Hugo Awards 2024: Best Short Story

How to Raise a Kraken by P. Djeli Clark

I was glad to see that enough Chinese fans nominated works for this year’s Hugos that a fair number of works and people from China made it to the list of finalists. There are two short stories, one novelette, and two novellas in the long-established fiction categories, plus one in best graphic story, two in best related work, one in best dramatic presentation (long form), two in best editor (short form), one in best editor (long form), and one in best fancast. I am grateful that all five tales in the fiction categories were translated into English so that I could read the works and cast a more fully informed vote. This is putting more of the world into Worldcon, and I hope it continues.

Like Doreen, I’ve found that writing about the short story nominees is a good way to get into the flow of writing about the finalists, even if I have already read some of the other nominated works. (And I read Starter Villain so fast and with such delight that I couldn’t not write about it.) So here are my brief thoughts on the short story finalists, in ascending order of preference.

The Sound of Children Screaming” by Rachael K. Jones tells a tale set inside an elementary school shooting from the perspective of the intended victims, and no. Let’s just not.

“Answerless Journey” by Han Song (translated by Alex Woodend) has its unnamed protagonist wake up with total amnesia on what turns out to be an interstellar spaceship. This is a lot like the initial scenes of Project Hail Mary, but recovery comes much more slowly and much less completely. I didn’t really buy the situation or the semi-philosophical speculations, and I was put off by the author’s vision of how quickly two people stranded together would begin to consider killing each other.

In “The Mausoleum’s ChildrenAliette de Bodard posits a graveyard of sentient starships that has become something of a world in itself. The site is ruled by Architects who are trying to re-awaken the ships or to build new versions of something similar. The people of the ships are kept prisoner by the Hunt, aerial drones who seek out and execute anyone attempting to leave. Thuận Lộc, de Bodard’s protagonist, escaped physically as a child, but she has never been able to escape the memories of what she endured as a child laborer under the Architects’ unkind eyes. The story tells of how she returns to try to bring two of her childhood friends out, how they reacted, and what happened as she tried to get out again. Like Doreen, I think it would work better at greater length, to make the characters more than just roles. I did like the way de Bodard showed how people can react differently to oppression; I did not like that this is another story that tries to draw emotional power from the suffering of children. (There were two such stories in 2020, too.)

“Tasting the Future Delicacy Three Times” by Baoshu (translated by Xueting C. Ni) offers three vignettes of things that might happen if technology allowed people to directly experience another person’s — or other entity’s — sensations via direct brain input. The vignettes are at successive stages of the technology’s development, and the author chooses to describe how the tech is used to transmit fine dining experiences, prudently or perhaps prudishly ignoring how quickly new tech has historically been adopted by porn. Baoshu takes the developments in interesting directions, though I was not surprised by the presumably shock ending of the first. The Chinese fiction among this year’s fiction finalists (I’ve read three of five, so this view might change some) reads like science fiction from a tradition that never had the New Wave, which of course it is. The stories have the tone of vintage Clarke or Asimov stories, dominated by an idea or two, and dedicated to working through something about the ideas. The characters are not so much individuals as they are roles, or pieces in the machinery of the plot. It’s interesting to encounter visions of the future that stem from another culture, but I’d like it even better if the people populating the stories were more than types, more than, say, the tycoon or the middle-aged man or his wife or the scientific auntie.

Better Living Through Algorithms” by Naomi Kritzer gives readers a first-person, Linnea, telling of her engagement with a slightly mysterious “app for better living” called Abelique. The present-day or near-future story opens with three friends, young women, talking at lunch. June is an early adopter, and enthusiastic. Margo thinks it sounds like a cult, though Linnea responds that she said the same about Pokémon Go. Linnea finally gives in to some not-so-gentle pressure from her boss, who thinks Abelique is a productivity app, and installs it. She finds the experience more humane than she expected, and she is particularly surprised by the engagement of other people in the app’s processes. Then some concerns arise, the shine comes off Abelique, and the characters as well as the story’s broader society move onward, changed by the experience. It’s a recognizably science fictional premise and resolution, but those are developed by and through the characters. This is not a portentous story making a big deal about wrestling with weighty issues, and yet wrestle it does. How people bring technology into their lives, what makes people happy, the life cycle of social media spaces, the connections between small actions and large effects — Kritzer considers all of these and more, and lets readers draw their own conclusions.

How to Raise a Kraken in Your Bathtub” by P. Djèlí Clark tells of Trevor, a young man of ambition, and how he hopes to improve his station by following the mail-order instructions of the story’s title. The setting is an alternate Victorian London, in a world where the Royal Navy contends with Mermen for control of the world’s seas. Trevor appreciates how the generosity of his wife’s family has given them a good start in life, but he yearns to make his own mark, and bring in plenty of money while he is at it. “Trevor Hemley Presents the Great and Monstrous Kraken!” dances before his eyes, a vision of fame and fortune from a traveling circus. He is a fool, but not unsympathetic; unfortunately, he has no idea what he is playing with, and consequences eventually escape beyond his control. Clark gives readers a fantastical alternate world, sketched in a few scenes but supported by telling details. It’s alternately funny and ghastly, and for me entirely satisfying.


This is my second bit of writing about finalists for the 2024 Hugo Awards.

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