It’s the fourth of my Hugo roundup series, which means it’s time to tackle the most compact fiction categoru: Short Story. Like Novelettes, I don’t read a huge amount at this length over my ordinary course of reading, and for 2018 I deliberately chose not to push myself to read intensively during the nomination period simply for the sake of having things to put on the ballot. This meant that I hadn’t read any of the finalists before the finalists were announced, though I’d certainly heard about most of them). The lovely thing about short fiction is that this state of ignorance can be rectified within hours, rather than days! Moreover, this was a fun, wide-ranging list to catch up on.
Once again, my absolute rating system is:
- Meh Tier: There’s people out there who think it was one of the best things written last year. Sadly, I’m not one of them.
- Good Tier: There’s people out there who think this was one of the best things written last year, and I get why they think that (but I don’t agree).
- Great Tier: There’s people out there who think this was one of the best things written last year, and they have good taste.
- Awesome Tier: There’s people out there who think this was one of the best things written last year, and they are 100% objectively correct.
- Everyone Else Go Home: This is one of the best things written, ever.
Adri’s Best Short Story Hugo Rankings 2018
6. “Carnival Nine” by Caroline Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2017). I might have made a mistake when naming this category because, like the novelette I ranked here, this is a pretty infuriating read, rather than one which provoked indifference in me. It’s set in a toytown-esque world where everyone gets “built” out of spare parts and lives for mere hundreds of days, allocated a certain number of “turns” in their wind-up mechanism each day, and follows a main character who gets lots of turns but ends up having to raise a son who gets almost nothing. Clearly this is intended to be a meditation on disability and care – the parallels with the spoon theory are pretty straightforward – but it doesn’t do anything with those ideas beyond saying “doesn’t it suck to have to give up your life to care for someone else, while other people avoid their responsibilities and do cool stuff?” There’s no hope, no climax to the struggle, no event that causes the protagonist to change perspective on her own life beyond passively accepting it. I didn’t appreciate this as a story and I certainly didn’t appreciate it as a commentary on disability. (Story Link)
5. “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” by Fran Wilde (Uncanny, Sep-Oct 2017). This is a beautifully written, short (even for the category) piece which I didn’t really understand. Someone is taking a tour through something that is an exhibit of curiosities but might also be the narrator’s inhuman body, and also the bodies of all of us? The narration is full of beautifully described oddities and instructions to the audience (this is second person narration) that indicate the show is provoking change in its fictional viewer as well: through viewing what would once have been called a freak show, we have taken a little of the freakishness away with ourselves. It’s impressively written, and I do love me some Fran Wilde (The Jewel and her Lapidary was my top choice for novelette last year) but even on a second read it felt like there was some key to this story I just couldn’t grasp. (Story Link)
4. “The Martian Obelisk” by Linda Nagata (Tor.com, July 19, 2017). A woman on earth is remote piloting the construction of a monument on Mars, after disasters have wiped out the Martian colonies. The Earth is becoming uninhabitable too, so basically everything is futile and everyone is going to die, so why not spend your life on IRL Martian Minecraft? The story is highly atmospheric and provoked strong emotions in me, although ultimately it was all a little bit predictable and didn’t leave me with much to say. I really need to read some of Nagata’s longer fiction some day, though. (Story Link)
3. “Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon (Uncanny, May-Jun 2017). No ballot would be complete without Vernon’s blend of practical heroics and agricultural expertise, and this year we get the story of a farm boy who discovers his grandmother’s old sword and the three ancient fighting spirits bound to it, who naturally expect him to make a career switch he has no interest in. I have to say, this story feels more like solid Vernon rather than outstanding Vernon, but she’s a great author and one who I believe has a large following among Hugo voters in particular (well justified on last year’s Novelette acceptance speech alone, never mind the high quality fiction), so I’m not surprised it’s found its way here and I enjoyed it very much. (Story Link)
2. “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience” by Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex, Aug 2017). I have to admit I didn’t “get” this story on the first read, but it stuck with me for much longer than anything else. The narrator is a Native American who works for a virtual reality company selling “Indian experiences” to tourists who usually want half naked medicine men taking them on drug-infused journeys to meet their spirit animals (well, that or exotic sex). The narrator clearly doesn’t identify with any of this stuff, but finds himself drawn into the scheme of a repeat customer who somehow ends up causing him to question his own identity. It was definitely a “delayed release” story for me: the ending felt almost anticlimactic but I was left thinking about its messaging on authenticity and culture for a long time afterwards, and I’ve finished up with a great deal of appreciation for this dark, understated tale. (Story Link)
1. “Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie Min Prasad (Uncanny, Sep-Oct 2017). The story of a 1950s robot, sentient through a fluke in programming that has never been repeated, who escapes its rather boring life in the museum by becoming active in an anime fandom. I loved everything about this story, from the robot aesthetics – Computron is literally a box with claws attached, who has to type by holding two sticks and pressing the keys one at a time – to the very subtle way its discovery of community is portrayed. Prasad usesh a mixture of third person narration, e-mails and fanfic descriptions (complete with comment numbers) to really evoke the aesthetic of online fandom, making the emotional resonance feel more plausible with anyone familiar with the field. It’s not a saccharine story by any means (Computron doesn’t even feel human emotions!) but it quietly took hold of my heart while I was reading and I caught myself going “awww” out loud by the time I got to the end. (Story Link)
What I think will win: I have even less idea than usual. Roanhorse’s story won the Nebula award and Nagata’s took the Locus, but I wonder if the voting community that gave Cat Pictures, Please the win two years ago will share my affection for Fandom for Robots? Also, I mentioned in my novelette prediction that I’d like to predict an AI sweep, so that settles it: I’m staking my utterly non-existent reputation as a Hugo pundit on Prasad’s win.
My nominations: Nothing in this category. I sometimes wish I were a more short fiction oriented reader, but I’m not doing any better at keeping up this year, so I think that’s a resolution that will have to wait until I run out of novels to read…