There are some interesting things to note about this year’s Hugo Award Best Short Story nominees. For one, the five nominees only come from three sources. That in itself probably isn’t too unusual. What’s unusual is that while two of the stories come from Asimov’s, a stalwart on the Hugo ballot, two come from an online magazine: Clarkesworld Magazine, and the final nominee comes from an anthology published by a small press Hadley Rille. Three of the five nominees are firsts for the respective publishers. By contrast, stories published in Asimov’s have won more than 40 Hugo awards.
Also interesting, at least to me, is that at least four of the stories deal with relationships, either as a major component of the story, or as something that helps resolve the plot. Only the Schoen story doesn’t quite fit into that mold. Again, that doesn’t really say anything about the stories; it’s just something I noticed.
“The Bride of Frankenstein” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s 12/09)
At first, I wanted to be annoyed at this story. Everything is from the point of view of a Baroness who has married one Victor von Frankenstein. Now, Frankenstein might be my favorite novel of all time. So when someone delves into its storyline to try their own hand at the story, I get concerned. On top of that, recent Resnick short fiction hasn’t resonated with me and I feared that this story would fall along those same lines.
But somewhere along the way I got totally wrapped up in Resnick’s tale. He gives such depth and breadth to his characters that I fell in love with this story. It’s by far my favorite of the five nominees.
But is it a science fiction story worthy of a Hugo? There is science in it, although most of that occurs offstage, so to speak. And there’s no actual requirement for Hugo winners to be science fiction. Still, I don’t know that Hugo voters will side with this story over other choices. But, and you’ll hear this often, I don’t pretend to know how the Hugo vote will go.
“Bridesicle” by Will McIntosh (Asimov’s 1/09)
The opening scene of this story is so creepy that I wanted to stop reading it. Our protagonist, Mira, dies in a car accident and her body is frozen. As you may surmise from the title of the story, Mira is part of a bizarre dating industry. She is woken for conversations with potential suitors. If they don’t like her, they “kill” her and put her back to sleep.
An added wrinkle is that people can have “hitchers” riding with them; hitchers are the uploaded consciousness of relatives put into someone’s brain. There they continue to exist with you and speak to you. Mira had carried her mother with her but lost her in the car accident. McIntosh has created a well-developed world for Mira and her suitors.
To Mira, life is now a series of eye closings and openings. For the rest of us, decades and centuries pass. I think McIntosh does a great job of not only capturing both the creepiness of the men coming in to talk to Mira, but also portraying Mira’s confusion about her situation. He really works the physical aspects of Mira’s existence and how that makes communication difficult. Added on top of that is the fact that her brain is essentially inactive for years and years.
This is a strong piece and has some great science fiction elements. Unfortunately for McIntosh, I think the Resnick and Johnson pieces are stronger.
“The Moment” by Lawrence M. Schoen (Footprints; Hadley Rille Books)
Just a quick warning, this review contains more spoilers than the other pieces, so proceed with caution. Schoen’s story started really slowly for me. The story is series of vignettes of alien races investigating an extinct race, which, as it becomes clear, is us. I found some of the vignettes extremely difficult to get through.
I was quite impressed at how Schoen pulled the whole story together. Even though the ending wasn’t a surprise for me, I liked how it came together and explained the story to me. It was disappointing that it took to the end for me to get into the story. The good thing is that the piece is pretty short, so we’re not talking a 600 page novel.
I could see this piece garnering quite a few votes as it hits a number of classic science fiction notes. But there are stronger pieces on the ballot, and I don’t see Schoen pulling off an upset.
“Non-Zero Probabilities” by N.K. Jemisin (Clarkesworld 9/09)
I really liked the set up of this story. The city of New York is running a string of bad luck. Things with very low probability are continually happening. And it seems that good luck charms, even something as simple as crossing your fingers, can improve your luck.
The protagonist has all sorts of rituals that she runs through to improve her luck as she goes about her normal day. One of those things is avoiding the large number of people pushing different faiths as a way to ward off bad luck.
Unfortunately, the story kind of peters off into its end. It felt like the author didn’t know exactly how to wrap up her idea and just stopped. To me, this is a story that begs a resolution and I don’t feel that I got one from Jemisin.
Whether or not people agree with me, I don’t see this making a run at the Hugo.
“Spar” by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld 10/09)
I had a lot of difficulty with this story when I first read it. And re-reading it again didn’t make it any easier. This story, to put it plainly, is quite incredible. It’s disturbing and potentially offensive. A woman is trapped in a space lifeboat with an nearly shapeless pseudopod alien. The woman and the alien copulate continually. The bluntness of it is overwhelming.
But it’s more than just weird sex. There are aspects that touch on any relationship that’s abusive. It touches on inattentive lovers and couples who take each other for granted. There’s a touch of Stockholm Syndrome. But I’ll admit it isn’t easy to get to those things.
This is a story that stuck with me over the months after I read it. It’s bold and dangerous. It’s not a story you can be indifferent about, and I suspect it will create a number of strong opinions for and against it.
Johnson already won the Nebula Award for it, and sometimes that can work against someone. All the same, this is the most striking story on the ballot. It would not surprise me at all to see Johnson pair her Nebula with a Hugo.
My Hugo voting for Short Story:
1 “The Bride of Frankenstein” by Mike Resnick
2 “Spar” by Kij Johnson
3 “Bridesicle” by Will McIntosh
4 “The Moment” by Lawrence M. Schoen
5 “Non-Zero Probabilities” by N.K. Jemisin
John Klima is the editor of Electric Velocipede, last year’s winner of the Best Fanzine Hugo Award.