RogerBW's Blog

Hugo 2014: Short Story 20 July 2014

These are my thoughts on the Hugo-nominated short stories in 2014. If you're planning to vote, you may wish not to read these notes until you have done so. There will also be spoilers here.

The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere, John Chu: a blending of coming-out-to-parents, dysfunctional family, Chinese culture in the US, and bringing up the rear a magical conceit. The last is quite interesting (all of a sudden, everywhere in the world, if you knowingly lie, water falls on you). But in a short story there's no room to explore it in an interesting way, because instead we have to get through all the other stuff, which frankly I've seen plenty of times before. Oh, the matriarch did that, did she? Well, that was entirely unpredictable to anybody who's never previously read a story with a matriarch in it. This feels as though it was written for people who are scared of fantastic ideas and need them diluted with all sorts of contemporary stuff to be palatable. What about the person who's bringing water to the desert by telling the biggest lies he can think of? I want to read his story.

The Ink Readers of Doi Saket, Thomas Olde Heuvelt: magical realism, I suspect. In a village in Thailand, the wish-boats sent down the river are caught and read. The villagers conduct celebratory rituals to cause the wishes to be granted; some of the local monks give those wishes a mundane helping hand, to encourage people to send better gifts down the river. Someone causes a problem with this. Lots of cheerfully nasty observations of people, and a thread of "be careful what you ask for", but not really a great deal of character.

Selkie Stories Are for Losers, Sofia Samatar: more magical realism. First-person narration from a teenage girl who's taken the selkie narrative as her expectation of life after her mother deserted the family, getting into a relationship with a girl whose mother repeatedly attempts suicide. Did the narrator really find her mother's sealskin, thus causing her to leave? She thinks so, which is what matters, though there's a hint that she's embedded herself in other narratives before. Interesting idea, but tiresome even at the very short length.

If You Were a Dinosaur My Love, Rachel Swirsky: a palæontologist fantasises that if her fiancé-in-a-coma were a dinosaur, he wouldn't be beaten up and in a coma. This isn't even a story, just a moment's thought. But what's worse is that this is a story which is actively denigrating science fiction, when it talks about happily astonishing "all those people who—deceived by the helix-and-fossil trappings of cloned dinosaurs—believed that they lived in a science fictional world when really they lived in a world of magic where anything was possible". Yeah, that's a real sentence fragment in a real story that's really up for the Hugo Award to be presented by the World Science Fiction Society. Aren't you at least supposed to pretend to have some respect for the genre that's paying your bills?

Only one of these four is even a speculative fiction story, and that feels more like a fantasy than like SF: nobody knows why the lying-water happens and nobody seems to be trying to find out, but at least there's something more than the mundane happening. Apparently that's all one can hope for these days. I haven't been paying much attention to short-form SF in the last few years, and if this is at all representative of what's popular it doesn't encourage me to come back. I might vote for the Chu over No Award, but probably not.

Addendum: the Hugo voting order was Chu, Samatar, Swirsky, Olde Heuvelt.

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