Sci-Fi Saturday: 2018 Hugo Short Story Finalists

Sci-Fi Saturday

Now that the voting packets are here, I am turning my attention to this year’s finalists for the Hugo Award, starting with Short Story and working my way up. I don’t give numerical ratings to my reviews, but I’ll present them starting with the ones I liked the most. In general, I am more likely to vote for:

  • Stories that present a unique perspective.
  • Stories where the science and/or fantasy is integral to the story arc.
  • Stories where the characters actively move the story forward.
  • Stories with a narrative voice that is either unobtrusive or engaging.
  • Stories that engage in world-building.
  • Stories with a meaningful message, delivered with subtlety, in a way that dos not eclipse the other story elements.

Note that this is my preference at the moment. I might change my vote if something causes me to see a story in a new light. Now, onto the finalists. I will do my best to avoid spoilers, but I can’t promise anything.

Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™” by Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex, August 2017)

This story features a Native American protagonist who works for a VR company that provides “vision quests” and other forms of Native American themed entertainment for tourists. The protagonist finds his world upended when one of the tourists isn’t what he appears to be.

This story achieves everything I was looking for in a Hugo Finalist. It delivers a new perspective, just like it promises in the title, and the sci-fi element allows for a nice twist that subverts the superficial, commodified vision quests. Part of me wishes that the VR tech had been a little more central to the story arc, but another part of me realizes that the author made the right call in letting the characters take center stage, This is my top pick for 2018.

The Martian Obelisk” by Linda Nagata (Tor.com, July 19, 2017)

This story is about the fate of a structure built on Mars, in the context of an excruciating, slow decline on Earth. I’m putting this story in the number two spot because of the world-building, the overarching theme, and the way in which the conflict forces the characters to question their priorities and take stock of their own lives. Although a Mars habitat is still far in the future, it is timely today, in a world that seems less certain. In times of crisis, do we plan for the future, or do we seek refuge in the past and try to leave a meaningful legacy behind?

Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” by Fran Wilde (Uncanny, September 2017)

This story has a lot in common with my top pick. It provides a new experience, richly written with details and images that seem chosen to challenge the reader.. I won’t say much about the details to allow you to immerse yourself in the story without preconceptions. I’m giving this story the number three spot because the narrator (an impressive narrator, I should add) feels static to me, fixated on past wrongs. She is also narrating in second person to a captive audience, so the story feels like a theme park ride, rather than a living, breathing story. Without giving too much away, I think a sequel in which the characters meet afterward (as they do in “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience”) would be an intriguing story.

Fandom for Robots,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Uncanny, September/October 2017)

I have a soft spot for stories with emerging AI, especially when they allow the AI the opportunity to grow and to interact socially. I like the technique of cutting between character experiences and online reaction and commentary (a style I seem to be seeing more of nowadays). I think it is a testament to the other stories on this list that “Fandom for Robots” is only number four.

Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon, (Uncanny, May/June 2017)

I like the fable at the heart of this story, and I think it’s a genuinely new take on the magic artifact trope. The characters engaged me. Still, it felt a little self-contained for my taste. The story moved forward mostly through conversation, and it felt a bit like an otherworldly panel discussion to me, albeit a good one.

Carnival Nine” by Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2017)

I did not feel that there was anything wrong with this story, but I struggled to find anything new The central conceit is that the characters are wind-up automata, but otherwise they do everything (except reproduce) in the same way that humans do. If you strip away the fantasy element, it’s a story of a woman who runs off to join the carnival and raises a child with a disability. I felt that the characters, particularly the child, could have done more to transcend their roles in the story.

That’s my impression of this year’s short stories. Overall, I was very happy with them, and “No Award” did not appear anywhere in my review. I’ll post more Hugo finalist reviews over the next two months as time permits.

Until then, happy writing and happy reading!

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