2014 Hugo Nominees: Short Story

More Hugo homework, the four nominees for Short Story. I’m going to do this, hmm, alphabetical by last name.

“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Tor.com). I liked this story a lot when I first read it, and I still like the conceit—the water of the title appears when you lie—and most of the characters. But on re-read, the malignancy of the narrator’s sister really stands out as a contrast to the nuance granted to the other characters. There’s the barest hint of an reason, but it’s not, for me, adequate or followed through, and she ends up feeling like she belongs in some other story. It’s distracting and frankly somewhat distressing, and knocks the story down in my estimation on both the craft and individual enjoyment levels.

“The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt [*] (Tor.com). This is a story by a Dutch author set in present-day Thailand about the festival Loi Krathong. It makes me uncomfortable on a number of different levels. First, I am not the right reader for a satirical/ironic/humorous/something tone when the story starts with a murder. Second, I think it’s rude to use an active religion as fantasy fodder if it’s not your religion; that goes double for using a deity as an actual character. (I am assuming that it is not based on the biographical information I can find about the author and the next point.) Third, it uses footnotes to translate the Thai names, which I find very distracting and, also, the most prominent example of the way the overall story gives me the vibe of “you-the-intended-reader are Not Like Them!” (Chu’s story is an interesting contrast in this regard; it contains a number of untranslated words or sentences in Chinese, and makes clear their content from the surrounding context. Which, we’re SFF readers, we’re totally capable of that.) So, yeah, you could say I didn’t like this one.

[*] I am assuming based on the author’s domain name that he has an unhyphenated two-word last name; if I’m wrong, let me know & I’ll correct the tag.

“Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons). I have read this story about half a dozen times, because the first time I read it, it left me absolutely cold, and I know a number of people whose tastes I respect who are in raptures over it. It’s a very well-crafted story: distinctive narrative voice, excellent economical characterizations, careful parallels and resonances. And for the first four times or so I read it, it just . . . sat there in my mind, like a polished stone egg, admirable but completely lifeless. On the last couple of reads it’s starting to pick up emotional resonance for me, but I wouldn’t blame anyone else for not waiting that long.

(Also, in looking at reviews, I was surprised how many readers of a SFF magazine had no idea what a selkie was. But even if you don’t, again, I think the story makes it clear from context if you’re reading with your SFF-worldbuilding goggles on.)

“If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (Apex). This is by far the shortest story on the ballot, not even a thousand words if cut-and-paste into Word can be trusted. I loved it immediately, and still love it, but it’s so short that it’s hard to talk about. I love the rhythm of the prose and the way it leads from one thing to another and the emotional effect that has. I can see that the prose might not work for some people, but read it slow and give it a shot. It’s unquestionably my first choice.

(Chad’s reaction to the ballot was that it was “a bundle of misery,” which is not my impression. Because of the weird tone, I’m not entirely sure what effect “Ink Readers” was going for, but besides the minor matter of the murder that opens the story *ahem*, I think it’s probably not unrelieved misery. For the rest, spoilers, rot-13: V guvax “Fryxvr Fgbevrf” naq “Jngre” obgu raq ba abgrf bs ubcr, naq juvyr “Qvabfnhe” qbrfa’g, V ybir gur ynathntr fb zhpu gung vg qbrfa’g srry pehfuvat.)

My ballot thus tentatively stands at: 1) “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love”; 2) “Selkie Stories Are for Losers”; 3) “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”; 4) No Award; 5) “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket.” What about yours?

(Also: I’ve updated the about page with a comment policy, if you’re new here.)

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