Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Hugo Award 2012 Short Stories - Review

Today the 2012 Hugo Awards will be presented at Chicon 7 (WorldCon), the ceremony beginning at 8pm CDT. And, since it’s also Short Story Sunday on my blog, I thought I would take a closer look at this year’s nominated short stories.

Homecoming, by Mike Resnick

This is probably the most ‘sci-fi’ of the bunch, though none of them are particularly focussed on SF/F genre tropes – with the obvious exception of John Scalzi’s story, which I’ll talk about below. Homecoming was originally published in Asimov’s.

In this story, Philip returns home after years away in order to visit his mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. The story is told by Philip’s father, who cannot accept the changes his son has undergone. Philip has changed his appearance to resemble an alien species in order to live with them and observe them, something that Philip thinks is both wonderful and an honour. His father, on the other hand, thinks Philip has abandoned his family and betrayed his species. He cannot think of his son as human anymore. It is only through the stories that Philip tells his mother, painting a picture of a beautiful, fairytale world and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, that his father can begin to see Philip’s point of view.

I thought this story was well written and convincing, but lacking in something that was hard to put my finger on. It didn’t have the emotional punch that some of the other stories did, and the end was perhaps a little too convenient. Philip’s stories of the other planet seemed a bit too fanciful, and somehow disconnected, as if they didn’t quite fit with the mood of the story. As a story about family, about communication breakdown and the unfair expectations parents can sometimes place on their children to live the same lives as them, it was successful. I liked the story, just not as much as some of the others.

Read the story here.

Movement, by Nancy Fulder 


Photo: Stretch
Movement is another Asimov’s story. It’s about a girl suffering from ‘Temporal Autism’, a fictional condition that appears to make her acutely aware of the passing of time. She cannot easily converse with or understand others, she reacts to the world differently than the rest of her family, and she finds it very difficult to express herself through words. Her parents discuss a potential ‘cure’ with her doctor, as the main character tries to come to terms with this idea, eventually coming to the conclusion that she would rather remain as she is.

This was a lovely story, capturing the feelings of the main character perfectly. I liked the idea of her condition, that she cannot seem to separate herself from the constant feeling of the flow of time, and that this makes words and conversation, as well as the everyday concerns of other people, seem so transitory and unimportant. This was captured so well that I felt like I could really feel the character’s sense of disconnection and awe. I’m not sure why the author decided to call this ‘autism’ and then immediately point out that it’s not actually autism or even necessarily very similar to it. Perhaps this was a comment on how people feel they need to label anything that is different from ‘normal’ behaviour and that often very different conditions get pushed under the same term, which can be unhelpful. I had a look at some other readers’ reactions online and it seems like there were some very mixed feelings towards this story based on its use of the word autism. I thought the story was very well written, moving and enjoyable to read, and I think it made its point very well – difference is not necessarily wrong, and a ‘cure’ might not always be a blessing. I can, however, understand why others might have had reservations about this story.

Read the story here.

Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue, by John Scalzi

This story originally appeared on as an April Fool’s joke, pretending to be the opening to a new series of fantasy novels by John Scalzi. It was designed to appear badly written and cliché ridden, while at the same time actually being an easy and funny read. It deals with the existence of the Night Dragons, mythical creatures that prey on humans in this society, but which, in reality, may or may not be the fictional, political tools of the emperors.

The story is written in an overly-elaborate, gently mocking style, somewhat reminiscent of Terry Pratchett. It’s obviously meant to be ironic and humorous, but unfortunately I didn’t find many of the jokes particularly funny. It starts with a ‘dark and stormy night’ joke (sigh) that goes on a little too long, and then a conversation, followed by a scene with the emperor that I didn’t feel added much to the plot, and then a series of jokes about the dragons that did make me smile. I do normally find John Scalzi’s blog very funny, so I’m not quite sure what made this a miss for me. Still, humour is one of the most subjective things in the world, and there were certainly a lot of others who loved this, so do give it a read if you haven’t. I also thought it was nice to see a humorous story on the list, as speculative fiction does not have to be completely serious all the time, and without this piece all the stories on the list would have had a very similar tone.

Read the story here.

The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees, by E. Lily Yu 


Photo: David Hawgood
This story originally appeared in Clarkesworld. It tells the story of a society of wasps that is forced to move when humans destroy their nests. They move in on the bees’ territory and then force them into submission. The bees have no choice but to comply with the wasps’ demands, but resistance comes in the form of special anarchist bees, whose anarchist tendencies are an inherited trait. I realise that attempting to describe this story has made it sound a bit ridiculous – it really is one of those stories that you just have to read for yourself!

This is a very poetic, beautifully written story, which I think has the feel of a myth or folktale. It’s a very thoughtful story, and one that has a fair amount of complexity in it. There are parallels to human colonisation and its effects, but it does not over-simplify this subject or make it too obvious by creating a direct analogy. In the end I felt like there was no ‘right’ answer or reaction to this story; it is very much up to the reader to decide what they think. I loved the inclusion of scientific observations about bees, such as anarchism being an inherited trait, alongside more fanciful ideas such as the wasps’ paper boats, which was an observation made by a few of the commenters on the story too. This story definitely deserves to win an award!

Read the story here.

The Paper Menagerie, by Ken Liu

Photo: Laitche

This one was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It’s about a boy whose mother is Chinese and father is American, and his reaction to the bullying and hurtful comments he receives at his American highschool. He tells his mother to speak English, asks her to cook American food from now on, rejects anything that seems too Chinese, and tries to make himself forget the language. He also rejects the magical paper animals that his mother makes for him, asking for ‘real toys’ instead. Later, he comes to regret this, as the paper animals in his menagerie reveal to him his mother’s past and her feelings about her son.

This is another beautifully written story, as well as an extremely moving one. The boy’s rejection of his mother’s culture is sad and painful to read, and her message to him at the end is heartbreaking. It certainly isn’t a particularly subtle story, but it plays with the reader’s emotions so well, and evokes the feeling it is trying to create perfectly. This is probably the best story on the list, though I think I may have enjoyed The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees a little more. I would be thrilled to see either story win.

Read the story here.

My Choice

My favourites were The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees, and The Paper Menagerie. Good luck to all the nominated authors, but especially to E. Lily Yu and Ken Liu – I hope one of them wins! I won’t be able to watch the ceremony live, as I’ll be in bed by then, but if you would like to it is being streamed here. I’ll add an update to this post tomorrow to make a note of who won.

UPDATE - The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu won best short story, and the John W. Campbell award for the best new writer went to E. Lily Yu, so two fantastic results there! 

Which was your favourite story and why? What did you think of the results? Leave me a comment below!


No comments:

Post a Comment