It’s that time of year again! Doug persuaded me to get a voting membership to the Hugos this year, and I’m taking my duties quite seriously, even if there’s only about a month and a half in which to go over all the materials nominated. Of course, I started with the short stories because they’re the quickest to evaluate.
First up alphabetically was And Now His Lordship Is Laughing by Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons, 9 September 2019). This anti-colonialism revenge fantasy reminded me of both W. Somerset Maugham’s “P.& O.” as well as Ray Russell’s “Sardonicus”. While I quite enjoyed the centering of the elderly female Bengali doll-maker in the narrative, I didn’t find the story otherwise original or of note. Entertaining, but been done.
As The Last I May Know by S.L. Huang (Tor.com, 23 October 2019) was slightly more original, and certainly very thought-provoking, but as a 40-something Asian woman who’s read her fair share of Pacific Rim area anti-nuclear-weapon fiction, it also didn’t strike me as being particularly award-worthy. I did enjoy the atmosphere of a far future world that felt more like something out of a feudal fantasy novel, but I honestly felt that the brevity of the piece did a disservice to the subject.
Blood Is Another Word For Hunger by Rivers Solomon (Tor.com, 24 July 2019) felt quite different from most of the Civil War slave fiction I’ve read, but the quasi-metaphorical supernatural elements, especially towards the end, didn’t really work for me. I felt for Sully’s rage and hunger — “I’m bored of hurting” is undoubtedly the single best line of all the stories here — and while I appreciated her appreciation of Ziza’s grace, I had a hard time connecting with the ending, probably because I thought confining her happiness to the fate of one person was a surprisingly limiting choice. As with the last story, I felt like it could have been more, tho this one definitely felt more like shorthand for a larger work to come.
That was also one of my main issues with A Catalog Of Storms by Fran Wilde (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2019), the other being that I had a hard time understanding the magic/weather system. So much was spent outlining that at the expense of infusing the characters’ interior lives with meaning that it just felt like a jumble of a read. It really felt as if the selection committee nominated this based on a nostalgia for the systems and styles of N. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy, only with less character diversity.
The next to last story alphabetically was Do Not Look Back, My Lion by Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 2019). Despite the strong fantasy elements, it’s essentially a slice of life story in a fascinating steppe setting of a warrior people and the dilemma that will wedge apart one married couple. Vivid, with terrific world-building and a central polyamorous lesbian-bisexual couple, it was my runner-up for the title.
The winner, for me, was Ten Excerpts From An Annotated Bibliography On The Cannibal Women Of Ratnabar Island by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare Magazine, May 2019). This very short story plays with form and time to tell a compelling tale that is at once pro-lesbian and anti-colonial, with significant horror and sci-fi touches. It read like a brilliant, dark jewel that left me far more impressed than any of the other entries in this category.
I can’t wait to fill out my ballot, and to hear Doug’s opinions on the category! Please do mention yours in the comments, as well, if you’ve read any of the nominated works!
6/9/2020 Updated to include links to where all the short stories can be read online, provided by their original publishers. Read ’em while they’re up!