Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Thoughts on 2008 World Fantasy Award Nominees: Short Stories

"The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics" - Daniel Abraham
"Singing of Mount Abora" - Theodora Goss
"The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change" - Kij Johnson
"Damned if you Don't" - Robert Shearman
"The Church on the Island" - Simon Kurt Unsworth

I will start with Theodora Goss's "Singing of Mount Abora". Originally published Logorrhea and reprinted in Jonathan Strahan's The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Two, this story from Theodora Goss was a complete loss for me. I remember reading this story about telling a story (not sure the song part was all that essential) and right away I was ready to read something else. I didn't re-read "The Singing of Mount Abora" for this category, so I'm going off what I can vaguely remember from July. But, what I remember is that I didn't like the story, that it wasn't the sort that would ever engage me. Unlike the other Logorrhea story nominated for the WFA. More on that later.

Next, onto "The Church on the Island", which I reviewed back in August. What I said then still stands.
I'll grant the inherent creepiness of this ill-groomed priest, a priest whom one might expect to do bad things to Charlotte. So, in this description-heavy story there is good potential for something special to come out in the story, some bit of goodness that will cause "The Church on the Island" to rise above and merit the acclaim that comes from a World Fantasy Award nomination. Something that will explain what the nominating panel saw in the story.

Frankly, I don't see it.

Oh, the story is decent enough and there is some genuine horror in the story and the anticipation of horror (because what else is true horror than that which we don't see but fear?), but it never quite delivers.

"Damned If You Don't" from Robert Shearman is the first gasp of fresh air in this category (see review). You'll note that I'm working my way up from what I consider to be the bottom to the strongest / best story nominated for the award. I was charmed by Shearman's collection of short stories and "Damned If You Don't" hit me in a weird, wistful way. What I had to say:
“Damned If You Don’t” is ultimately a sad story. This isn’t fire and brimstone, nor is it at all a “Christian” story. By the end, Shearman has done quite a few things, touching on the nature of Hell, God, friendship, marriage, zombies, death, prejudice, and blame. “Damned If You Don’t” is a quiet story. It doesn’t do or say anything flashy. It is charming, in a darkly twisted sort of way.

I was very impressed by Kij Johnson's "The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs at North Park After the Change." The title is still crazy-long, but it's one hell of a moving story. What I had to say regarding the Nebula Nomination for this story:
Heartbreaking. So much of reading is as much what the reader brings to the book as what the writer brings to the reader. I am a dog owner. Kij Johnson’s story of dogs abandoned after “The Change” just kills because the dogs’ basic nature hasn’t changed, just the fact that they can now speak. From the very start this was a moving story and Johnson did not let up. Stories are more than concepts, though, there has to be execution and I think that Kij Johnson nailed this one.

This leaves me with the story that, had it not been for Ted Chiang being nominated for the Hugo, certainly could have come home with this year's Hugo for Novelette. I expect Chiang's win, but Daniel Abraham would have been my sentimental favorite. "The Cambist and Lord Iron" is outstanding. I wasn't ready for the story to end. I still haven't picked up Logorrhea or the novels of Daniel Abraham, but based on this story alone - I think I need to. What I said then.

Rather than being a dull story about the value of things, “The Cambist and Lord Iron” is a smoothly written story with an interesting intellectual challenge for Olaf (and in turn the reader, if we want to think about the challenge before Olaf figures it out). Moreover, I liked “The Cambist and Lord Iron” enough that I intend to go find a copy of Logorrhea (the anthology the story is from), and also go read the novels of Daniel Abraham.

So there you have it. "The Cambist and Lord Iron" should win the World Fantasy Award. Will it? I have no clue. I'll only be disappointed if the Theodora Goss or the Simon Kurt Unsworth stories win. I don't think Robert Shearman's story is good enough to win the award, but I'm glad I had the chance to read it and it's a good story. If, for some reason, "The Cambist and Lord Iron" should fail to win, I hope that Kij Johnson's story with a title I'm not going to type out a second time (or even copy and paste) wins. Those are the standouts here.

1 comment:

Cate Gardner said...

Having just read Daniel Abraham's story in 'The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror' anthology, I echo your sentiments that The Cambist and Lord Iron should win. It's the most outstanding story I have read all year.