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stormsewer ([personal profile] stormsewer) wrote2017-05-30 09:35 pm

2017 Hugo picks: Short stories

At the time of writing, I've actually read all the short stories, all the novelettes, and five and a half of the novellas, and one thing I'm struck by is how still, even after the rule change, nearly all of the nominated works seem to have been conceived as bullets for the culture war, just rather more biased toward the other side this year. I recognize that all fiction is political, that attempting (or claiming) to be apolitical is still a political statement, and that it's probably just a sign of the times (I don't expect next year or the year after will be any better), but I'm a little tired of being preached at.

"I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author." –J.R.R. Tolkien

7. "An Unimaginable Light" by John C. Wright
A robot and her inquisitor have a philosophical argument about the nature of morality and personhood.
This is a weird story, and not the good kind of weird. Is there seriously nothing this guy writes that isn't some weird Christian allegory? Is this supposed to be some sort of weird attack on moral relativism and other supposed intellectual sins of the Left? (A weird word that kept popping into my head while reading it was "sophistry.") And the weird sadistic sex stuff in there really makes you go "hmm," doesn't it? Like, it's presented as evil, yet it's weirdly detailed, with such obvious relish? John C. Wright is a weird dude.

6. No Award

5. "A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers" by Alyssa Wong
A sister tries out different variations of her twin's death and the end of the world.
It's nicely written but somehow just doesn't quite do it for me. It's comes off coy. I don't necessarily mind when a story doesn't "make sense," but it has to make sense that it doesn't make sense, if that makes sense. And in this story I feel the presence of the author withholding from me the answers to all the questions I have, and I don't feel the story is better or more powerful or more evocative for leaving them unanswered. I'm just annoyed.

4. "Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies" by Brooke Bolander
An immortal takes revenge on the man who killed her in mortal form.
The only nominee I'd read before nominations were announced. I've actually been listening to Bikini Kill a lot recently, and this is kind of like the fantasy version of that. For all that it gives voice and power to a type of character (and person) who is too often voiceless and powerless, it seems a little… brow-beaty. And while I get that it's about empowerment, this is actually about powerful beings who like to go slumming as relatively powerless beings and then later take revenge on the weaklings who were briefly able to hurt them, which takes the wind out of the exultant sails for me. It's like if you transformed yourself into a toddler, which got killed by a rabid chihuahua, which turned you back into an adult human again, and then you proceeded catch and torture the chihuahua. Should the dog be put down? Of course. But I'm not impressed with your role in all this, either. … Maybe this just isn't for me.

3. "Seasons of Glass and Iron" by Amal El-Mohtar
Two women, cursed in different ways as a result of the men in their life, find each other.
This won the Nebula. It is essentially a gentler variation on the same theme as Talons. Both seem to stir a bit of a #notallmen reaction in me, which is interesting to sit with and examine, especially in the light of how many fairy tales deal in evil women persecuting righteous men [1]. Certainly neither story is shy about bonking the reader repeatedly on the head with their metaphorical intentions. I think that's the thing that really irks me about them: they lack subtlety.

2. "That Game We Played During the War" by Carrie Vaughn
A war between telepaths and non-telepaths has just ended, and one of the latter then goes to visit one of the former she knew from prison camps.
It was interesting to think about what it would be like to be surrounded by telepaths without having the ability yourself. I don't really understand how the non-telepaths could ever win out (or even "fail to lose") against the telepaths, though. The story touches on why, but I don't quite buy it. It ends rather abruptly, which sometimes bothers me, but in this case it was like, "Wait, what? Oh, actually, I guess that works."

1. "The City Born Great" by N. K. Jemison
A young homeless man is tasked with protecting New York City as it struggles to life.
I wasn't sure about this one at first, but by the end I was on board. Weird, full of love and hate. I approve.

[1] Though seriously, you wouldn't be wrong to sum up this piece as "Men suck. Let's be lesbians."

See also: