yu's Campbell works. The cover, drawn specifically for the Campbell ballot, is adorable.)

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