Short Stories are tricky beasts. In its ideal form, the short story is a pure distillation of storytelling. No slack, no flab, no digressions, just story. This is hard to do, and lots of stories don’t really work (for me, at least). As a result, reading a bunch of short stories together leads to an uneven experience. This goes double for Hugo shortlists, as there’s not even a pretense that the stories are related (most collections are from a singular author or cover a theme), and when you add in our current culture wars, things get even more annoying. I’ve been mildly unimpressed with the last few years worth of Hugo Short Stories, and this year doesn’t really change that. I’m not sure if that’s just because there are so many short stories and so little agreement during the nominating phase or if it’s because there really aren’t enough great short stories out there. This year’s ballot is mostly Rabid Puppies, with one non-Puppy work that made the ballot as a result of one original nominee bowing out in protest to the slate approach (a shame, since I loved that story). What’s more, you can tell from the works themselves which belongs to which camp. There’s a bifurcation of preferences that is very stark and obvious. Is that good? I don’t know, let’s dive in:
- “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer – Told from the perspective of an AI that was unintentionally created at Google to optimize their search algorithms. Bored, the AI decides to try helping out some humans… humans who are stubborn and uncooperative. In exchange, all the AI asks is for cat pictures. This is a fun little story, albeit a little derivative. I mean, the story itself references other stories (such as Bruce Sterling’s “Maneki Neko”) and that has the effect of making you want to read those rather than this one. Otherwise, it’s reasonably well executed, with the occasional quibble to be had. The AI does seem surprisingly human in its thought process (dare I say: a Mary Sue), even as it pretends to be superior, but it works well enough. As it notes, most AI stories are about evil AIs that must be destroyed before they destroy humanity, and it is a little refreshing to read a story about a benevolent AI (albeit one with no boundaries on privacy).
- “Seven Kill Tiger” by Charles Shao – A tale of biological warfare and casual genocide, this story has some interesting ideas floating around. Not new ideas, to be sure, and the whole thing comes from a position of nationalism and xenophobia that is uncomfortable, but perhaps intentionally so. It’s a little depressing (as I’m sure was intended), but perhaps too simple in its execution, which undercuts its effectiveness a little. Still, it’s paced well and hits all its points quickly and effectively. These first two stories are imperfect, but on about the same level (as such, depending on my mood, the order might switch up when it comes to final voting).
- “Asymmetrical Warfare” by S. R. Algernon – Alien forces occupy earth and humans stubbornly fight back, as told from the perspective of the Alien commander. It’s a little too short for its own good, but effectively shows a tragic misunderstanding at the heart of the conflict. That being said, there’s not quite enough meat on this bone to make it truly effective, but then, who knows. We’ll see how it marinates in my head when it comes voting time.
- Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle – A pretty blatant trolling nomination here, but it starts out surprisingly SFnal. But yeah, it’s more gay erotica than SF and, um, how are we supposed to vote on this thing? For his part, Tingle seems to be taking the nomination in stride and with good humor, but whatever. I don’t know, I’ll just keep it here I think.
- No Award
- “If You Were an Award, My Love” by Juan Tabo and S. Harris – Look, I didn’t particularly like “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” (a controversial nominee from a couple years ago) either, and if you want to whine about it on your blog, that’s fine too. But best SF short story of the year? It’s not a story at all. It’s just a thinly veiled screed against non-Puppy Hugo voters and John Scalzi. Also? It’s about a year too late. Hey, you guys, if I post my trenchant take-down of Murphy Brown next week, will you nominate that for a short story award next year? I get the “let’s troll the awards” instinct that the Rabids have, I guess, but this is clearly not deserving of even being ranked on the final ballot. I don’t hand out No Awards very often, but this is a pretty clear case.
Of note: the story that dropped out, The Commuter, would have probably been #1 on this ballot. So there you have it. I’m finishing up my final novel on the list and will move on to Novelettes and Novellas soon enough, so stay tuned.