Monday 10 July 2017

Hugos 2017 — Short Stories

This year’s shortlist of short stories is varied, offering a plethora of interesting and diverse work. Almost all of these stories are worthy of winning a Hugo — this was a difficult category in which to pick a favourite nominee.

The most perplexing nominee — A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa
We found Wong's work
more perplexing than
Image via 
Wong — is a frenetic time-hopping story about a girl and her sister who have magical (electrical?) powers. The story may be about suicide, or it may be about the end of the world. There’s very little overall narrative thread to hold onto.

In portions of the text, it feels like Wong is stringing words together into paragraphs without the traditional intermediary step of sentences. We can appreciate the artfulness of this style of writing, but it is not to our tastes.

Brooke Bolander’s Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies is a short story about an incorporeal being that takes human form, is murdered, and then returns for revenge. There was some debate amongst members of the book club about whether the protagonist is an alien energy being, a spirit, or an angel. Although the language is entertaining, the story is extremely thin. There just isn’t enough substance to the story to vote for it.

An Unimaginable Light is probably the best John C. Wright story that we’ve read — in no small part because it’s based around a couple of interesting notions about the ability of robots to interpret Asimov’s Three Laws in ways that their creators never intended. Although the ‘twist’ ending seems to come out of nowhere, that ending is at least built around an interesting idea concerning what it means to be human.
Perennial Hugo nominee
John C. Wright's story is
built around an interesting
idea, but his prose is too
didactic for our tastes. 

That being said, Wright’s slightly didactic prose and aggressive thesaurus use isn’t to our taste, nor is the way he seems to delight in the sexual degradation of one of the characters. This won’t be at the top of our ballot, but we can understand why some fans chose to nominate it.

For us, there were three very different works vying for the top of our Hugo ballots: Seasons of Glass and Iron, That Game We Played During the War and The City Born Great.

The City Born Great by N.K. Jemisin is an interesting urban fantasy that is partway between Jane Jacobs and Jim Butcher. The theme of potential and the metaphor of birth speak to a hopefulness that was uplifting.

But for some of our book club members, The City Born Great wasn’t didactic enough. N.K. Jemisin’s story of a youth becoming the magical avatar of a city seemed to be working toward a grand statement about the death and life of great American cities (or something similar), but never really committed itself to an idea about urbanism. There’s no indication in the story about the forces that the youth is struggling against and the ending left some of us wanting a bit more meaning to the work.

In Seasons of Glass and Iron, Amal El-Mohtar weaves together two Norwegian folk tales into a story of empowerment and problem solving. An Ottawa-based poet, El-Mohtar’s dexterously uses
El-Mohtar deconstructs
Norwegian Folk Tales
in interesting ways.
Image via Blue Fairy Book
illustrated by H.J.Ford
& G.P.Jacomb Hood, 1889
language to draw readers into a rustic mythology and to interrogate the assumptions of the folk tales she’s playing with. Her two protagonists are given motivations and personalities, and instead of needing some prince to save them, the two women save each other from their curses.

This is a very likable short story with some depth, offers a satisfying conclusion, and might bear re-reading.

Out of all of the nominees, That Game We Played During The War by Carrie Vaughn is the one that we found the most enjoyable to read. It’s a clear, straightforward story about former prisoners of war from two very different factions finding common ground after a long-running conflict. Vaughn’s tale feels like something out of the golden age of SF — concise, spare, and precise in its language. The relationship between the two central characters is touching and thoughtful.

She leavens the story with observations about cultural understandings and misunderstandings, as well as some interesting notions about how telepathy might influence a society.

The medium of the short story is a particularly difficult one to master; balancing brevity with profundity and balancing artfulness with clarity are not easy tasks. Three nominees this year achieved a level of excellence that is worth celebrating.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this - it was pleasantly surprising to discover That Game We Played During the War is available online for free. It is indeed a good tale.