Review: Hugo Short Story Nominees 2013

written by David Steffen

And, my favorite award category of the SF award season, the Hugo Award for Best Short Story. The Hugos are my favorite bunch of awards since they are meant to represent the tastes of fandom itself (albeit the portion of fandom that has the money and time and inclination to register and read to vote). And the short story length in particular because that’s the length that I prefer to do most of my reading.

Interesting this year that there are only three nominees for this category, due to a requirement that all stories on the final ballot must have received at least 5% of the overall vote. On the downside, there are less nominees to read and review. On the upside, it seems like a good sign that there is a good portion of quality speculative fiction being published regularly that there were no clearer standouts for the votes!


Hugo Award for Best Short Story

1. Immersion by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld, June 2012)
A very interesting setting, set in Longevity, a world which has been recently conquered by a galaxy-spanning Empire. The war is over, but the conflict continues as the Empire sends tourists through to absorb the culture. The biggest element of this absorption is a technology called an immerser, which all of the Imperials use heavily to interact with their world, acting at its most basic level as a translator but altering perceptions of reality in everything you do. To deal with Imperials at all, the locals have to user the immersers as well. It’s a battle to maintain your own beliefs and perceptions in the face of reality overlays.

This was published in Clarkesworld, where I first heard it on their podcast. It’s a solid story, well written. The worldbuilding in this one was especially good.


2. Mono No Aware by Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)
Hiroto is one of the survivors of the end of the world, riding on a solar sail away from the earth that has been rendered unlivable by a meteor. The story is written as a recollection of interactions with his father who was not one of the survivors, who taught him many lessons about life and what it is to be Japanese.

I’m rather torn on my opinion for this story. I wanted to like it, there were characters, there was good basis for emotion and a plot, a definite speculative element. For me it walked the line between effective emotional writing and being a wee bit sentimental. I like a story that makes me feel, but there’s a fine line that separates that from being able to see the author pulling the strings.


3. Mantis Wives by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
Eventually, the mantis women discovered that killing their husbands was not inseparable from the getting of young… It was believed that mantis men would resist their deaths if permitted to choose the manner of their mating; but the women learned to turn elsewhere for nutrients after draining their husbands’ members, and yet the men lingered. And so their ladies continued to kill them, but slowly, in the fashioning of difficult arts. What else could there be between them?

This excerpt from the first section of the story pretty much sums it up. The rest of it is the same, but more so. It’s written like a lovingly-written Kama Sutra style book for Mantis Wives to read to think of new ways to torture their husbands to death. That is all it is. No characters. No plot. Just descriptions of torture written as if they were descriptions of sex. That’s not a story. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not a story.

This is one of those nominees that really frustrates me because I don’t understand what anyone could see in it it, let alone the minimum 5% of the nominating population picking this as one of their 5 favorite short stories of the year. I have no idea what people found appealing about this. If you are reading this and you liked it, perhaps you could leave me a comment and clue me in.

Published by

David Steffen

David Steffen is an editor, publisher, and writer. If you like what he does you can visit the Support page or buy him a coffee! He is probably best known for being co-founder and administrator of The Submission Grinder, a donation-supported tool to help writers track their submissions and find publishers for their work . David is also the editor-in-chief here at Diabolical Plots. He is also the editor and publisher of The Long List Anthology: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List series. David also (sometimes) writes fiction, and you can follow on BlueSky for updates on cross-stitch projects and occasionally other things.

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