2017 Hugo Nominees: Best Short Story

Last of the prose fiction categories!  The first five nominees here are an amazing set of stories showcasing the breadth and depth of what the genre is capable of, and again I had a hard time making some of these choices.

(Previous 2017 Hugo posts: Novelette nomineesNovella nomineesNinefox GambitA Closed and Common OrbitToo Like the LightningAll the Birds in the SkyThe Obelisk GateDeath’s End.)

1. “The City Born Great”, N.K. Jemisin

At first, the juxtaposition of monsters on a plane of reality we can’t quite see and police-driven racism in New York City would seem to place this story in very similar territory to The Ballad of Black Tom, but N.K. Jemisin takes a much more optimistic view.  In Black Tom, by the present day the entire world is already damned – has been, for close to a century – by our inhumanity towards those we refuse to acknowledge as people of equal significance.  Whereas in “The City Born Great”, taking place in the present, Jemisin says: see that kid over there?  The homeless guy you spit on, the gay teenager you kicked out of your home, the unarmed black man who could get murdered any day by the police while you look away?  He’s going to stand against the darkness.  He’s going to bring this place that reviled him into a new age of glory.  He’ll save us all, if you’ll only let him.

2. “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers”, Alyssa Wong

When someone close to you commits suicide, woven through the shock and the grief is that question that may well haunt you for the rest of your life: What if you’d done something differently?  Could you have saved them?  What if you had the chance to try again?  Is there, maybe, a universe where they’re still here, and if so, can you make your way to it if you’re willing to never make peace with your loss?  Alyssa Wong turns those counterfactuals into a reality-bending trip through multiple different ways this short, sad story could have unfolded.

3. “Seasons of Glass and Iron”, Amal El-Mohtar

The burdens and expectations that patriarchy puts on the two female protagonists of this story are rendered as physical, magical impediments.  One must wear down seven pairs of iron shoes on a quest to save her husband from his own abusive nature, while the other is locked in a glass castle on a glass hill as men dash themselves against it to reach her.  But when the two of them meet, each of them recognizes the injustice of the other’s situation while still believing that, on some level, they deserve their own plight.  “Seasons of Glass and Iron” interrogates the stories we tell ourselves about the abuse we suffer, and raises the question of why we can so clearly see injustice against others and yet have so much trouble identifying our own abusive situations.

4. “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies”, Brooke Bolander

The story of a murder and its aftermath, seeking to redress the imbalance between the men whose stories take center stage and the women whose deaths are used simply as motivation fodder.  If you’re sick of seeing women fridged, this is a short but satisfying response, reclaiming at least this one story in the name of one seriously pissed-off harpy and her sisters who help her take revenge.  And for an ancient mythological creature, her voice is delightfully modern – not only in the liberal sprinkling of profanity, but also in the very matter-of-fact way in which she describes, as a series of fifteen or so bullet points, the relevant facts of the situation.

5. “That Game We Played During The War”, Carrie Vaughn

An enjoyable story about Calla and Valk, two soldiers on opposing sides of a recently concluded war, and each at one point a prisoner under the watch of the other.  Valk’s race is telepathic, but they still passed the time playing chess on occasion; the game, and the strategies Calla developed for confounding his telepathy, becomes a symbol and a common interest around which they reconnect.

The optimistic theme of two nominal enemies building a bond of understanding during the war, and then building further on it during the ensuing peace, reminded me a little of Cordelia and Aral Vorkosigan.  As did the characters themselves; I thought of the dynamic between Cordelia’s canny emotionalism and Aral’s surface-level stoicism whenever Calla managed to surprise Valk despite being a completely open book to him.  She is so open, and he is much more closed off, and in spite of that mismatch, or because of it, they build a rapport that could hold the key to a future of peace.

6. No Award

Here we go again.

7. “An Unimaginable Light”, John C. Wright

For all the complaining the “Rabid Puppies” do over “boring message fiction”, they sure do write some excruciatingly dull stories.  I bailed on this story about a third of the way through.  Nearly the entirety of that time was spent by the two main characters, a robot and a robopsychologist, lecturing each other about the history of robotics and their analyses of each other.  Most of the remainder was spent in descriptions of the robot’s appearance, like this paragraph of introduction:

The kneeling girl did not look like a robot. She looked like a love goddess. Her face was piquant and elfin, her eyes danced and glittered. Her lips were full, her smile ready. She was pulchritudinous, buxom, callipygous, leggy. Her torso was slender, and her abdominal muscles as well defined as those of a belly dancer, so that her navel was like a period between two cursive brackets. Her hair was lustrous, and tied in a loose knot at the back of her swanlike neck. Hair, eye, and skin color were optional. She was, of course, naked.

Six pages later, she still hasn’t been given a name, but the author has made multiple sneering references to the social justice concepts he has spent the last several years railing against.  John C. Wright is going to make sure you know how little he thinks of ideas like pronoun choice and microaggressions, by God, no matter how shitty a story he has to write to do so.

0 comments ↓

There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

You must log in to post a comment.