2009 Hugo Nominees: Short Stories

April 26, 2009 at 12:15 am | Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Short Stories | 3 Comments
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Continuing my commentaries on this year’s short fiction nominees, let’s take a quick look at the Hugo awards.  As I said in my post on Nebula nominees, I usually can’t get into short stories.  This group?  Well, not bad.  Nothing amazing, but nothing dire, so that’s better than some previous years.  There are no spoilers in my remarks.

26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s) — This was also nominated for the Nebulas so I’ve already talked about it.  Basically one of these fantasy stories that’s an exercise in style more than anything else.  This is nice enough reading but not a compelling story.

Article of Faith by Mike Resnick (Baen’s Universe) — It wouldn’t be a Hugo ballot without a horrendous short story, and here it is.  For the life of me I can’t imagine how this could have been considered award-worthy.  I think there need to be more SF stories that seriously examine religion rather than merely dismiss it, but this…this gives the religious SF story a bad name.

Evil Robot Monkey by Mary Robinette Kowal (Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, volume 2) — An unusally short story that despite being short manages to have a bit more to say than the other nominated monkey story.  Like basically any story of this length, it has one thing to say.  It does a pretty good job saying it.  I don’t think that’s really award-worthy, though.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two) — If you’ve read Chiang’s other work (and you should have), this doesn’t actually break any new ground.  He uses a marvelous bit of world-building as the vehicle for his further reflections on the meaning of life.  I say it doesn’t break any new ground because the philosophy here is very much in the vein of “Story of Your Life” and “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”.  Like basically all of Chiang’s work, “Exhalation” is fascinating and compelling.

From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled by Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s) — Out of all the nominees this one is the most traditionally structured story, which these days is somewhat rare for this length (of course it just barely slides in under the novellette wire length-wise).  The world was interesting and the writing was effective.  In fact, pretty much everything was great except the story actually being told, which wasn’t all that interesting to me.  Unfortunately I exalt plot over other things so this left me feeling vaguely disgruntled, but it’s worth still worth reading.

As I expecting going in, the Chiang story was my favorite, with Swanwick’s a somewhat distant second.  That’s two more stories than I typically like on a Hugo short story ballot, so all in all it seems like a good year.

2008 Nebula Nominees: Novelettes

April 14, 2009 at 2:10 am | Posted in Short Stories | Leave a comment
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The novelette length is much more to my taste than short stories, so it’s no surprise that as with previous years I found a lot more to like here.  As before there are no spoilers in my comments.

The Ray-Gun: A Love Story by James Alan Gardner (Asimov’s) — As with so many stories these days it’s written in that slightly effected, beating you with the charm stick folksy narration.  But Gardner does a good job with it.  This stands or falls based on the character portrait it is painting, and that is done quite well.  Unfortunately, I didn’t buy the ending (to the main character’s story)…too out of nowhere, not enough (any?) evidence in the story up to that point.   But the main character was done well enough I can forgive that.

Dark Rooms by Lisa Goldstein (Asimov’s) — A very strangely structured story.  Although it’s basically a fictionalized biography of a real early filmmaker, the plot and dramatic arc concerns the underwritten narrator.  Since the point of the story is the focus on the filmmaker, I didn’t really care much about the narrator, which completely sabotaged any interest in the story itself.  The fantastic element that stamped it into genre felt unnecessary and even out of place in what was really a biography.

If Angels Fight by Richard Bowes (F&SF) — Unusual paranormal story, but even though this is novelette length and full of seemingly authentic details about life in upper class Massachusetts, the whole thing feels kind of insubstantial.  There’s really only one idea here, so it feels like a short story padded out to a longer length.

Pride and Prometheus by John Kessel (F&SF) — Jane Austen meets Frankenstein.  I’m not very familiar with either, but I enjoyed the story.  I’m not sure that in the end the story really says anything the original Frankenstein didn’t already, but it was engaging.

Kaleidoscope by K.D. Wentworth (F&SF) — I’m always accusing short fiction of being mere vignettes, and this is a great example of that.  The central idea here, perception of alternate universes, is pretty neat.  There isn’t much a plot, though, and the resolution is unconvincing and feels unearned.  The feel of the main part of the story is interesting enough to be worth it, but I wish this worked better as an actual story.

Baby Doll by Johanna Sinisalo [translated from Finnish by David Hackston] (The SFWA European Hall of Fame) — I suppose this is science fiction, but it’s a story that would be at home in a mainstream anthology and it feels like horror.  It’s basically an extended “kids these days” rant that ties in a very ugly anticipated youth culture from 2015 with a fairly standard school story.  While I think there’s a lot of disturbing trends in the way kids act and are marketed to I found the extrapolation to be a little overwrought.  Having this come via translation from Finland was helpful, since I didn’t know what of the slang and culture was invented and what is already current there.  (Note my link for this story is to an anthology that collected it…”Baby Doll” is the first story.)

I couldn’t find Mary Rosenblum’s “Night Wind” online, so I can’t speak for that one.  Of the ones I did read, “The Ray Gun: A Love Story” was my favorite despite the weakness of the ending.  “Baby Doll” and “Pride and Prometheus” were also quite good.

2008 Nebula Nominees: Short Stories

April 14, 2009 at 1:30 am | Posted in Short Stories | Leave a comment

I’ve been doing more writing than reading lately, but I thought I would post links and capsule reviews for the Nebula nominees available online.  Most of these links will be dead soon, since the Nebulas will be awarded in about two weeks, so act fast if you want to read them.

As usual, I wasn’t too thrilled with the short stories.  My thoughts have no spoilers this year.

The Button Bin by Mike Allen (Helix) — Horror story in second person.  I’m not overly fond of either of those, and this was no exception.

Don’t Stop by James Patrick Kelley (Asimov’s) — Effectively written mood piece but the central idea isn’t all that interesting, nor is the “plot” and theme.

26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s) — A pleasantly strange story told in a friendly, elegant style.  Reminded me a little bit of Kelly Link.  Still basically a mood piece on the “encounter with the fantastic” template, but it’s very well written and has a nice ending.

The Tomb Wife by Gwyneth Jones (F&SF) — Interesting little story about a haunted tomb being transported by a spaceship to a museum.  The twist didn’t work for me, but that’s probably partially my fault for not quite following the physics and philosophy of the story.

Mars: A Traveler’s Guide by Ruth Nestvold (F&SF) — Cool gimmick makes the story worth reading even though after the first few paragraphs the rest of it is very obvious.

The other two nominees, Jeffrey Ford’s “The Dreaming Wind” and Nina Hoffman’s “Trophy Wives” are not available online, at least in text form.  There are podcast versions, but while I listen to enormous amounts of non-fiction in my car I can’t stand listening to fiction.

Out of the ones I read, Tomb Wife was my favorite, but really it only barely edges out my old standby “No Award”.

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