2009 Hugo Nominees: Short Fiction

I am voting in the Hugos this year, but am hugely behind in my reading and not very enthusiastic about much of the ballot. So I have allowed myself to not read things and to stop reading things I’m not enjoying, because seriously, life is too short.

Here are brief comments on the short fiction categories (Short Story, Novelette, and Novella). Stories are listed in my order of preference. I’ve got a list of all review links that I can find over on LiveJournal.


  • Robert Reed’s “Truth” (online). I thought this was good. A claustrophobic chilling explicitly post-September 11th story, it has a brillant central idea and is well written. I think the many-worlds stuff is superfluous, however.
  • “The Tear” by Ian McDonald (in the anthology Galactic Empires). Far future space opera told by rotating through various personalities of the narrator. It has shiny SF stuff and is certainly ambitious, but the prose is occasionally too thick, and I find unsatisfying what the story eventually collapses down to.
  • Nancy Kress’s “The Erdmann Nexus” (online). A competent but not very gripping story set on Earth, mostly in a nursing home, about its elderly residents beginning to change. (As a side note, when Chad’s book comes out, I can wave it around in front of authors and say, “look, quantum eraser experiments do not require consciousness!”)
  • “True Names,” by Benjamin Rosenbaum & Cory Doctorow (online). Self-consciously SF 301 (or higher) and accordingly a lot of work. All the characters are computer programs, or rather instances of a small set of programs and therefore share names, and it’s just full of stuff. I found it hard to get into, and then it turned out to be a kind of story that I just don’t care about.

Did not finish: “The Political Prisoner,” Charles Coleman Finlay (online). I got halfway through and said, “You know, if I wanted to read about Soviet-style backstabbing and gulags and other such grimy, grinding unpleasantness, I could just re-read The Cardinal of the Kremlin or something.”


  • “The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner (online). A MacGuffin story with a wry voice and a look at what the MacGuffin does to a person’s life and what a person does with their life in response, which is after all the point of a MacGuffin story. Occasionally a little too cute, but enjoyable as a whole.
  • “Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel (online) A Pride and Prejudice / Frankenstein crossover, from Mary Bennett’s point of view. The thing is, the best fanfic gives me a shock of recognition and insight into the source works; this draws parallels but never makes me feel like I see the sources fresh.
  • “The Gambler” by Paolo Bacigalupi (online). Well, it’s less unpleasant than “Yellow Card Man”, but it’s heavy-handed and didactic. Also its immigrant voice occasionally makes me wonder (would a Buddhist think that something was “as though a bodhisattva has come down from heaven,” for instance?).

    Note to bloggers: I have seen multiple people say that the protagonist is from Vietnam. He is not. He is from Laos. There is more than one country in Southeast Asia.

Did not read: “Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear (online); “Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” by Mike Resnick (online).

Short Story

  • “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson (online). This made me happy. Like “The Ray-Gun,” it’s about a fantastical intrusion into a person’s life—this time 26 monkeys who vanish from a bath tub during a touring act—and what they do in response, but I like the voice better, the way its distance contrasts with and yet enhances the emotion.
  • “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang (online). It’s a detailed extrapolation of a world built around a single cool idea, but it gets pretty anvilicious.
  • “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick (online). This is very interesting until the end, when it becomes clear that the story was deliberately constructed so that its ending had to be offscreen and unknown to the reader. Which, okay, you want to deliberately go against reader expectations, no-one’s going to stop you, but I don’t have to like it.
  • “Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal (online). This isn’t a story, this is a tiny character sketch and not, to my eye, a very interesting one either. Lots of people seem to like this and I have absolutely no idea why.

Did not finish: “Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick (online). I got a couple screens in and said, “Wait, this is a Mike Resnick story, it is clunky and obvious and cliched, why am I reading this again?” So I stopped.

Next up, either some of the Campell nominees or some Best Related Books.


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  1. Next up
    If you’re taking votes, I vote Campbell nominees. I’m still hoping to post about all of those myself, though it’s looking increasingly likely that it won’t happen until after the voting deadline. But in particular, I’m intrigued to know what other people have made of Acacia.

  2. I have started reading _Acacia_, since it’s the book I most *want* to read, though since it’s awfully long and I do also want to read _Rhetorics of Fantasy_ at some point, I may shift my limited reading time over for strategic reasons. We’ll see.
    (When did it get so _late_?!)

  3. You didn’t miss anything with Shaggoth’s in Bloom.
    I’d never read anything by Bear before, and I’m unlikely to after that. Her creatures were interesting and I wish she had devoted more of the story to them, but the paper-thin characters all existed to set up the Big Choice at the end…which was hella cliche in and of itself.
    The writing of the main character was especially awkward (and I really don’t think that opinion was influenced by recent events.)

  4. Thanks for the report, Lynn.

  5. Niall, if you look back here, I really enjoyed _Acacia_ but want to look back through it for some things so don’t know if I’ll manage to write it up properly before voting closes. I’ve just not been very interested in epic fantasy these days, and this hit all the things I like about the subgenre without making me feel like I wouldn’t respect myself in the morning.

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