Hugo Awards: My Pick for Best Short Story

Today is the last day to vote on the Hugos, if you need a last-minute reminder (I expect everyone who’s going to vote already has).

I’ve decided which of the five stories I hope will win. It’s “Movement” by Nancy Fulda, for its beautifully unified character, voice, and story. The protagonist is convincing, and the author’s hand is sure but not too heavy (as I felt marred “The Paper Menagerie”). The reader shares a fascinating awareness while the protagonist faces and thinks through a problem that will have a crucial effect on her abilities and her future. Good luck to Nancy Fulda! I will not be attending WorldCon, but will be watching the awards with suspense.

The runner-up, for me, was E. Lily Yu’s “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” for its satiric take on human society and government. Poorly executed satire can annoy or bore; her story sparkles. It’s the difference between a bludgeon and a rapier. So I will not be unhappy if this one wins.

Tomorrow, discussing Best Novelette. All the nominees can be found here.

Hugo Awards: Best Short Story Contenders (5)

Fifth and last, E. Lily Yu’s “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” from Clarkesworld Magazine. Read it here.

A race of wasps common around the village of Yiwei is discovered to construct nests that unfold into beautiful colored maps of the surrounding country. Once this discovery is made, the nests are taken by the villagers to sell, nearly exterminating the wasp population, but one remaining population flees far enough away to elude the plunderers, and settles to rebuild their society. In adopting their new home, however, they have invaded the territory of a bee community (whose society is termed a “constitutional monarchy”). The wasps are ruthless to the bee ambassadors who arrive with less-than-deferential embassies to their ruling foundress. The choice they present to the bees is “enslavement or cooperation”–specifically, one-tenth of their honey production and one out of 100 of the larvae, who will live among the wasps and serve them. The bees capitulate without a struggle:

“War is out of the question,” another said.

“Their forces are vastly superior.”

“We outnumber them three hundred to one!”

“They are experienced fighters. Sixty of us would die for each of theirs.”

This talking-yourself-into-defeat counsel of the bees simply delights me, it is so wonderfully barbed. (Evidently, the bees lack a Winston Churchill.)

So the bees begin a new, joyless life of “cooperation.” But, in like wise as the wasps descended on the bees in an unforeseen catastrophe, so is a catastrophe in store for the wasps: a girl from Yiwei, ever since hearing about the cartographer wasps, has been dreaming of making her fortune and achieving fame. She finds the remaining nest in the winter, when the wasps are harmless from the cold, and takes it back to Yiwei, planning to breed more wasp colonies and profit from them. For the wasps, then, slavery to (or “cooperation” with) humans.

It’s a playful and satiric story, and I enjoyed it greatly. Another good contender for the Best Story Hugo.

By the way, I do not grasp the significance of the last line of the story.

“Write,” one said to the other, and she did.

Can anyone help me out? It’s always disappointing to reach the end and think “?” Writing is a skill the bees learned from the wasps, but I don’t think that’s the point here.

Hugo Awards: Best Short Story Contenders (4)

Fourth on the ballot for Best Short Story: “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu. You can read it here.

Jack is the son of an American father and a Chinese mother, who was a mail-order bride. The marriage is a successful one, but at age 10 Jack becomes aware of the ethnic differences between himself and his American classmates.

When the family moves, two neighbors come to visit the new arrivals, and Jack overhears them talking about him:

“Slanty eyes, white face. A little monster.”

He begins to resent his mother’s lack of assimilation, refuses to speak to her in Chinese, and asks for “real toys” instead of the origami that his mother makes (animal figures which are more marvelous than the Star Wars toys that he desires, because his mother animates them with life).

The situation and the characters are compelling. But… it may be hard for a reader to believe the extreme coldness that Jack displays toward his mother, unrelenting until he reaches adulthood, a coldness that verges on cruelty when she appeals to him in vain and he rejects the new origami animals that she makes, her overtures to regain his love. Even ten-year-olds are not that easily ruled by peer pressure, or so steadfast in rejecting a loving parent. Nor is it easily credited that neighbors, no matter how prejudiced against a Chinese mother married to an American, would describe the child as a monster. I, at least, began to feel unfairly manipulated.

And this is a pity, because it is a lovely story that doesn’t need the excess. I think it has a chance of winning the Best Short Story award. Comments?

Hugo Awards: Best Short Story Contenders (3)

The third story for consideration is Nancy Fulda’s “Movement,” published in Asimov’s. Read it here. As with the previous discussion, I will not be avoiding spoilers.

This is an impressive story. Hannah, a teenage girl with “temporal autism,” is the narrator. Hannah is highly intelligent and is a talented dancer, but she speaks rarely and is disinclined to make human connection with others. Her parents are considering a new treatment, synaptic grafting, as a cure for her condition.

An interaction with her mother illustrates her condition:

“Would you like that, Hannah? Would you like to be more like other teenagers?”

Neither yes nor no seems appropriate, so I do not say anything. Words are such fleeting, indefinite things. They slip through the spaces between my thoughts and are lost.

She keeps looking at me and I consider giving her an answer I’ve been saving. Two weeks ago she asked me whether I would like a new pair of dancing shoes and if so, what color. I have collected the proper words in my mind, smooth and firm like pebbles, but I decide it is not worth speaking them. Usually by the time I answer a question, people have forgotten that they asked it.

The story title, “Movement,” refers to Hannah’s love of things that do not change quickly, such as glass and stone. Things that are always changing, such as clouds and conversation, make her uneasy. She is keenly aware of the flow of time, and sees herself as living on a different time scale. At the end of the story, she decides she doesn’t want the treatment, but she communicates this by telling her mother that she does not want new shoes–a message her mother will not understand.

Hannah’s perspective is a fascinating one, the story well crafted and unusual. It should be a strong contender for best story.

Hugo Awards: Best Short Story Contenders (2)

Next on the ballot for best short story is Mike Resnick’s “The Homecoming” from Asimov’s. You can find it here. If spoilers bother you, read the story before continuing with this post.

OK. Young man is transformed into insectoid alien creature. Not magically or inexplicably (see Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis“), but through some transformative process that, presumably, is not surgery, because he has metallic silver skin, multifaceted red eyes, stick-like limbs, and a tube-shaped mouth. Philip, we learn, is an exobiologist who undertook the transformation in order to study an alien world. As in “The Metamorphosis,” the family (or at least the father, who provides the story’s viewpoint) reacts with horror and repugnance. Then, estrangement, which has lasted for many  years.

The story follows what happens when Philip returns home to visit his mother, who is suffering from dementia. After some bickering, an admonishment from the mother, and a brief description of the alien wonders Philip has seen, father and son are reconciled.

An interesting situation, but, emotionally, I couldn’t follow where this story tried to lead me, into a sympathy with and better understanding of the son. In fact, I started and ended with the same feeling of horror toward a person altering his body into an alien form, and my final thought at the end of the story was directed at the father–Ah, don’t make everything OK just because the story is telling you to! Perhaps the reconciliation was a shade too easy.

Evidently I am not the best person to send on a space exploration, not being up to the sacrifices required. I’ll continue to mull this one over while I turn to story #3 tomorrow.

Hugo Awards: Best Short Story Contenders (1)

The voting deadline for the Hugos is 6 days away, so I am taking a look at the five finalists on the ballot for Best Short Story.

First is John Scalzi’s “The Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” (whew).

This story is a lot of fun. It is somewhat in the vein of Terry Pratchett nonsense, and the setting may put some readers in mind of Gormenghast. Mostly, though, it reminds me of a Lord Dunsany tale. That is, like a Dunsany story, it veers from gothic to silly to sharp wit in a drunken, unpredictable, and wholly entertaining way.

It is refreshing to see a comic story on the ballot. “Shadow War” was published as an April Fool’s post on Tor.com, as a parody of too-much-used fantasy elements. (If you didn’t know that, of course, you’d be puzzling over why the prologue to a novel is on the short story ballot.)

So: read it. You can find it here.

It strikes me that this story, if it actually were continued (Scalzi does not intend to write the novel, because this is “April Fool!”), would ally itself with Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! and Scalzi’s Redshirts. I mean, look at the cover. Three guards, the disposable redshirts of medieval fantasies. I am beginning to think I’d like to read The Dead City.

Last, I have to share my laugh-out-loud moment of delight from this story:

The current Emperor of Skalandarharia was Sukesun IV, and as Skalandarharian emperors go he was…not as wantonly cruel as Gorsig the Pitiless, whose official cause of death [was] “sudden perforated bowel”…

Feel free to add your thoughts, all ye who stumble upon this.