5) One has to start pruning somewhere though, and Elizabeth Hand's "The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon", though itself a nice characterful story, is only barely sf; it's really about some present-day employees of the Smithsonian setting up an elaborate stunt to cheer up a dying colleague. There is a counterfactual backstory - the Bellerophon of the title is a pre-Wright Brothers aeroplane, most records of which have been lost - and a mysterious event at the end which may (or may not) have an sfnal explanation. But it doesn't really pass the "what I point to" test which I would generally require of a Hugo winner.
4) "Troika" by Alastair Reynolds has a great concept - cosmonauts investigating a Big Dumb Object, and a well-executed sting in the tail about the reliability of the narrator. But I was irritated by the Russian setting; although the story nominally takes place in the middle of this century, the technology and politics felt very like Western perceptions of the Cold War Soviet Union to me, and indeed Reynolds has his future Russia reverted to Communism and, even more improbably, enjoying a monopoly of spaceflight - even if the Americans and Europeans should for some reason give it up, I can't really see the Chinese doing the same. So, good marks for the non-human bits, less so for the human bits.
3) Rachel Swirsky's "The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath The Queen's Window" won the Nebula this year, making her the youngest winner of the award since Ted Chiang in 1990 and the first winner of either Hugo or Nebula to have been born in the 1980s. I liked the story though I wasn't blown away by it. The core idea again is great, the narrator being a woman in a vaguely High Fantasy society who is killed on the second page and is then repeatedly reincarnated by a series of future savants with varying motives and decreasing knowledge of her real background. I felt the execution was a bit disjointed and sometimes a little flat, but obviously the Nebula voters took a different view.
2) Geoffrey Landis' "The Sultan of the Clouds" is very colourful - oligarchs and revolutionary pirates operating out of airships in the middle atmosphere of Venus, with the eponymous Sultan's sekrit plan being one of globe-spanningly breath-taking audacity. The narrator's difficulties in coping with the reactions of his colleague (and ex-lover) to the unfamiliar sexual politics of Venusian society are also convincing, if not always comfortable. It's a bit steampunkish, which will put some readers off though I don't mind if it is well enough executed, as is the case here.
1) I'm frankly astonished that Ted Chiang's The Lifecycle of Software Objects didn't win the Nebula. (Originally published separately so counts as a May Book for my log.) Chiang's few stories are always memorable; this one is about intelligent software pets, and the human owners who become fascinated with them, and how changing circumstances - both the shift in fashionability and power of online environments and the altered circumstances of the humans in them. It is really poignant and will ring very true for anyone who's been online for more than five years, anyone who has children, and anyone who is interested about reading about either of those experiences. Charles Stross summed it up well as "that very rare thing: a science fictional novel of ideas that delivers a real human impact" and I think that whatever wins the Hugo, this is the one story from all three of the short fiction lists of 2011 that will be remembered for many years to come.
Previous Hugo category write-ups: Best Novelette, Best Short Story, Best Dramatic Presentation - Long Form, Best Dramatic Presentation - Short Form.