I’ve read and reviewed all of the 2020 Hugo Short Story finalists and it is quite a bundle of talent but also a bit of a nightmare to rank them. Here they are unranked to begin with:
- “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons September 9 2019) <- Nebula finalist, which I reviewed here: https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2020/03/06/nebula-shorts-shiv-ramdas-and-now-his-lordship-is-laughing/
- “As the Last I May Know”, S.L. Huang (Tor.com October 23 2019) reviewed here https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2020/04/17/hugo-shorts-as-the-last-i-may-know-s-l-huang/
- “Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, Rivers Solomon (Tor.com July 24 2019) reviewed here https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2020/04/21/hugo-shorts-blood-is-another-word-for-hunger-rivers-solomon/
- “A Catalog of Storms” by Fran Wilde (Uncanny January-February 2019) <- Nebula Finalist, which I reviewed here: https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2020/03/12/nebula-shorts-fran-wilde-a-catalog-of-storms/
- “Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies January 2019) reviewed here https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2020/04/19/hugo-shorts-do-not-look-back-my-lion-alix-e-harrow/
- “Ten excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, Nibedita Sen (Nightmare May 2019) <- Nebula Finalist which I reviewed here https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2020/03/10/nebula-shorts-nibedita-sen-ten-excerpts-from-an-annotated-bibliography-on-the-cannibal-women-of-ratnabar-island/
Some of the best writing isn’t in the stories I enjoyed the most and there is an overall consistency in quality but no single standout story for me. The downside of that is that easiest way to distinguish the stories is to focus on what didn’t work for me. Prognosticating who will win is a thankless task: I’ve no idea – it could be any one of these. The result will be down to which one clicked with people more than others.
- “Ten excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, Nibedita Sen. I think I’ve made clear how much I love stories that play with structure and form and this is another great example. As nothing is ever confirmed and every claim about events is distanced by quotes about accounts about stories, the sense of mystery is heightened.
- “Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, Rivers Solomon. A despairing fever dream of a story that somehow works its way around to comfort and hope. I didn’t think I liked this story and then by the end I loved it.
- “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, Shiv Ramdas. Maybe the story with the simplest narrative. It has the style of a 1950s magazine short, a simple tale simply told leading to a punchy end. You could imagine it as an episode on classic TV anthology series, (except for the specific historical setting not being something that the Twilight Zone etc would engage with).
- “Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, Alix E. Harrow. I don’t know, maybe this should be number 1 [holds up hands in exasperation at trying to rank these stories]. I’d pay good money for the novel this is the Chapter 1 of.
- “As the Last I May Know”, S.L. Huang. Beautifully written but right now I’m not ready for the sadness of this story.
- “A Catalog of Storms” , Fran Wilde. Arguably this is the best piece of writing craft in the list. However the pieces of it and the setting just never clicked for me. I didn’t feel part of this world of malign weather. If this one wins I’ll happily applaud it.
I could easily come up with a rational for any other ranking here. Maybe “Cannibal Women” isn’t SF/F enough (there’s a credible argument as all the weird elements are second or third hand) and maybe “Now His Lordship” isn’t twisty enough? Maybe “Blood is Another Word for Hunger” is just a bit TOO much! I don’t know!
Overall? I could have done with at least one story with a bit more humour. Last year we had “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” and “…the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters…”. However, I’d struggle to pick out a story in the six we have that would need to go. Of the Nebula finalists this year, I would have liked to see “How the Trick Is Done” by A.C. Wise on the ballot.