Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Thoughts on the Hugo Award Nominees: Short Story

Goodnight Stars by Annie Bellet (The End is Now (Apocalypse Triptych Book 2), Broad Reach Publishing)
On A Spiritual Plain by Lou Antonelli (Sci Phi Journal #2, Nov 2014)
The Parliament of Beasts and Birds by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
"A Single Samurai", by Steven Diamond (The Baen Big Book of Monsters, Baen Books)
Totaled by Kary English (Galaxy’s Edge magazine, July 2014)
Turncoat by Steve Rzasa (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)

Annie Bellet declined her nomination after the ballot was announced and was replaced with the Steven Diamond story.

In a typical year, I just jump right into whichever category I'm writing about and letting my thoughts sort out the whole mess. This is not a typical year, so I'd like to start by talking a little bit about how I'm going to work through the various Hugo Award categories and how I am going to vote. Simply put, I am going to read everything. If I feel the work is strong enough to merit a ranked vote, I will vote for it in whatever order feels most appropriate. If I feel the work is not strong enough to merit ranking it above No Award, I will not do so.  But at no point am I making a blanket statement about Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies or that I've heard Thomas Heuvelt may have been campaigning for a nomination or anything else that I am not aware of.  The ballot is what the ballot is and I will treat it as such. 

I am also working with the same methodology as I have in the past, which is to say that there are frequently works and writers on the ballot that I simply and strongly disagree with. In most cases, I have still ranked those works above No Award. I don't believe I have always done this, and I know if I had participated last year, one novel would have been below No Award because I bounced so hard off of the first book in that series that I really can't understand how the second also managed a nomination - and that writer is a Hugo favorite. Most stories compare to works that have previously been on the ballot, so those works that meet my low-bar criteria will secure my vote.

I may re-post this message on each article I write about the nominees, just so that we're clear in such a contentious year.

"On a Spiritual Plain" / "A Single Samurai": One thing that I found very interesting about reading through the nominated short works is that they pair very closely in my head in how I would rank them. Antonelli's story of a faith (of sorts) on an alien world and a man trying to lead a human spirit to wherever "moving on" turns out to be. It's a simple story, but cleanly told. The comparison between human faith and that of the alien is interesting. "A Single Samurai", on the other hand, is a story of action, of one samurai taking on a kaiju about to terrorize the samurai's land. There is a certain spirituality to the samurai's thoughts and actions and an economy to the movement and pacing of the story. On a different day, I could flip my ranking of these two stories.

"Totaled" / "Turncoat": While "Totaled" slid down my ballot a bit, Kary English is another writer I want to keep an eye on.  "Totaled" has a slight feel of Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun in that we have a scientist surviving as nothing more than a disembodied brain due to an accident, which ties into the research she was already doing but now can only try to respond to stimulus in a hope to communicate. "Turncoat" is the story of an artificial intelligence of a space ship in the middle of a war, so there is something of a symmetry to "Totaled", though the stories are quite different in tone and style.

No Award: I use No Award reluctantly, and I use it surgically. It is a scalpel, not a scythe.

"The Parliament of Beasts and Birds": I bounced very hard off of this story, which tells of a time after humanity has finally died out and the animals (or a representative from each species) have gathered outside man's final city and they find that they can talk, and they are discussing the very real possibility of redemption after having been kicked out of Eden so many thousands / millions of years in the past. I think it is intended to be a parable or an allegory, but what it is is remarkably heavy handed on the Christian theme with rather poor / oddly formal writing and it really doesn't deserve to be anywhere near this ballot. As such, it will not remain on mine.

"Goodnight Stars": It is worth noting that had Annie Bellet's story remained on the ballot, it would have quite easily been my top pick for Short Story. Bellet is a writer to watch. I would have loved for the opportunity to have voted for "Goodnight Stars".

My vote
1. "On a Spiritual Plain", by Lou Antonelli
2. "A Single Samurai", by Steven Diamond
3. "Totaled", by Kary English
4. "Turncoat", by Steve Rzasa
5. No Award

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