Hugo Blogging: “Best” Short Story

All the stories in this year’s Hugo nominations for the Best Short Story award are there because they were on one or both of two overlapping slates. Not only do I believe that slates are wrong in themselves in an award like this, as they distort the voting process, but the two slates themselves were put together for reasons I cannot agree with. The more prominent slate, the “Sad Puppies”, which had less effect, was put together by someone who is merely extremely unpleasant, to promote a point of view, both aesthetic and political, with which I strongly disagree. The other slate, the “Rabid Puppies”, which had more effect, was put together by a vile shitsmear whose expressed political and social views are so evil as to resist caricature, and who put it together with the aim of personal gain.

As a result, I do not believe a single story on the ballot is on there legitimately, and so I will be ranking No Award at the top of the list.

I would perhaps have some ethical qualms about this, were any of the nominated stories any good. However, happily, they range from merely not-very-good to outright abysmal. I shall rank the stories below No Award as follows:

Totaled by Kary English. This story is not in any way bad. It’s also, however, not in any way *good*, either. Were it in an anthology I read, I’d read through the story and forget it immediately, maybe remembering “the brain-in-a-jar one” if prodded enough. Perfectly competently put together, but with no new ideas, no interesting characters, and no real reason for existing. Certainly not Hugo-worthy.

A Single Samurai by Steve Diamond is included in The Baen Big Book of Monsters, which Baen, following their normal policy, have provided in its entirety. This utterly mediocre story is done no favours at all by its proximity to stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Bloch, and Henry Kuttner. A mixture of macho nonsense like “Pain is nothing. It is simply a feeling, like hunger, or worry. It can be tolerated and banished with proper discipline. There are demons that live off that pain, that thrive off their victims succumbing to it. So I feel no pain. I do not just ignore it, for that implies a recognition that it was there to begin with.” combined with the Japan-fetishism that seems endemic in US geek circles. I suppose of its type it’s not utterly terrible, but its type is stories about manly men being manly.

The Parliament of Beasts and Birds by John C Wright is one of several entries published by Castalia House, the vanity project run by “Vox Day”, the human shitstain mentioned above. Mr. Wright clearly *desperately* wants to be C.S. Lewis, and equally clearly is about as far from Lewis in talent and basic moral thought as one can get. This is meant to be a fable, so has no real characterisation, and is written competently enough, but in a cliched pseudo-Aesop style without any inventiveness to it. Any impact the story might have is dependent on accepting Mr Wright’s rather horrible version of fundamentalist Christianity as literally true. As I don’t accept it, the effect of the story is simply boredom.

On The Spiritual Plain by Lou Antonelli may be, on the pure sentence level, the single worst-written story by an apparent professional I’ve ever read. Every sentence is a simple declarative sentence, such as “Joe made a gesture of helplessness.”
Note that Mr Antonelli does not describe what gesture this may be. “A gesture of helplessness” is apparently enough. Not only that, but the story is appallingly copy-edited, with lines like “Was Joe McDonald the first human die [sic] on Ymilas?”, and with numerals used instead of numbers written as words.
The plot itself is the bog-standard “human priest unsure about his own faith goes to alien world where tenets of his faith are provable” nonsense that the Puppies like so much.

And Turncoat by Steve Rzasa is from an anthology edited and published by “Day”, and is a sequel to a novel “Day” co-wrote with Rzasa. It is full of literally unreadable things like “Targets, plural. To be precise, there are four of them, Hermes-class corvettes, two hundred meters, bristling with sensors and loaded with 400 torpedoes between them. The Ascendancy has
manufactured eight hundred ninety six of them over the last 103 years and 648 are still in service. There will be 644 presently.”

That kind of info-dumping continues throughout the whole thing. Just look at the lack of craft in there. The way it switches between numerals and numbers written as words, with no apparent reason for the change except laziness, is a particularly nice touch. As for the plot, well, it’s a bunch of anti-transhumanism from a reactionary Christian perspective dressed up as a story, with a “twist” that implies that people in a far-distant posthuman future will still hold the same opinions about historical figures who are only known or cared about in the USA that modern-day USians currently hold. Wretched.

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5 Responses to Hugo Blogging: “Best” Short Story

  1. Christian Taylor says:

    I’d considered starting a movement to flood the Bram Stoker awards with purple prose and unilateral racism: “The Sad Guppies.”

    But it seemed to much work for a cheap Lovecraft joke.

  2. Army Sergeant says:

    You’re unfair to Turncoat, at least. It’s a pretty interesting read about the morality of post-humanism, even if you’re not a Reactionary Christian.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      No, it’s a tedious, badly-written pile of wank with slightly less moral complexity than the Beano. It’s small-minded, dull-witted, pap, and I don’t know what would make me think worse of the author — that he was capable of better but lazy enough to think that this would do, or that he was genuinely this incompetent even when trying his best.
      This is a work that has been put forward for a major award. It’s an award whose previous winners include The Star by Clarke, Flowers For Algernon, “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman, I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, and The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. THOSE are well-written stories, with moral complexity.
      Turncoat, on the other hand, is entirely made up of paragraphs like:
      “Eight point nine decaseconds later, the Hermes-class corvette ATSV Swiftsure rolls onto its belly and opens fire with twin 100 mm projectile cannons at a range of ninety kilometers from its closest companion. At such range the hyper-accelerated bolts of metal shred the second ship’s hull. The second ship returns fire with a set of 12 cm lasers that cut perfectly straight swathes of armor plating from
      Swiftsure. Atmospheric gases spray out of the violated hull in glittering white streams.”

      That something as inept as that story got published at all shows a glaring lack of judgment on the part of its publisher/editor. That that publisher/editor then went on to force it onto the Hugo ballot, thus implicitly stating that it deserves comparison with those other works, is an insult to Clarke, le Guinn, Ellison, Blackwood, and every other author over a period of many decades who has attempted to improve their craft and to say something of value.

      It’s not merely bad, it’s the kind of bad story that is only written by someone who has no idea what a good story is. It’s not someone attempting to write something good and failing, but someone just spewing words without a thought as to craft, coherence, or theme. It’s offensive, not in a political sense, but in the sense that it reads like a calculated insult to all writers who make an effort, and in that the writing itself offends my sensibilities.

      So no, I don’t think I was unfair to it. In fact, by limiting the length of this post, I was far too kind to it, because my review may have given the impression that it was merely bad, rather than the wretched awfulness it really is.

  3. Pingback: Sad Puppies? Or Eye of Argon? | Dave M. Strom: author of Holly Hansson, superheroine & writer

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