Monday, July 19, 2010

The 2010 Hugo Awards: Short Story Shortlist

The Hugo Awards ceremony will take place September 5, 2010, at Aussiecon 4, the 68th World Science Fiction Convention, to be held in Melbourne, Australia.

Best Short Story Shortlist
“The Bride of Frankenstein” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s 12/09)
“Bridesicle” by Will McIntosh (Asimov’s 1/09)
“The Moment” by Lawrence M. Schoen (Footprints)
“Non-Zero Probabilities” by N.K. Jemisin (Clarkesworld 9/09)
“Spar” by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld 10/09)

“The Bride of Frankenstein” retells the story of Victor Frankenstein from the viewpoint of his unhappy wife. This treads overly familiar ground. The character of the wife and her relationships with Victor, Igor, and the monster are tired and predictable throughout. This is far from the best work the genre has to offer and it is disappointing to find it on the short list for the Hugo Award.

“The Moment” is a series of vignettes describing far future star-faring races and superhuman entities as they stumble upon a human footprint on our moon. The vignettes pale quickly and grow tiresome. The payoff for the story is the realization that the footprint represents the moment that humanity became a star-faring race, which is trite. The self-congratulatory attitude toward human achievement is painfully simplistic. Like “The Bride of Frankenstein,” this story is well short of the best work the genre has to offer.

“Bridesicle” brings speed-dating to the frozen dead. Preserved dead women are woken for conversation with men who will pay for a woman's full-revival if the woman will agree to become their bride. The story works best in the moments when it makes clear how this process is creepy and exploitive. Among the numerous questions the story doesn't adequately address are: why does this process only involve frozen women and why would a man choose to pay for an expensive revival rather than find a living woman? The relatively happy ending feels a little unearned, but at least it's tempered by some sadness.

I discussed “Spar” recently here. It's successful in that it is a disturbing story. On rereading it seems more empty and less engaging.

“Non-Zero Probabilities” depicts a present-day Manhattan where unlikely events have become commonplace. If a train crash was once a one-in-a-million chance, now any mass transit travel is a life-or-death risk. On the positive side, remission of cancer is now frequent. We follow Adele's quotidian life. She is an appealing character. She decides, with the altered odds, to try again on the dating scene. This is my choice as the strongest of the five short stories on the shortlist.

SF Strangelove's Hugo ballot
1. “Non-Zero Probabilities” by N.K. Jemisin (Clarkesworld 9/09)
2. “Spar” by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld 10/09)
3. “Bridesicle” by Will McIntosh (Asimov’s 1/09)
4. No Award

Anyone approaching the shortlist of five short stories who assumes that it represents a selection of the best that the science fiction genre has to offer would be sadly mistaken. Any of the best of the year anthologies offers a better cross-section of the genre with consistently stronger stories than this list. This list is especially weighed down by “The Bride of Frankenstein” and “The Moment.”

Related posts:
2010 Hugo Results and Reactions
The 2010 Hugo Awards: More on the Shortlist
The 2010 Hugo Awards: Novelette Shortlist

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