Hugo Blogging: The Short Stories
This is a difficult set of stories to review, as short stories can be spoiled in the way novels (at least good ones) really can’t – most consist of a single central idea or image, and without
Of the four stories nominated for the Best Story award in the Hugos, three of them are so similar in their thematic concerns that they could all have been written for a themed anthology, dealing as they do with small, self-contained communities, with single points of failure, and with restrictions on reproduction. For that reason they probably all seem better than they would if taken alone.
Ponies, by Kaj Johnson, therefore probably comes off slightly worse than it otherwise would, having little in common with the other three. A very short story indeed, and easily the best-written of these four as prose, it’s a beautiful fantasy piece about conformity and sacrifice, with a haunting central metaphor, and a story which more than hints at things like female circumcision. A little slight, maybe, but one that feels better in the memory than it did when reading it.
Amarylis, by Carrie Vaughn, did nothing for me. The crew of a fishing boat in a post-collapse society with strict limits on both food and breeding have a member who wants a kid, but the bloke in charge of weighing their catches keeps putting his finger on the scales so they can’t. Not a bad story as such – a perfectly decent way to spend five minutes – but hardly the best thing published last year.
For Want Of A Nail by Mary Robinette Kowal is, to all intents and purposes, an Asimov story. Set on a generation ship with strict limits on breeding, and where everyone gets ‘recycled’ as soon as they stop being productive, when a minor piece of hardware breaks in a robot and a spare part is needed, a secret that has been kept for years is revealed. A very strong story, and it’d be a worthy winner, but to my mind the ending is a little weak.
As for The Things by Peter Watts… I will link it, but want to place that link *AFTER* a trigger warning for any of my friends who have experienced sexual violence – and I’m afraid that that is also a spoiler for the story. EDIT – And I’ll reiterate that trigger warning – see the comment by Emily after this post. This story has a *NASTY* sting to it – one that I think works, and that is earned by the story, but that made me feel uncomfortable, and I am someone who does not get discomforted easily and who has never personally experienced anything like the events mentioned.
A reworking of The Thing (the John Carpenter film version, though anyone familiar with the 1950s film, or the short story Who Goes Here on which both were based, will get the gist of the references) told from the point of view of the monster, and even if you don’t know the source material it’s still stunningly effective, turning the body horror and paranoia about communism of the original(s) round while keeping the actual events identical to those in the film.
My ranking for these is going to be The Things, Ponies, For Want Of A Nail, Amaryllis, but the top three are all very close.