2004 Hugo Award Nominees: Short Story

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):

  1. “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.

  2. “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.
  3. “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.
  4. “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.
  5. “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.

9 Comments

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  1. Having now read the stories, I think your rankings are pretty much on, save that I’d put the Gaiman higher and the bird-ship lower (because it’s a bit too redolent of those Anne McCaffrey brain-ship books).

    That Burstein story is cloying and irritating, in its “Oh, here in the distant future, we don’t have technology like they had in 2000, about which I’ll spend all my time writing in detail” way.

  2. Re: the Gaiman–I forget, how much Holmes have you read? Chad read it and his reaction was that he was missing a joke.

    I rather suspect Gaiman’s story will win because he’s got name recognition if nothing else. It’s very well done, certainly.

    The Burstein–I skimmed over all that looking for the punchline, which I thought was terrible, but you’re right, the tedious detail about web page design and AOL accounts really is irritating, isn’t it?

    I should say that I ended up voting the last two below “No Award.” (I also put “Hexagons” in Novelette, and “Walk in Silence” in Novella, below “No Award.”)

  3. I’ve read a good chunk of Holmes, some omnibussy sort of thing that collected a few dozen(?) stories. But it was a while ago, and I’m no Holmes nut or anything. But yeah, if you’d read nothing, you’d miss a lot of the story.

    (Also, before the last commen, I hadn’t read the Resnick, on the basis that the Burstein was bad, and if that was WORSE, well. I think it’s actually better, though: It’s very generic and derivative, but at least it’s well-written. But below “No Award” sounds right.)

  4. I think Burstein & Resnick may be in that order because I read them alphabetically. I don’t recall for certain, and I wouldn’t fuss about switching the order.

  5. I ranked the Levine *much* lower. The setting, and such locutions as “Sir and Master”, lead me to view it as daring to be a Cordwainer Smith pastiche – and of course it fails.

  6. Paul: I am a philistine who hasn’t read any Cordwainer Smith, so I thought it was swell. May I ask what you ended up putting first?

  7. I put the Gaiman first, because it was so well done, but Haldeman made it a tough choice. Stepping away from the ballot, I think the prevalence of pastiches (including self-pastiches like the Resnick) and deeply referential stories (like Burstein’s and Vinge’s) is a sign of a certain decadence in the field. I know this lament has been made often before – but “Just being paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you”. Cordwainer Smith has been in and out of print; I was lucky enough to catch one of the times; as with Avram Davidson. He is now published in full by NESFA, and his daughter has a website.

  8. Paul: re: decadence: would you also call _Ilium_ a symptom, or the Gaiman pastiche for that matter–or is it just good literary technique if the original is old enough to be out of copyright? Sorry, that came out snarkier than I intended. I guess it’s a line I’m not comfortable drawing, or a formulation I don’t find useful. (Also, I fixed your typo.)

  9. I do find the Gaiman part of the symptom – SF cannibalizing on what it has done before. (I regret to note that Lovecraft, unlike Doyle, is not out of copyright, and will not be; thank Sonny Bono and the suits he represented for that.) I should repeat that I liked the Gaiman all the same; I voted it first because it was so well done; but I do feel it may well be part of SF drying up. I am not at all comfortable talking about decadence – but I think there is evidence pointing that way. I dislike Simmons for other reasons; Ilium chiefly because I did read it when it first came out – and when I looked it up for the Hugo vote, I had forgotten I’d seen it before. However, I find his general practice of riffing on some one mainstream classic to be thin and unwarranted pretentiousness – your mileage may vary. Part of this, I think, is that I’ve read Homer; and I loved Keats before I’d read half of SF, even then.

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