An admission up front: I don’t read short fiction (unless it’s fanfic). I’ve just never found a short piece – even a novella – that I found overall satisfying. If the characters and world are interesting, I want to dig deeper, see more, explore further. If they aren’t, I’m not interested at all. So a strong argument could be made that I just don’t “get” short fiction. But I do get a vote, and all I have to make that vote with is my opinion, so here we go.
- “On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli – I felt like this didn’t really go anywhere or do anything. We’re given the setup, and then that’s what happens, without twist or surprise. Perhaps the point is meant to be the “spiritual” (ho ho?) journey of the narrator-protagonist, but I didn’t really feel like there was much of that either. There could have been. This could have been a confirmation of his faith, or a chance to really explore humanity’s complex and multi-varied relationship with souls, spirits, ghosts and ancestors. But the story didn’t do that. In addition, the style profoundly lacked grace or felicity. I don’t believe this deserves to be in contention for a Hugo.
- “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C. Wright – Such an amazing yawn that I didn’t even finish it. The world’s a mash – the description of the city rings heavy classical-Roman bells, but later on a horse bitches about Napoleon eating him. Everything is, I assume, supposed to stand in stark allegorical silhouette, but for me that mostly just feels like generic. I’m not a fan of talking animals to start with, so endless paragraphs of them striking heroic poses and woffling with referential verbosity tried my patience beyond what this little black duck will endure from fiction. Obviously, I don’t think this deserves to be in contention.
- “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond – While there’s a nice shape to the plot arc, there’s nothing in terms of character and emotion packing it into place. The little glimpses of personal history here and there are far more interesting than the – sometimes confusing – slogging through “wilderness” in pursuit of a definite but fuzzy goal (kill the kaiju… “somehow”). Things happen to fall out well for our nameless, unknown samurai, and I suppose that’s nice, but it’s not a story that’s going to stay with me.
- “Totaled” by Kary English – A good story. I liked Maggie, and enjoyed following her inventive exploration and problem-solving, and if the ending made me want to watch Source Code all over again, it was a good similarity. It could have plucked that note of “how much can you ask of me?” a little more fulsomely, and the Algernon-esque decline could have been paced a little more elegantly, but overall, this was a story that delivered in a satisfying manner.
- “Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa – A sentient spaceship learns to be a cowboy. The unavoidable comparison to the work of Ann Leckie isn’t favourable; this lacks subtlety and ambiguity, and the style is overblown and riddled with human-voiced niggles. Moreover, the inconsistency of numbers as words or numerals gave me the right irrits (not the author’s fault so much as the editor’s). If I’m supposed to be considering this for best short story of the year, I expect better.
Really, now, the only question remaining for me in this category is whether a story deserves to win a Hugo Award just because it doesn’t actively suck. Surely the bar should be a little higher? The competition a little more… well, present?