Hugo Awards 2024: Best Short Story Nominees

And we’re back! After the registration debacle in Chengdu last year — never mind all the subsequent scandals — it was a relief to be able to sign up quickly and easily for Glasgow and get my voting packet for the 2024 Hugo Awards. I begin my coverage, as always, with the Best Short Story Nominees, which I’ve found always work best in warming me up for all the categories.

After reading through them all, my favorite short story, to my surprise, turned out to be Baoshu’s Tasting The Future Delicacy Three Times. I want to say that it was translated into English by Xueting C Ni, but the rather acerbic author’s note leaves me to wonder at whom else may have translated it in the past. The note was also the reason I was rather cautious going into this, as the author dissenting quite loudly with his translator is rarely a good sign for what I’m about to read in translation. Regardless, the clever, three-fold tale of the lengths that some people will go to in order to taste the most exquisite flavors really impressed me with how well it brings a speculative fiction lens to some of the most universal desires of humanity. As a food-lover, I found the piece both extraordinary and disturbing: my favorite kind of fiction.

Running a close second was Rachael K Jones’ The Sound Of Children Screaming. I am a sucker for a deconstructed tale, and this was a brilliant example of that. Even better, the short story also dissects the USian gun culture that allows mass and in particular school shootings to continue without legislative check. It’s a powerful, deeply intelligent and achingly raw fantasia of survival and fighting back. Honestly, it was so good, it made me want to read the entire issue of the magazine it came in!

Third on my list was P Djeli Clark’s How To Raise A Kraken In Your Bathtub, a delightful Victorian pastiche that reframes the issues of the time before drolly skewering them. The title character, a social-climbing clerk who’s married up, lands upon the harebrained idea of the title, hatching a kraken in his bathtub. Unsurprisingly, very little goes to plan.

Neck and neck with this tale of monstrous chaos was a far gentler story from the author of the Catnet series. While not directly related to those beloved books, Naomi Kritzer’s Better Living Through Algorithms once again posits the benefits of artificial intelligence, even if only as temporary aids to achieving the lives we desire.

The last two stories on this list are both worthy but left me feeling unimmersed in their narratives. Han Song’s Answerless Journey, as translated by Alex Woodend, aims for philosophical depth with its tale of two entities who wake in the middle of what seems to be a long-haul space flight. Both amnesiac, the entities must start from scratch in trying to figure out who and what they are and how they relate to one another. It’s an interesting concept but, unlike Tasting The Future Delicacy Three Times, posits no answers, as its title suggests. That’s fine but not for me: I read because I want to discover and engage with other people’s ideas, not to be queried vaguely back. At least if you’re going to demand I fill in the ending, give me something specific to ponder, not just the Philosophy 101 of “who are we and why are we here?”

Aliette de Bodard’s The Mausoleum’s Children rounds out this list. This space opera, of a young woman who goes back into the high-tech prison she once escaped in order to rescue her friends, would likely have worked better for me fleshed out in a longer format. As it was, it felt more like a vivid dream sketched out upon waking, in dire need of a more stringent authorial interrogation. This is actually a common problem I have with most of her works, and with my own dabbling in speculative fiction: an insufficient structural integrity in the worldbuilding. But hey, people like her stuff, so perhaps I’m just overthinking it.

And that’s my slate for the Hugo Awards 2024 category for Best Short Story. Wherever possible, I’ve linked to where you can read each nominee for free online. More Hugo coverage to come soon!

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