2011 Hugo Award for Best Short Story

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This year's Hugo shortlist for the Best Short Story category is rather easy to digest - there are only four nominees (presumably there was a multiple tie for fifth place among the nominations), all of them are already available online, and one of them is very short indeed; to further simplify matters I had already read one which had been nominated for the BSFA award. Since I'm spending a few days horizontal and unable to concentrate on anything of great length, I have formulated my views as follows:

4) "Amaryllis", by Carrie Vaughn. Nice enough writing style, but the plot is simply that the bloke in charge of weighing the fishing catch is cheating, against the background of a society where fertility has been restricted; I didn't spot any connection between plot and setting (perhaps there is one and I'm not alert enough to notice it right now) and didn't think the setting, which is the more interesting bit, was sufficiently developed. Not a bad story per se but three out of four BSFA nominees (and three our of four Hugo nominees) are much better.

3) "Ponies", by Kij Johnson. A brilliant, but horrible, very short story about little girls mutilating their familiar spirits as a rite of passage. On a literary level it may well be the best of the nominees (edited to add: and won the Nebula), but I somehow wasn't in the frame of mind to appreciate tales of bits being cut off defenceless creatures.

2) "The Things", by Peter Watts. I put this top of my BSFA ballot, but forgot about it when it came to Hugo nominations. It's a re-telling of John Carpenter's film The Thing from the point of view of the Thing itself, and convincingly conveys the alien entity's disgust with humanity, and its own efforts to work out what is actually going on make an effective counterpoint to the efforts of the humans to defeat it.

1) "For Want of a Nail", by Mary Robinette Kowal. A memorable story about a rogue AI which goes rogue for the best of motives, protecting its closest human friend from the ruthless euthanasia laws of his society, told from the point of view of the young relative who exposes them. I normally hate cute robots - and the fact that this one is called Cordelia did not help - but I found this a strong contrast with, say, "Amaryllis" in that plot and setting are intertwined and explored in the best sfnal tradition.

I'll be happy enough as long as "Amaryllis" doesn't win, but my vote goes to Kowal.

(Previous Hugo category write-up: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.)

Hugo novelettes

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Here are my votes for the Best Novelette category, in reverse order.

6) "Eros, Philia, Agape" by Rachel Swirsky is, unfortunately, a story about a sexy anthropomorphic robot who decides to find his soul - told from the point of view of his lover, which is original, but I still hate stories about cute robots.

5) I had formatting difficulties with Peter Watts' "The Island", and while the author deservedly gets my sympathy for his recent difficulties with the US legal system, I didn't get much out of his story; at first I did not understand what was going on, and then when I worked out that it was about a mother and her estranged son trying to avoid a collision with an intelligent Dyson sphere, I found I didn't really care, and didn't understand the ending either. (I had similar problems with his Hugo-nominated novel, Blindsight; I was obviously feeling more forgiving when I read it.)

4) "One Of Our Bastards is Missing", by Paul Cornell, concerns an attempt to kidnap a British princess from her own wedding, in a world plagued by folds in space with other dimensions easily accessible. I was a bit puzzled by some of the details (what's the relevance of the interplanetary picture painted at the start? are Prussia and Sweden Catholic countries in this timeline? perhaps explained elsewhere) but quite enjoyed the pacing.

3) "Overtime", by Charles Stross, is another in his series of stories about the Laundry, the secret but very bureaucratic British government agency dealing with the occult. It is a Christmas story for everyone who is annoyed by the recurrence of cloyingly sentimental tales by Connie Willis on the Hugo ballot: Santa Claus as eldritch horror, combined with the ghost of future office politics. Quite a long set-up but a very satisfactory payoff. (One amusing misprint - a reference to the "stationary cupboard" made me wonder about the mobile ones... Also SHAPE is not in Brussels.)

2) "Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast" by Eugie Foster - previously reviewed here. (Won the Nebula.)

1) "It Takes Two", by Nicola Griffith: it took me about halfway through this story about a Californian businesswoman who has an unexpectedly wild experience at a strip club in Atlanta to work out what the sfnal element actually was. But then I felt the story paid off immensely - a really tangled tale of what happens when you let people mess with your brain, and whether or not you can trust your own emotions. Held my attention all the way.

Previous Hugo roundups: Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Graphic Story

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