Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thoughts on 2009 Hugo Nominees: Short Stories

26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”, by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s, July 2008)
Article of Faith”, by Mike Resnick (Baen’s Universe, October 2008)
Evil Robot Monkey”, by Mary Robinette Kowal (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
Exhalation”, by Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled”, by Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s, February 2008)

Welcome to my first post covering the 2009 Hugo Award Nominees. We’re going to start with the Short Story this year. As always, the story notes will be in reverse order of my esteem. The first story mentioned gets the place of dishonor. Which brings me to Michael Swanwick.

“From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled”
I read this story back when I still had a subscription to Asimov's and I received the February 2008 issue of the magazine. I didn't re-read the story, but I scanned through it a second time and I know why I didn't like it. It's all about formatting and the presentation of the alien intelligence and the strange way it communicates. Yes, science fiction is forward looking, ever striving to break new ground, but for me, it doesn't work. Swanwick demands that his readers work to translate the dialogue of the aliens, and I can intellectually appreciate that, but this isn't the sort of story I can enjoy. At all.

“Article of Faith”:
Previously stated thoughts:
It is likely the simplicity of “Article of Faith” which caused it to resonate with enough readers to garner a Hugo nomination. It is a very pleasant story, overall. A story about what it means to have a soul, to be “a man”, to be able to know God, to be able to worship God. Simplified.

Mike Resnick’s writing is almost always smooth and easy and “Article of Faith” is no exception. There is a reason Mike Resnick has as many admirers as he does. I can’t really get behind this story, though. I keep using the word “simple”, and simple is not inherently a bad thing. Except, perhaps, in this case. The message of the story is so reduced and parable-ish that “Article of Faith” reads as if Resnick is trying to present a particular message to his readers. That it is a parable, to be used for instruction. Maybe that’s the point. If so, point taken.

As a story nominated for a Hugo Award – it’s not good enough.

I shared some brief thoughts on the story here, but there really isn’t a quote or a paragraph to pull out of that post. As I mentioned in that post, the sequence where the narrator performs surgery on his own metallic brain – it is breathtaking in its audacity and creativity. However, the words “cold” and “clinical” are what I keep coming back to. There is no real emotional core to the story, not one that resonates, and ultimately that’s what holds it back.

At this point there would is a significant gap between the nominated stories. “Exhalation” is a better story than the Swanwick or the Resnick, but it isn’t a close third to Mary Robinette Kowal or Kij Johnson.

This is where I’m waffling on what to rank first.

“26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”
Previously stated thoughts:
The story is in turns clever, sweet, funny, and sad. After reading last year’s nominated story “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change” I was quite impressed with Kij Johnson’s storytelling skill and was curious to read more of her work. “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” is a story of one woman’s healing among a show full of performing monkeys – monkeys that accepted her, not the other way around.

It’s good. It’s really good. Last year’s story was one of my favorite nominated stories and after reading this, I expect “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” will be one of this year’s favorites.

“Evil Robot Monkey”
Previously stated thoughts:
Oh, this is a beautiful and heartbreaking story. In fewer than 1000 words Mary Robinette Kowal just killed me. The opening paragraphs paints a picture of a monkey in a pen trying to do nothing more than make pottery but because Sly is a monkey, people think it is okay to hit the glass walls of his pen. The pottery brings the monkey peace. The other aspect of the story that wrecks me is the conversation between Sly and Vern, the handler, about what happened and why and what the consequences are.

Damn, “Evil Robot Monkey” is good. It’s so short, but the story is exactly as long as it needs to be. The story lingers.

So, that’s where I stand. If I had a vote and I sent it in today, the top slot would be Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Evil Robot Monkey”. Alas, I do not have a vote. This year. Next year I plan to pony up the $50 and become a voting member and really be part of the conversation.

If you ask me again tomorrow, “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” might get my non-existent vote. Both are damn fine stories and of a higher quality than the other three nominees.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I find it fascinating to see such a drastically different ordering of the stories. Ordered as you did here, I'd start with "Articles of Faith" as the worst of the lot. Followed by "Evil Robot Monkey," "26 Monkeys, also the Abyss" and "From Babel's Fall'n Glory We Fled." I thought "Exhalation" was far and beyond the best of the lot. But I like it because it reminds me of the first time I encountered the laws of Thermodynamics and the questions I asked, also the first time I taught the laws of thermodynamics and the questions I asked.