Saturday, July 19, 2014

Hugo Ballot 2014: Short Stories

Nominees: “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love”/“The Ink Readers of Doi Saket”/“Selkie Stories Are for Losers”/“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”
Unlike some other voters, I did find some SF/fantasy elements in these stories and won't reject most of them for lack of being sff.  However, all of them took Campbell's "assume your tech marvel and then tell a story" a bit TOO literally.
I did find it frustrating that all the stories fit a particular subtype within the broader SFF universe.  There is nothing in this category for people who like exploding spaceships, or hetero action heroes. I don't have to prefer one type of story to recognize that others do.  That all of the nominated stories fit this same pattern is a problem, imo.

“If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky. This was not SF prose.  It is a prose poem.  It is not an awesome prose poem, but it is not horrible either.  My main isues are a) that it is poetry, not sf prose, and should have been entered in the Rysling Awards and not here b) it disneyfies dinosaurs, which I hold unconsiable in science-related works, and c) the conflict hook relies on evil redneck racist/homophobic/antievolutionary bar thugs beating up an innocent person just because.  That this piece won the Nebula, imo, justifies a great deal of the cultural pushback against the sorts of stories that this embodies. That it includes a wish to be dinosaurs does not make the story SF, no more than any story with angels in it is necessarily Christian.
“The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. Quiet, subtle, slow.  Well written, but a couple stylistic tweeks bugged me (a bit too much of the footnotes.) The beauty of the language and the non-Euro standard fantasy setting were quite nice. Could have been cut back by about 1/3 and been a stronger story for it.

“Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar. This was a very intriguing idea populated by characters I did not like and depicted with writing I did not care for.  The abandonment issue of selkie folklore needs a better treatment, imo.  I also felt that depicting the pov character as homosexual, and then failing to followup on the possibility that with her sexuality the character was rejecting the possibility of having childern (to abandon) herself was a major shortcoming.
“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu. In many ways, this was the best writing of the four.  As a coming-out story, an examination of interfamily politics and a young person's struggle to own and take responsibility for his own decisions, this is pretty good.  As a SF story, it is really weak tea.  The inclusion of some degree of social impact of the liquid lie detector (how does it impact art?  how do salesmen work around the restrictions?) would have greatly strengthened it as a SF story.
Of the four nominees, "The Ink Readers" is my top choice, but I am not really enthusiastic about it.

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