Hugo 2017: Short Story

I think it is fair to say that the most serious damage done to a Hugo category during the Puppy campaigns (both Sad and Rabid) was to the Short Story category. No Award won in 2015 when faced with a set of stories that at best rose to the level of mediocre. Upsettingly the choice in 2016 was on average even worse, only the single (and excellent fun) ‘Cat Pictures Please’ prevented No Award from winning again. Yes, other categories had similar troubles but the short story is an important element of Science Fiction as a genre and in the history of fandom.

The boast of the Rabid Puppies was that No Award winning meant the category had somehow been burnt to the ground. Painting themselves as vandals, there was much crowing about they had managed to get nominated in 2015 and 2016 (although Chuck Tingle’s nomination backfired on them). So to 2017 and what does the nearly-Puppy free scorched Earth of a category look like? Fresh, exciting and full of difficult choices. Why it’s almost like ‘burn the category down’ was confused delusional bullshit.

Tough, tough, job ranking five of these but I’ll try! User experience may vary and I can see me changing my mind on these.

In reverse order:

7. Won’t get on the ballot: John C Wright’s walking advert for the Three Stage Voting proposal. Bad even by John C Wright’s standards. Interesting how even Wright’s sycophants aren’t praising it.

6. No Award. Making a strong case for itself as there is still some trash to take out.

5. “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” Alyssa Wong.
I did enjoy this and it would be a worthy winner but…this is a competition and it has to fight off some excellent competition. The alternative-timeline snippets make the story hard to work as a short story and it may have worked better as a longer story.

4. “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” Bo Bolander
I nominated this punchy, super short revenge story. It does a lot of work with very few words but…the very nature of it means there is not much in the way of characterisation or plot development. The cruelty of having to pick between these stories forces me into finding fault when really this story does not NEED these things – it is great as it is and expanding it would undermine its sense of anger.

3. “The City Born Great” N.K.Jemisin
I really liked this story that takes the term “urban fantasy” literally and celebrates the freaky alien monsters that so much of humanity lives in and which we call “cities”.

2. “That Game We Played During the War” Carrie Vaughan
Not a story that was on my radar and a nice find in the Hugo Packet. Almost a textbook demonstration of an effective science fiction short story – setting, character, interpersonal relationship against which wider events (a war) and science fiction concepts (one side has telepathy, the other side doesn’t) but written with a fresh perspective.

  1. “Seasons of Glass and Iron” Amal El-Mohtar
    It had a tough job against strong competition but I do think this one stood out. The story takes two elements from lesser-known fairy tales: a woman who has to live on top of a glass mountain and a woman who has to walk the earth in iron shoes until their soles are worn away. El-Mohtar captures the atmosphere of the stories but also turns them to her own purposes.

And what a great set of reads those five stories were!

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24 comments

  1. Mark

    I’m honestly not sure where I’m going to pitch my votes. JCW below NA both on merit and principle (got any more of that brain bleach?) The rest are all worthy finalists. I think Alyssa Wong continues her record of writing stories that I admire without actually liking, so she’s probably at the bottom of the rest, but apart from that I really can’t decide right now.

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      • greghullender

        It took me a while to realize that a story could be a pleasant and even interesting read and yet be incomplete or unsatisfying. Today I give those three stars instead of two, but I still don’t recommend them. In a way, this story is complete; Hannah isn’t ever going to get Melanie back, but she isn’t going to stop trying either. Given her gifts, she has condemned herself to eternal torment. That’s a rather unsatisfying way to end things, though, unless you thought she deserved it.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Lurkertype

        @greg: The thing is, Hannah thinks she deserves it, and thus the eternal torment. So even if you don’t think Hannah deserves it, it’s for sure a complete ending. Even if it’s not a happy one.

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  2. greghullender

    What’s especially heartening is that four of these stories are among the nine most-recommended short stories of the year. The odd one out is “City Born Great,” which didn’t get any significant recommendations or nominations other than the Hugo (and, of course, the Wright effort, but that’s a different story).

    There were only two finalists that I personally recommended (your top two, as it happens), but that’s okay; it shows that fans really are picking stories that were broadly popular. No single “slate” dominates the results.

    The only thing I’m a little unhappy about is that the list is so fantasy-heavy. Seven of the top eleven most-recommended stories were SF, but only one ended up a finalist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark

      I’m not going to get *too* concerned about science fiction v fantasy until it carries on for longer.
      I do think that one reason may be that there’s a bit of a surge for stories with strong allegorical elements, and those tend to be fantasy.

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      • sojournerstrange

        I feel that fantasy tends to be a broader umbrella also? From the “Star Wars is a science fantasy” perspective.

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      • Andrew M

        I do find the predominance of fantasy a bit odd. Although I’m generally more a fantasy reader than an SF reader, I’m finding that science fiction stories on this ballot are more impressive, and I wonder if that’s because science fiction fits the short format better. Science fiction is often driven by the idea of ‘suppose there were an X’, and a short story is often a good framework in which to work that out. Fantasy depends more on the whole worlds it creates or the larger narratives – which means that short fantasy often looks a bit fragmentary, so that we have several stories on this ballot which leave us going ‘so what is happening here, exactly?’.

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  3. Cora

    My own current ranking is similar to your except that I rank “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” higher and “Seasons of Glass and Iron” lower, for while I can see why so many people like this story so much, personally I found it way too predictable.

    But compared to the trashfire of the past two years, it’s wonderful to finally have nominees in this category again that would all be worthy winners (except for the JCW story).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. JJ

    I much prefer longer fiction to shorter fiction, so it’s not going to be a surprise that the Short Story category finalists are, for the most part, unsatisfying for me.

    My final ranking is:
    1. “That Game We Played During the War” by Carrie Vaughan
    This story is as good and satisfying as any short story can be (and this is high praise, coming from me).
    2. “The City Born Great” by N.K.Jemisin
    This story is interesting and reasonably enjoyable. But I swear to all the gods, if a time machine is ever invented, I will go back and kill H.P. Lovecraft in the cradle, because I am that f***ing tired of Lovecraft homages, deconstructions, and references.
    3. “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar
    I know that a lot of people love these deconstructions of traditional fairytales, but I was never really into the originals, and so deconstructions of them don’t move me in the same way that they obviously do a lot of other people. I thought this story was good, but it did not enthuse me.
    4. “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” by Alyssa Wong
    As Cam said, very promising, but not quite enough there to be truly satisfying. It could have easily taken 3rd or 2nd place if it had had a bit more to it.
    5. “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” Bo Bolander
    This one came very close to coming after NA for me. I realize that a lot of people loved it, but I just found it overdone and obvious.
    6. No Award
    7. JCW trashfire

    Liked by 2 people

    • Cora

      I agree with you on Lovecraft. Now I quite liked Lovecraft when I read him more than twenty years ago, but this constant stream of homages, deconstructions and references is wearying, even if some of them are good.

      Ditto for fairy tale retellings and deconstructions, though my issues with them are somewhat different to yours, because I grew up with those stories, the bloody originals as well as all sorts of adaptations from the amazing Czech film versions of the 1960s, 70s and 80s to Disney’s versions. As a result, a lot of modern fairy tale retellings feel lacking to me. Some are simply tonedeaf with little regard to the background these stories came from, a lot seem to be mainly reactions to Disney’s beautiful but watered down versions (which is as if the majority of Lovecraft retellings referred to Cthulhu – The Musical rather than the originals) and yet others are not nearly as clever or innovative as they think they are, especially since Czech TV often did it better thirty or forty years ago. “Seasons of Glass and Irons” is a pretty good example, the language is beautiful and evocative and its particular twist is not something that would have been possible in a Czech children’s TV show forty years ago (though some of them contain highly veiled hints in that direction). Nonetheless, I found it predictable.

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    • Andrew M

      ‘The City Born Great’ is a Lovecraft thing? I didn’t spot that.

      Yes, I don’t know why all this Lovecraft stuff is happening now. This year is the eightieth anniversary of his death, which might lead to a renewed interest in him, but that doesn’t explain why all this stuff happened last year. I thought both the Lovecraftian novellas were very good, and may well put them top, but it’s still a bit much of a muchness.

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  5. KasaObake

    I should catch up on the short story reading. The only one I’ve read is Wong’s “A Fist of Permutations…” which pretty much blew me away when I first read it. There isn’t anything she’s written that has been bad, by my standards, and she’s easily one of my favourite short fiction authors.

    So if you guys think 3-4 of the others are better then I really should get to them asap.

    Liked by 1 person

    • JJ

      KasaObake: So if you guys think 3-4 of the others are better then I really should get to them asap.

      I found “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” rather tedious, and DNFed less than halfway through (though I’ll have to try it again now that it’s a Hugo Finalist). So in my case, it may just be that Wong’s stories are not my thing.

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      • KasaObake

        Maybe! Life would be boring if we all liked the same things 🙂 just something about the themes she draws on, and the way she writes, really connects with me for some reason.

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  8. Lurkertype

    I’ve read “That Game” 3 times and still don’t see what everyone thinks is so great about it. It’s a mishmash of things I’ve seen before with a hole in the worldbuilding you can drive a truck through. Being the only SF finalist doesn’t make it better.

    I like the less-creepy Wong stories.

    Like

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