It’s Hugo Award voting time, and I’ve read and weighed the short stories. This year there are no incursions from Puppies of any kind, and while for aesthetic reasons I’m not fond of every nominee, they all deserve to be considered the year’s best. In fact, many of the Hugo short story nominations were also Nebula nominations.
In order from sixth to first place (the Hugo uses a ranked ballot), these are my votes for the short stories, but reasonable people might vote otherwise.
6. “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand,” by Fran Wilde (Uncanny 9-10/17)
A visitor is led through an exhibition of what might have once cruelly been called a freak show. Beautifully written, the story effectively evokes the bitter anger of those on display, and perhaps it’s meant as horror reflecting the way society treats those who are different, but I don’t think it quite fulfills the noble goals of horror. Horror stories are modern tragedies, and a tragedy requires the protagonists to suffer for some fault within themselves. The visitor is tortured apparently to avenge the general cruelty of society, but the visitor’s participation in this cruelty is never established. As Aristotle argued in Poetics, unmerited misfortune merely shocks us: it isn’t tragedy. I see this story as torture for torture’s sake, and there’s no merit in sadism. The quality of the writing, though, deserves to be ranked above “No Vote.”
5. “Carnival Nine,” Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 5/11/17)
A wind-up toy robot mother makes great sacrifices to care for her robot son who has mechanical problems. The tale is obviously a analogy to what happens in real life to families with children with disabilities — a bit too obvious an analogy, perhaps, almost a parable, and the story never explains who does the winding up or why some toys live in a closet. Heart-strings are tugged, but logic is stretched, and that weakened the overall effect for me. Also a Locus Award nominee.
4. “Moon, Sun, Dust,” by Ursula Vernon (Uncanny 5-6/17)
A farmer is bequeathed a magic sword by his grandmother on her deathbed. He has no use for a sword, magic or otherwise, however, and is quite content to go on growing potatoes. His humble candor carries the story, which is gently and delightfully charming. I rank it fourth only due to stiff competition. It’s well worth reading.
3. “The Martian Obelisk,” by Linda Nagata (Tor.com 7/19/17)
As Earth is dying from a long series of natural and human-made disasters, an old woman is directing robots on Mars to create a monument to outlast humanity. It may be a futile gesture, but there’s not much else to do — then something seems to be stirring on Mars. This quiet story depends on largely unstated emotions to carry it, and those emotions lurk like leviathans: sorrow, defeat, anger, pain, despair … and defiance. Despite its brevity, it made a long journey across my heart to do battle with dystopia. It won the 2018 Locus Award for Short Story.
2. “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™,” by Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex 8/17)
An Indian guide for cyberspace tourists offers Native American “Vision Quests” that are as authentically Indian as the Lucky Charms leprechaun is authentically Irish, but white people seem fine with that. Then a customer wants too much. Unrelenting cynicism about commercialization and stereotypes underlies this story’s muted fury. It’s already won an Apex Reader’s Choice Award, a Locus Award nomination, and this year’s Nebula Award. Well deserved.
1. “Fandom for Robots,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Uncanny 9-10/17)
A sentient robot discovers an anime series about another sentient robot, Hyperwarp, and becomes a “hyper-big fan.” Then it discovers fanfiction and makes friends. This is as funny as it sounds but also touching as the robot, which has no emotions, responds in a pseudo-emotional way and becomes accepted as a human on the internet. Both fandom and technology are efficiently dissected with a loving, razor-sharp knife. It was a Locus Award nominee and got my vote for the Nebula Award.
Good luck and congratulations to all the authors!
— Sue Burke