Tag Archives: short story

Hugos 2017, part 1

Best Novelette

Best Short Story

Best Related Work

Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form

Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form


Hugo Short Story Category Wrap-up

All the five finalists in the short story category have now been reviewed, and here they are. Frankly, the reading project has been quite disappointing so far.

  1. “Totaled” by Kary English 5/10
  2. “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond  3/10
  3. “On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli 2.5/10
  4. “Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa 2/10
  5. “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C. Wright 0/10

“Totaled” is the best short story on the ballot hands down, and I wouldn’t be too sad to see it win. However, I won’t be voting for it as my first choice. The top spot will go to No Award, because there were so much better stories out there that the slates kept off the ballot. Honestly, I can’t vote for any of these.

To mock-quote somebody: This is how I am voting in the best short story category. Of course, I merely offer this information regarding my individual ballot for no particular reason at all.

What does your ballot look like?

“The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C. Wright

I’m breaking my earlier promise not to do separate posts about works by John C. Wright, but I feel I had to get this one out of my system now and have the first Hugo category wrapped up.

Category: Short story
Published in: The Book of Feasts and Seasons, a John C. Wright collection of stories that take their inspiration from different holidays
Slates: Rabid Puppies

This review is three sentences and one image long:

It’s a religious animal fable with not much else happening than animals (and angels) discussing. Instead of a story, what we get is a piece of heavy-handed Christian message fiction, which I’m not a fan of. The Cat has few funny lines, though, and she was my favorite character.

Score: 0/10

“A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond

The Hugo voter packet was released a couple of days ago, which means that all the Hugo-nominated short stories are now available also for those readers who haven’t purchased The Baen Big Book of Monsters anthology. The book includes “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond alongside classic and contemporary tales by writers as varied as Howards Lovecraft and Waldrop.

Diamond is also the guy behind the Elitist Book Reviews blog, so he’s actually on the Hugo ballot twice this year. “A Single Samurai” is the only short story candidate that was not backed up by Vox Day’s Rabid Puppies slate, and it only got onto the ballot because of Annie Bellet’s withdrawal.

Category: Short story
Published in: The Baen Big Book of Monsters, an anthology of monster SF edited by Hank Davis
Slates: Sad Puppies

“A Single Samurai”, unsurprisingly, tells the story of a lone samurai. He is traveling on the back of a mountain-sized kaiju monster that is demolishing everything in its way, and he intends to kill it.

I love this idea, and it’s a shame Diamond only mentions it and never gives the reader any insight into what it’s like to be on a moving mountain (if we don’t count one earthquake). The milieu feels like any standard fantasy environment, really.

On the surface level, the story is competently written, even though there’s little action and much backstory. The little action there is — a fight against monstrous cat monsters — is not relevant for the protagonist’s mission in any way, so the dramatics of the story are a bit off.

The plot moves forward slowly and ends suddenly when the samurai manages to fall into a cave and find the kaiju’s brain by accident. That was an unbelievable and contrived way of getting the samurai where the author wants him to be. The ending is also rather weird and involves the samurai committing suicide next to the kaiju brain, because, magically, that is the only way to stop the monster.

There was some promise in the story, but I would have preferred some more internal logic and making something interesting out of the whole kaiju setting.

Lastly, I’ll have to give Baen kudos for putting the whole anthology in the voter packet. There are some other stories I expect I’ll be reading later on when the Hugo project is done.

Score: 3/10

“Totaled” by Kary English

“Totaled” by Kary English is the first professional-level story on the Hugo ballot I’ve read so far. It’s well-written and well-edited (compared to the other finalists, at least), and English has been a quarterly winner in the Writers of the Future contest, so she seems like a writer who should be taken seriously.

You can read the story here.

Category: Short story
Published in: Galaxy’s Edge, a magazine edited by Mike Resnick
Slates: Rabid Puppies & Sad Puppies

English is the only woman endorsed by the Puppy slates in the fiction categories, now that Annie Bellet has withdrawn, in case anybody is interested in this sort of diversity calculations. Whether interesting or not, this is probably the time to remind everyone once again that people — there’s quite a lot of them, actually — who think Puppy slates are only pushing for work by white dudes are mistaken. The number of stories involving overt feminist themes is probably zero, though, and I haven’t come across a single interesting female character yet. There’s still much to be read, of course.

But enough with the backstory.

Just like “On a Spiritual Plain”, “Totaled” is another example of the disjunction between Sad Puppy manifestos and the actual stories on the slate. Brad Torgersen has been complaining about there being “too little optimism” and Larry Correia has been complaining about there being no Hugo winners that feature “capitalism as a positive thing”. In “Totaled”, a brain that has been severed from its totaled body gets suicidal in the end and the antagonist of the story is a shady megacorporation manager. My guess is that if someone else’s votes had got this on the Hugo ballot, the Puppies would denounce it as an SJW story.

There was a real plot and a real character in this story, even though neither was excellent, in my opinion. Especially all the characters were very stereotypical, which always bores me. The protagonist brain is a mother who obsesses about her children and doesn’t care about herself. Her researcher collague is a nice guy whose most defining characteristic is niceness — pretty much the same way as the shady megacorporation manager’s most defining characteristic is evilness. There’s also a female researcher who is getting romantically involved with the researcher guy. The signifigance of that relationship is never made very clear, even though its development is followed quite closely in the story.

To be fair, there were also parts that I liked, such as the sections where English tries to represent slowing down brain functions with subtle stream of consciousness writing. The dystopian backdrop is also mildly interesting, even though not very much is made out of it. The concept of totaling humans is a great idea for a story, but this story focused on something else.

So, is “Totaled” a Hugo caliber story? I’m not sure yet. It certainly isn’t the same kind of drivel that some other Puppy stories I have read are. On the other hand, I do think there were some short stories published last year that were better. I’ll have to think about where the no award bar is going to land in this category.

Score: 5/10

“On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli

My first quick short story review got mentioned in File 770 (yeee!) and Vox Popoli (hurrrrm), and there was quite a bit of traffic coming this way, which is nice.

Some guy opined on Twitter that the Rzasa review was the final proof of the fact that there’s no Puppy/Anti-Puppy peace to be had. Ever. It does sound like a bit far-fetched conclusion after I’ve read one single short story and disliked it, but who am I to argue. No peace, then.

The next short story down the line is Lou Antonelli’s “On A Spiritual Plane”.

Category: Short story
Published in: Sci Phi Journal: A Journal about Science Fiction & Philosophy
Slates: Rabid Puppies & Sad Puppies

I have to admit that I was surprised to find this kind story on both of the Puppy slates. Their mission statement was to bring manly fun and rousing adventure back to SFF, but instead they offer here a calm and quiet story with no action, no conflict and no surprises. That’s baffling, but I guess I should blame Torgersen and his friend’s flaky understanding of what they think they like rather than this particular story.

“On A Spiritual Plain” takes place on a planet where the strong magnetic field prevents dead people’s ghosts from dissipating. The protagonist is a chaplain of the small base that humans have established on the planet. When one of the humans dies, the chaplain has to take care of the ghost. Luckily, the aliens are happy to help him and he gets the ghost to dissipate by travelling to the north polar plain with it.

There’s an actual story here, but it’s not very well executed. In the beginning, the reader is drowned with long-winded backstory, and it doesn’t get more interesting at any point. An actual conflict, some drama, an engaging character and/or more fleshed-out alien civilization could have made this a good story, but as is, it was quite tedious reading.

The philosophical aspect was probably supposed to be the mysterious Stonehenge-esque construct that has the dimensions of the Golden Mean (even though it seems it actually wasn’t), but whatever serious philosophical idea there was I’m afraid I was not able to grasp it. The very last scene also left me wondering what exactly was Antonelli’s purpose there (maybe show that now the chaplain knows what he is doing?). The chaplain being rude to aliens after the second human dies and becomes a ghost is just a weird way to end this story.

Score: 2.5/10. (I was going to only give out whole numbers, but I run into trouble right away. This is better than Rzasa’s “Turncoat” — so it has to get more than 2 — but not good enough to get a full 3.)

“Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa

I’ve begun my Hugo reading with the short story and graphic story categories. Most of the short stories are available online, so maybe I’ll start with them.

I plan to keep track of what I’ve read and what I think about the stuff I’ve read here on this blog. Feel free to comment, whether you agree or disagree.

The first one I read was “Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa.

Category: Short story
Published in: Riding the Red Horse, an anthology of Military SF edited by Puppy comrades Vox Day and Tom Kratman
Slates: Rabid Puppies

In the story, an artificial intelligence serves the post-humans in a far-future war against ordinary humans. As the title suggests, it chooses to switch sides in the end. That’s it.

I think this is a quite awfully-written story with a heavy-handed delivery of plot points and a lot of infodumping. You can see the “surprise” conclusion of the story coming from miles away (or by reading the title, actually). A very boring read, overall.

The one thing that could have made the story at least slightly interesting if done well was the characterization of the AI and the post-humans. Sadly, that was crappy and formulaic as well. The protagonist doesn’t really feel like he belongs to the far-future, or the future at all, for that matter. The black-and-white pontificating (a term lifted from Secritcrush) has a definite vibe of the past in it.

A black-and-white approach to any war of conflict just feels silly and makes the whole world of the story unrealistic for me. Now that I was doing some googling, I noticed that Hugo-nominated Puppy-fanwriter Jeffro Johnson is praising this story because it offers a “concise description of real Christian religious experience”. That’s an interesting thought and maybe some people do enjoy over-simplified morality dramas in 2015, but I certainly don’t.

This is certainly going below no award.


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I expanded on my reasoning in a comment in Jeffro Johnson’s blog, and I’ll paste the important parts here as well:

The vibe of the past I was writing about arises from the protagonist’s moralistic attitudes which bring to mind the papery characters of old fiction who don’t really resemble real people (or real consciousnesses in this case). Also, I think there was no futuristic sensawunda in the far-future fight scenes when compared with, say, Greg Bear’s Hardfought (that’s a far future war story I think is very good, even though military SF is not really my cup of cat crackers).

As far as I know, every single war in the history of mankind has been a terrible mess of shades of gray (even if Hollywood would like to make us think in terms of black and white). Depicting a far future war in the way Rzasa does makes it feel terribly unrealistic to me, but that’s my bias.

I edited my original post to delete the word sloppy. I still think it’s a sloppy piece of fiction, but now the sentence reads better.

On a second thought, let’s also try to give the Hugo finalists an unscientific numeral score on the range of 1-10 in order to make comparing them easier (if unscientific). “Turncoat” gets 2.