Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Reading the Hugos: Short Story

Welcome back to Reading the Hugos, 2020 Edition! Today we are taking a look at the six finalists in the Short Story category.

None of the finalists were on my nominating ballot, but I read fewer stories last year than I would have liked. I've read some of the authors on this year's ballot before, but Nibedita Sen and Shiv Ramdas are completely new to me and I'm not sure if I've read S.L. Huang before, but that is certainly going to change after reading "As the Last I May Know".

Let's take a look at the finalists.

And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, by Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons, 9 September 2019)
As the Last I May Know”, by S.L. Huang (, 23 October 2019)
Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, by Rivers Solomon (, 24 July 2019)
A Catalog of Storms”, by Fran Wilde (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2019)
Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, by Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 2019)
Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare Magazine, May 2019)

A Catalog of Storms: When the weather is almost sentient and angry, the only defense is people who are willing and able to sacrifice their own lives by turning into a more soothing weather. "A Catalog of Storms" reads better than that description, but that's the best way I can wrap my brain around this story. There's a lot here to appreciate, but there's something about Fran Wilde's fiction that just doesn't grab me, just doesn't work for me. That remains the case with "A Catalog of Storms". I can see the emotional heart of the story, but it remains empty for me as a reader.

Fran Wilde is also a finalist for the Lodestar Award with her novel Riverland. Riverland was the winner of the Andre Norton Award and "A Catalog of Storms" was also a finalist for the Nebula Award.

And Now His Lordship: There are stories you appreciate for the craft rather than the execution and this is one of those stories. The ending of "And Now His Lordship Is Laughing" is excellent, it's exactly what the story needed and what the story was leading up to. Shiv Ramdas is telling a story of colonization, magic in the real world, and the cost of those colonized and used for resources. Set back in World War II, the story resonates today. I admire so much about the story, except for my desire to actually read it.

"And Now His Lordship Is Laughing" was also a finalist for the Nebula Award.

Ten Excerpts: Perhaps the story would not have worked so well if it was longer or fleshed out in a more conventional narrative form, but I really wanted more of this story. Sen rolls out the story in little disparate bits of academic commentary, moving through the titular bibliography and giving the story of the Ratnabar women more context and more heartbreak, though that heartbreak is suggestive from the beginning. "Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island" is exceptional.

Nibedita Sen is on the Astounding Award ballot for Best New Writer this year. "Ten Excerpts" was also a finalist for the Nebula Award

Blood is Another Word for Hunger: It should be no surprise that a Rivers Solomon story is as good as it is powerful, and "Blood is Another Word for Hunger" is exactly that.  It's a story of an enslaved woman taking her freedom by taking the lives of her captors, but it each of those killings which drives the story forward by birthing spirit lives. This isn't a post-slavery tale so much as it deals with the trauma of slavery and it is a trauma that doesn't end with freedom - regardless of how that freedom is attained. This is an unrelenting story, an excellent one.

Rivers Solomon is also a Best Novella finalist for The Deep.

Do Not Look Back, My Lion: This is Harrow's first story since winning the Hugo Award last year for "A Witch's Guide to Escape" and it's another banger. Tightly written, "Do Not Look Back, My Lion" is a heartbreaking story of love and loss, of duty and promises to family. The story is perpetually on the edge of a war, but is centered on a desire to not have one of the children marked to be a soldier. This is a beautiful story, raw with grief.

Alix E. Harrow's debut novel is both a Hugo and Nebula Award finalist for Best Novel. "Do Not Look Back, My Lion" was also a finalist for the Nebula Award.

As the Last I May Know: S.L. Huang looks at the problem of nuclear weapons and the deeper problem of how easy it is for a single person (with or without checks and balances) to figuratively push a button and destroy millions if not billions people. Those weapons still exist, but the cost of using them is exorbitant - the access code is embedded the body of a young girl and the personal cost of using those weapons is that President must murder that girl. "As the Last I May Know" is perfectly told, painfully told - and it is a stunning perfect story.

My Vote:
1. "As the Last I May Know"
2. "Do Not Look Back, My Lion"
3. "Blood is Another Word for Hunger"
4. "Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island"
5. "And Now His Lordship is Laughing"
6. "A Catalog of Storms"

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 4x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him.