written by David Steffen
And here it is my favorite category of my favorite SF award, the Hugo Award for Short Story. Another smaller batch this year because the Hugo rules require the nominees to have a minimum of 5% of the total nomination ballot. On the one hand, it’s great that there are so many great short stories being published every year that the nominating vote is spread that thin. On the other hand, I want more stories and it’s disappointing to have less stories to read just because there are more great stories out there this year than ever based on an arbitrary percentage threshold.
Neil Clarke, editor of Clarkesworld, has posted an editorial suggesting that the rule be changed to encourage more short stories to end up on the ballot in the face of increasing Hugo voters. Personally, I would love to see that rule changed. My preference would be to allow the top 5 and count any ties for 5th place as nominees. A too-large ballot can be detrimental if you’re using a simple voting scheme where each voter picks only one story–two stories by one author will self-compete and if people’s first and second choices are very close in their mind there would be no way for them to support both. But the Hugo Awards use an instant runoff scheme where you can rank all the stories in the order that you like them, so if your favorite gets eliminated your vote will still support your second favorite, and so on.
The rules can change if people get involved and raise their voice about what they want. A few years ago, Neil Clarke was a major voice in saving the SemiProZine category by helping people understand the value in the award, and this can be the same.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s go on to the stories!
1. “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”, John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)
A few years ago, the world inexplicably changed so that any lie you utter would be met with a downpour of cold water that falls from nowhere combined with a feeling of angst, both proportional to the audacity of your lie. These effects can only be counteracted by saying something unequivocal. You can avoid saying the truth and you can mislead as long as you don’t utter something that can’t be untrue. The protagonist Matt is gay and has managed to avoid coming out to his traditional-minded Chinese parents for years. Now Matt and his boyfriend Gus have decided they want to get married, and Matt needs to break the news to his parents, over his sister’s objections.
At first I thought the speculative element of the water was more than a bit corny. But the story doesn’t make a joke of this concept and runs with it. As with the best speculative fiction, it’s not about the speculative element. It’s about how that element allows us to look at the real world through the lens of the speculative. This story did an excellent job of that. It’s a great story, well told, and I highly recommend it. Easy choice in this category.
2. “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com, 04-2013)
“People send their dreams and wishes floating down the Mae Ping River with the hope that those dreams will be captured, read and come true. It is a surprise what some wish for and why. One can never know what’s inside someone’s heart,what they really truly want, and those dreams sometimes reveal our true selves.”
This is the introduction before the story starts, and the story is exactly what is described by those few sentences. The story starts by explaining the wishes of a bunch of people that are cast into the river, and then as the story plays out it’s shown how those wishes are granted, not always in a straightforward fashion. Young Tangmoo dies in the opening paragraphs, drowned in that same river, and the story rolls back to reveal his wish and the wishes of others.
This was an interesting thought experiment about how one must be careful what one wishes for, but to me it never really extended beyond a thought experiment. Some of the turns of phrase were interesting and strange and definitely lent something to the story. But in the end I just was never really connected with it, and the concept itself was also not something new to me. Not bad by any means, but easily forgettable.
3. “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love”, Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine, Mar-2013)
This story starts out with the whimsical hypothetical in the title, as spoken by a woman to a friend she loves dearly, and continues on to give real life reasons why she is pondering this whimsy.
The characters read as real once the story got to the story, but I found all the hypotheticals more irritating than entertaining or illuminating. If A, then B. If B, then C. If C, then D. A story this short shouldn’t feel too long, but to me it did. Eventually the story gets to the actual story behind the hypotheticals, but by that time I was just impatient for it to be over.
4. “Selkie Stories Are for Losers”, Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)
A girl’s mother leaves her family behind. The girl thinks the circumstances imply that her mother is a selkie (a mythical shapeshifting creature that could turn into a seal by pulling on her sealskin, but would be trapped in human form if that skin was stolen).
Most of the body of the story is the girl criticizing the tropes of selkie stories, which I wasn’t very interested in, partly because I haven’t seen enough selkie stories to really say whether her tropes are actually accurate or not. While some of the circumstances of her mother leaving match a selkie story, I didn’t see any really strong evidence that that was the case, so it just seemed to be a story about a neurotic fixation caused by family trauma. The family trauma, perhaps I should’ve felt moved by, but it happened before the story started, and rather than confront the real situation she spends all of her time obsessing about selkie stories.
Not my thing, I guess.