Hugo Short Story Review: “Asymmetrical Warfare” by S.R. Algernon

written by David Steffen

Asymmetrical warfare is one of the Hugo Finalists for the short story category this year.   It was published by Nature Magazine’s Futures feature, and you can read it here in its entirety.

“Asymmetrical Warfare” is a science fiction story written as a military mission log from the point of view of militant starfish-like aliens invading earth with the hopes of proving earthlings’ battle prowess as a way of inducting the species into the Galactic Union.  The aliens have made the assumption that earthlings are anatomically similar to themselves (including body regeneration) because of the commonly used five-pointed stars on earthling spacecraft.

I love flash fiction, and generally consider it an under-appreciated form.  I would love to see more flash fiction on award ballots, and humorous flash fiction even more so.  Humor is incredibly difficult to write well because each person’s sense of humor can be very individual so that something hilarious to one is unamusing to another.

I thought this story was cute, and I did chuckle at it a bit.  But, even though it was a very short story, it was too long to sustain its joke.  The joke is the premise itself and so once the premise is clear it keeps on going without any new sources of humor.  It could’ve made a great drabble–reveal the premise, reveal a consequence, and be done, but at its current length it needed something more than the small joke to fill out the word count.

I enjoyed the read pretty well, but it was pretty good not great.  I wanted more substance, whether that was story or character or new sources of humor as the story goes on.