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Hugo Thoughts: Short Stories

Next on the Hugo ballot, I thought I’d look at the short fiction nominees. Four of the five stories are available online, and the fifth is included in the just-released Hugo Voters Packet.

There are no nominees who weren’t part of the puppy slates/bloc voting. As before, I’ve noted where each nominee was part of the Sad Puppies (S), Rabid Puppies (R), or both slates (SR).

  • On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli (SR): The strong magnetic field of the planet Ymilas preserves human and Ymilan souls. The infodumping of the first three scenes felt like it needed some serious rewriting. The dialogue was also rather stiff. Our protagonist takes the first human colonist’s ghost on a pilgrimage to help him move on in the afterlife. There’s reference to the polar magnetic field looking like the eye of God, a temple built like Stonehenge “with the dimensional ratio of 1: 4: 9–the Golden Mean.” Heavy-handed (and in that last quote, factually incorrect), but a nice sense of closure at the end as our protagonist settles into his new role of guiding human souls on their final journey. Also, Antonelli introduces the idea of a Faraday Segway, which is a potentially fun idea.
  • The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C. Wright (R): A tale of talking animals, Christian myth, and the end of Man, all presented in a rather stilted formal style. (The Lion greets his fellow animals with a “Twilight of Man, forsooth?”) There’s nothing in the way of action, and the plot is basically the animals trying to figure out what happened to Man’s last city, and what they should do and become now. There are a few nice lines, but it feels like Wright was trying way too hard on this, and ended up with a pale imitation of C. S. Lewis.
  • “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond (S): A samurai has to find a way to kill a kaiju the size of a mountain. I liked the core idea here, the lone warrior who’s less than a mite on a giant, slowly scaling the monster’s body and searching for a way to stop said monster from destroying his homeland. But it didn’t have the depth I look for in an award-worthy story. Nor did I get a real sense of the character or world. Our samurai could have been any samurai, with special swords, references to honor and duty and hara-kiri, and a contraction-averse voice to denote formality.
  • Totaled” by Kary English (SR): This was one of the most original ideas/stories on the ballot, about a researcher named Maggie, whose brain is preserved following the death of her body. We follow her “awakening” and realization that she’s in her own lab, and her efforts to communicate her awareness to her partner Randy, and to help complete their work on the bionet. Maggie’s brain is slowly giving out, and we get a kind of Flowers for Algernon decline over the course of the story. It’s better than most of what’s on the ballot this year, but I’ll have to read it again to decide whether I think it’s Hugo-worthy.
  • Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa (R): The first two sentences give a good sense of what you’re in for with this one.I am a knight riding to war. My suit of armor is a single Mark III frigate, a body of polysteel three hundred meters long with a skin of ceramic armor plating one point six meters thick.” I ended up skimming much of this story about posthuman warships moving to wipe out humanity, and Taren X 45 Delta’s choice to turn against his(?) kind to protect the humans: “Our superiority is certain. However, we are the side killing those who have surrendered and laid down their arms. Are we zealots purified by the righteousness of our cause? Or are we ungrateful children, jealous to the point of patricide?” The ending picked up a bit, but the whole thing feels overwritten, and there’s not much new here. The Message is blunt and unoriginal.

No Award will be scoring pretty high in this category. That doesn’t mean I think all of the stories are bad. (Though I don’t think they’re all good, either.) But it’s one thing for a story to be competent or interesting or fun. It’s another thing for that story to be award-worthy, for me to consider it one of the best things published in the past year. Four of these stories don’t clear that bar for me, and the fifth I’ll have to think about a little more.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
harvey_rrit
May. 19th, 2015 03:21 pm (UTC)
I've never so much as seen an actual Hugo ballot, but any election with no provision for writeins is ipso facto staged.
lenora_rose
May. 20th, 2015 02:33 am (UTC)
The process to nominate up to this point is also decided by vote (And other than this year's blatant coup, has given a wide set of voices representation). Where most of the ballots with a write-in option are not decided by the electorate asked to choose among them. So effectively, the write-in candidacy is stage one.

And No Award covers the "I hate everything here" aspect nicely in its place.
idancewithlife
May. 19th, 2015 03:40 pm (UTC)
I liked _Totaled_ enough to download another free story English had at Amazon called _First Call_, and really enjoyed that. She's on the ballot for a Campbell as well, and that story isn't in the Hugo packet. I plan to read the rest in the series. In addition, all her dialogue with people about the ballot has been civilized and respectful. I think she's going to get votes from me above No Award.
jimhines
May. 19th, 2015 11:59 pm (UTC)
The interactions I've had with her have been positive, and I thought her story was a step up from the other nominees. Neither of these things by themselves are enough to automatically put her story above No Award for me, but they're enough to make me consider...
starcat_jewel
May. 19th, 2015 05:52 pm (UTC)
Someone elseNet described "Turncoat" as a BOLO story with the serial numbers filed off. The bits you quote do nothing to refute that assertion.
jimhines
May. 19th, 2015 11:59 pm (UTC)
BOLO?
chris_gerrib
May. 20th, 2015 12:10 am (UTC)
Keith Laumer wrote a series of sentient tank stories. The tanks were called "bolo
xanthipe
May. 21st, 2015 10:56 am (UTC)
Ah, I'd wondered where Mercedes Lackey got the term from - there's a short story about a BOLO (serial RML, named Rommel) in Werehunter and the term felt like it existed elsewhere :)
starcat_jewel
May. 20th, 2015 02:42 am (UTC)
Ah, I see Chris got to this before me. It's one of those concepts (like telepathic dragons) that are very hard to do without looking like you're recycling the original author. In this case, the "sentient" part seems to have been excised and that's about it.
mojave_wolf
May. 19th, 2015 08:55 pm (UTC)
You actually made me want to read Totaled. That sounds painful and probably heartbreaking but potentially wonderful.

That quote for Turncoat ... ... ... I ... ... ... not for me.
mount_oregano
May. 19th, 2015 09:08 pm (UTC)
People who have lab experience say that "Totaled" violates a lot of standard lab rules, for example no eating in the lab. Not at all. Ever. Food in a lab is a serious no-no.

I thought it had some good ideas but it never developed any of them, and the only conflict involved the arrogant research director, who was a stereotype, and the conflict felt contrived, not organic to the situation.

For me, the story wasn't bad but it wasn't outstanding, either. Not Hugo-worthy for me, yet it was the best of the bunch.

akiko
May. 19th, 2015 10:46 pm (UTC)
That's what I thought of it, too. The sheer amount of societal changes that would have to occur for 'totaled' to be a concept applying to human bodies *without a revolt* were left unconsidered.
secritcrush
May. 20th, 2015 04:23 pm (UTC)
“with the dimensional ratio of 1: 4: 9–the Golden Mean.”

This is not the Golden Mean. It's emblematic of the shoddiness of the editing in all the Castalia House pieces.
jimhines
May. 20th, 2015 05:33 pm (UTC)
I've added a note on that.
barbarienne
May. 20th, 2015 08:46 pm (UTC)
I'm sure you're mistaken about the Message in Rzasa's story. It's well known that the Puppies are vehemently anti-Message and would never nomina--

::breaks up laughing::

Sorry, couldn't do that with a straight face. ;-)
thedragonweaver
Jun. 2nd, 2015 06:21 pm (UTC)
I've had a hard time with the short stories as a category over the several years I've been able to vote on them. I think it's probably the hardest category out there.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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