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Hugo 2012 4: Short Stories

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“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld, April 2011)
I really like Yu’s story; whilst not perhaps the most characterful piece, the length does have something to do with that, but the anthropomorphism and political engagement are wonderful.  This encapsulates in its brief span a huge number of ideas absolutely brilliantly, without missing a beat; and unlike, say, Ken MacLeod, avoids in-jokes about political factions or coded references, rather creating a political fable understandable by all but with not only unclear, but also multiple, morals.  Whether or not you happen to agree with its final political conclusion – and I’m not at all sure what I think of it – it is a fantastic little piece of writing.
 
“The Homecoming” by Mike Resnick (Asimov's, April/May 2011)
This story is the sort that leaves a lump in the reader’s throat.  There’s nothing unexpected in it – it is, in fact, the expected catharsis and sadness that leave that lump – but Resnick constructs a brilliant cast and concept, of xenological immersion; and the story is presented as a xenologist coming home, still looking like the aliens he is studying, to his father, who has disowned him for his choice, and his mother, with Alzheimer’s.  Told from the perspective of the father, it’s a brilliant, moving, sad tale; the concepts are powerful and wonderfully conveyed, the aesthetics fascinating and the alien world glimpsed just enough to leave it mysterious and provoke the imagination.  An absolutely wonderful and very human story.
 
“Movement” by Nancy Fulda (Asimov's, March 2011)
I’ve heard it said that this is a story about autism.  Indeed, it arguably attempts, in its internal denials that it is a story about autism, to reinforce that notion.  The problem is that it really isn’t a story about autism; Fulda has made it first person, without even attempting to think about how an autistic person might see the world, see other people – and whilst assuming “savant” is the typical representative of autism.  I have a serious problem with the story on that level which, if we’re honest, is pretty much impossible to overcome and thus I can’t come at this story with any attitude other than its failure; in attempting to familiarise autism, Fulda has Othered it more than ever by mispresenting it…
 
“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2011)
Liu’s story does not pull its emotional punches – indeed, it could even be said to be a bit heavy-handed; but as a study of a parent-child relationship, of the problems of racism and of gulfs of understanding, of simple human character, it is more than inspired.  This story moves the reader completely; at times obvious, at times much more subtle, it worms its way into the reader’s heart and mind and sits there, working its magic.  An absolutely heartbreaking story, this really is a masterpiece of emotional and minimalist fantasy…
 
“Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” by John Scalzi (Tor.com)
Reread for voting purposes. This is a rather silly story, a parody of an epic fantasy introduction; this, to me, strikes me as a rather poor and excessively excessive over-the-top parody to the point of failure.  As an April Fool, it perhaps works, just about – although without actually being a “fool”, instead just being a joke; as anything else, and especially a Hugo entry, it completely falls flat on its face, because the humour isn’t (after the first paragraph, which is brilliant) humorous, and the parodical elements are excessively extreme.
 
 
This category is one of the more variable - there's some brilliant stories (standouts for me are the Yu, the Resnick and the Liu) and some appalling ones (the Scalzi and the Fulda - neither remotely worthy of their places on the ballot).  Choosing how the top three places fall out is going to be very hard, because those stories are all so good, and in quite different ways, even as two of them tackle very similar subject-matter with very similar emotional resonances; I just wish it was so hard to choose between all five options, rather than having two that'll end up ranked below "no award"...

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
the_corbie
Jul. 14th, 2012 09:18 pm (UTC)
The only point of disagreement here would be the Resnick story, which really left me unimpressed, in the end. But as I said in my own review, I think that's partly because I know he can do better. It's absolutely classic Hugo-fodder, but I ranked it fourth (after the Yu, the Liu, and No Award, in that order).

If Scalzi wins, he'll have proved that he really can win a Hugo for any old rubbish he knocks off in his lunch hour. And I may add that amongst the voters I've spoken to, that's a pretty generous opinion. But you don't have to go far on the 'net to find people praising his entry as the funniest thing ever written, with comparisons to classic Pratchett and Adams. Takes all sorts,I suppose.
libris_leonis
Jul. 14th, 2012 09:52 pm (UTC)
Perhaps, being a parent has an effect on reception of the Resnick as well; after all it is focused on the parent/child relationship, which you've experienced from both ends, me only from one.

As for the Scalzi - I quite like the first paragraph. I just wish it ended after that one paragraph.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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