Of the 2004 Hugo Award Nominees for Best Novella, there’s only one I strongly dislike, Catherine Asaro’s “Walk in Silence” (online at Analog). You know, I’m just not interested in alien-human romances. Sorry. My notes to myself on this say “really strained attempt at genre clichés”—I believe that I meant that it was a really strained attempt at achieving what, in the end, were simply genre clichés (yes, there’s a genre of human-alien romance), but I can’t say I care enough to re-read and confirm this impression.
Walter Jon Williams’s “The Green Leopard Plague” (online at Asimov’s) is a two-threaded story, one thread about a historical researcher and her ex-lover, restored from backups after his death, and the other about the people she’s researching. I wasn’t particularly crazy about it, principally because one of the characters is very unpleasant—and meant to be, mind, but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it any better. People with less sensitivity to such things should still read this, as there are interesting things going on the worldbuilding.
Moving up my ballot, there’s a Connie Willis Christmas story (apparently she makes a practice of them?), “Just Like the Ones We Used to Know” (online at Asimov’s). The White Christmas to end all White Christmases, and its effects on a large cast of characters. Fluffy, innocuous comfort food.
My two top stories are Vernor Vinge’s “The Cookie Monster” (online at Analog) and Kage Baker’s “The Empress of Mars” (online at Asimov’s). Vinge’s story is a paranoid tale about people who know more than they ought. It’s notable for its multiple references to prior sf: Vinge appears to be riffing off of and rewriting a bunch of other stuff, including himself, explicitly in a reference I don’t recognize, and implicitly with regard to A Deepness in the Sky. It’s a very solid story, with all the skiffy goodness one expects from Vinge.
Right now, I’m leaning towards voting “The Empress of Mars” first, though I haven’t fully made up my mind. It’s a frontier story, and mixes up colorful characters, repeated snatchings of victory from the jaws of defeat, and sfnal musings on what Mars might be good for. It’s livelier and more character-centered than “The Cookie Monster,” so I’m more favorably inclined towards it, but as I said, I’m still pondering this one.