Monday, July 18, 2011

The 2011 Hugo Awards: Short Story Shortlist

It’s a modest year for the Hugo Awards short story shortlist. There are no major highs or lows on the list this year. Two of the stories are a little disappointing and two are pretty good.

“Amaryllis” by Carrie Vaughn (Lightspeed, June 2010)
“For Want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s, September 2010)
“Ponies” by Kij Johnson (, November 17, 2010)
“The Things” by Peter Watts (Clarkesworld, January 2010)

The stories from weakest to strongest: “Ponies” is a very short, very slight story about mean girls and their talking, flying, unicorn ponies. It distantly recalls Shirley Jackson’s well-known short story “The Lottery.” “Ponies” may be an allegory for something (as was much discussed here). It’s too tiny a wisp of a story to bear any weight at all.

“Amaryllis” is set in a resource-scarce future, which is becoming a popular science fiction setting recently, and revolves around a communal family with a fishing boat who make do with limited circumstances. The setting is well done. The characters are bland and the story is uneventful. The only conflict in the story, with a dishonest weight inspector, is too-easily resolved.

“For Want of a Nail” is another resource-scarce future, set aboard a generation starship where high tech items and repair parts are limited to supplies that were anticipated and packed by great-grandparents. A young woman, Rava, attempts to repair a damaged computer AI and discovers that the AI has been corrupted and that it has been covering for an important member of the community. As the extent of the problem is revealed the story is appropriately tense. The characterizations are solid and the story resolves well.

“The Things” is an inverted retelling of the movie “The Thing,” from the viewpoint of the alien creature. There were two movies: John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982) and Howard Hawks’ “The Thing from Another World” (1951) were both based on the often-reprinted 1938 story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr., about the discovery of an alien spacecraft in the ice in Antarctica and the shape-changing alien survivor. The story was retold, again, in the episode “Ice” in the first season of “The X-Files” (1993). I’ve seen or read all of these prior versions, yet even those who have not will have no problem following the story. A simple inversion of viewpoint isn’t enough to make a successful story and the author does more than that. The first-person alien narrator discovers differences in biology between itself and the humans and goes on a rambling rant about it. It was interesting, even if I wasn’t persuaded by the argument.  The story suffers when compared, inevitably, to the prior year’s story “The Island” by the same author, which was quite a bit stronger. “The Island” also featured unusual alien biology. The story went on to win a well-deserved best novelette Hugo Award at Aussiecon 4, held in Melbourne in 2010.

Rankings for the SF Strangelove Hugo Awards ballot for short story:
1. “The Things” by Peter Watts (Clarkesworld, January 2010) (read the story)
2. “For Want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s, September 2010) (read the story in PDF format)
3. “Amaryllis” by Carrie Vaughn (Lightspeed, June 2010) (read the story)
4.  “Ponies” by Kij Johnson (, November 17, 2010) (read the story)

This category of the ballot isn’t particularly strong this year. Readers looking for better stories will find them in any of the best of the year anthologies that collected the best short fiction of 2010. Here are the four covering science fiction that I rely on:

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: 28th Annual Collection,
edited by Gardner Dozois (St. Martin’s)
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year:  Volume Four,
edited by Jonathan Strahan (Night Shade Books)
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2011,
edited by Rich Horton (Prime)
Year’s Best SF 16,
edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (Harper/Voyager)

The  2011 Hugo Awards will be presented August 20, 2011, at Renovation, the World Science Fiction Convention to be held in Reno, Nevada.

Related links:
A brief review of “The Island” by Peter Watts
2011 Hugo Nominees
Reactions to the 2011 Hugo Nominees (best novella category)


  1. Hi - I have linked to this post from for comparative purposes!

  2. Thanks for adding my Hugo-related posts to your compilation.