In contrast to the Novelette category, it’s quite easy for me to rank the 2004 Hugo Award Nominees for Best Short Story. To prove it, here they are (apologies; I’m very tired but want to get this done tonight):
- “The Tale of the Golden Eagle,” by David D. Levine (online at Fantasy & Science Fiction). Voice, characters, and plot, all in a little gem of a story.
This is a story about a bird. A bird, a ship, a machine, a woman — she was all these things, and none, but first and fundamentally a bird.
It is also a story about a man — a gambler, a liar, and a cheat, but only for the best of reasons.
No doubt you know the famous Portrait of Denali Eu, also called The Third Decision, whose eyes have been described as “two pools of sadness iced over with determination.” This is the story behind that painting.
It is a love story. It is a sad story. And it is true.
- “Four Short Novels,” by Joe Haldeman (online at Fantasy & Science Fiction). Each start with, “Eventually it came to pass that no one ever had to die”—unless. There’s always an “unless,” isn’t there? Sharp variations on a theme.
- “A Study in Emerald,” by Neil Gaiman (online at the author’s web site). Written for an anthology called Shadows over Baker Street, this is a tale set in a world that, seven hundred years before Sherlock Holmes’ time, was conquered by the Lovecraftian gods. I enjoyed this quite a bit, but it’s not fully accessible to people not familiar with the Holmes canon. This isn’t to the story’s overall discredit, considering the audience it was written for, but it does bump it down on my list for an award.
- “Paying It Forward,” by Michael A. Burstein (online at Analog). Overly sentimental with dubious-sounding quantum mechanics. I’d respect it more if it were fantasy.
- “Robots Don’t Cry,” by Mike Resnick (online at Asimov’s). Robots don’t cry, but one wants to. Haven’t we done this before?
Note:: If you’d like other people’s opinions on any of these categories, Nicholas Whyte has a very useful mega-meta-review.