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2012 Hugos: Best Short Story

buzz
I noticed John Scalzi's challenge to his readers to read this year's Best Short Story nominees, and thought that this would be as good a day as any to get through them myself. They are all short, they are all available for free online, and three of them are very good. My preferences will be allocated as follows (in traditional reverse order of preference).

6) "The Homecoming", by Mike Resnick (PDF). The Hugo shortlists seem to feature a lot of stories about Alzheimer's, and I have never read one in the short fiction categories that was any good at all. This is no exception. From the second page, when we learn that the narrator's wife is succumbing to dementia, and that he is estranged from his visiting son because of the latter's lifestyle choices (which are the only really sfnal element here), we know where this is going to go, and it is not in the least surprising. Or, really, much good. Resnick has five Hugos out of thirty nominations for his fiction.

5) "The Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: The Dead City", by John Scalzi. This scores over the Resnick story in that it is a conscious effort to write a bad story (or, rather, a prologue to a bad unwritten novel). It doesn't quite succeed; the style is uneven (more than was intended, I think, or certainly more than could work for me), and at one point it looks like a political satire, the Night Dragons being the imaginary threat waved by the ruling classes to stay in power, but then that is undermined by the concluding paragraphs. Mixing demotic language with a High Fantasy setting is tricky; Tolkien avoided it and Zelazny tried it but did not always succeed. This story is bad and not always for the right reasons. Scalzi has four previous Hugo nominations for his fiction, and two previous wins in non-fiction categories (and the not-a-Hugo Campbell Award).

4) No Award. Has never won any Hugo fiction category as far as I know; last won a Nebula for short story in 1970.

3) "The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees", by E. Lily Yu. This story of Hymenoptera politics in rural China brought me back to my former intellectual stamping ground of science and colonialism, and has elements of reversing the allegory of Animal Farm; it has some rather nicely detailed passages, and shows signs of dry wit as well as caustic commentary. However I felt it was a bit jerky - the first three paragraphs have three different points of view, and there are a couple of other awkward transition points. Still, I unreservedly recommend that you go read it. Yu has never been nominated for any Hugo category before.

2) "The Paper Menagerie", by Ken Liu (PDF). Like the Resnick, this is a tale of familial drama, with a marginal (but significant) sfnal element; the narrator explains how he allowed himself to become estranged from his Chinese mother, who had the magical gift of making origami creatures come alive. I thought this was more honest and much less cloying than the Resnick story, daring to actually be sad. The metaphor is fairly heavy (and we never find out the names of the Chinese girls who translate the mother's words to him and to his father at crucial moments), but it's very beautifully written and captures the marginalised schoolboy very memorably. Liu has also never been nominated for any Hugo category before.

1) "Movement", by Nancy Fulda. I didn't think I had a dog in this fight, but when I saw that this story's subtitle is "A Short Story About Autism In The Future" I realised I would probably put it either top or bottom of my list. I commented above about SF not doing Alzheimer's well; the genre has a more complex relationship with autism, not only the disposable autistic child of Sarah Pinborough's Into the Silence but also some better examples. Fulda has dared to write a story from an autistic perspective about a possible cure (giving herself a little latitude by making the particular condition a fictional one), along with some nice world-building for her future setting. I thought it worked very well, and have no hesitation in putting it top of my ballot. Fulda is another first-time nominee; indeed she is the only author on this list with no entries in the Locus Awards index at all.

It is encouraging that there are three first-time nominees on this list, and that none of the three are white men.

See also: Best Dramatic Presentation.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
widgetfox
Apr. 14th, 2012 01:11 pm (UTC)
This story is bad and not always for the right reasons.

This is one of my favourite ever sentences in a review.
nwhyte
Apr. 14th, 2012 02:51 pm (UTC)
I'm a big fan of Spike's line from the last season of Buffy:

"It's like a bloody war zone up there - and not in a good way!"
gareth_rees
Apr. 14th, 2012 02:53 pm (UTC)
I see that John Scalzi is breaking new satirical ground there with his parody of Edward Bulwer-Lytton. But more to the point, doesn't the story lose 99% of the joke by being read outside the context of his original announcement?

ETA: Having read all five, I think I agree with your assessment. (I might put the Liu above the Fulda, but that's because it has more personal resonance for me.) The Resnick is just dreadful, both in its anvilicious moral, and the shoddy world-building. When Julia said, “Oh, I wish I could see him!” I thought, “If only there were some futuristic technology that allowed one to make images of things in one place and look at them in another.”

Edited at 2012-04-14 04:37 pm (UTC)
raycun
Apr. 14th, 2012 06:53 pm (UTC)
Four mehs and a facepalm for me.
Oddly enough, though I thought the Resnick was a much worse story, I found the Scalzi unreadable. Couldn't get past the 'it was very dark' bit.
I thought the ending of the wasps one was weak - I didn't understand why the new colony failed. Was it ignorance, bad luck, or the inevitable result of their chosen mode of organisation?
The paper menagerie one was okay, as a story of a second-generation immigrant etc etc and blah blah blah, but the SF element was tacked on. it would have been the same story with regular origami.
Movement I just didn't believe.
(Anonymous)
Jul. 26th, 2012 07:11 am (UTC)
My vote:

Best Short Story
1. "Movement" Nancy Fulda
2. "The Paper Menagerie" Ken Liu
3. "The Homecoming" Mike Resnick
4. "The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" E. Lily Yu
5. "Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue" John Scalzi

Alan Heuer
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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