Most of the Hugo-nominated novelettes are available online, and I’ve linked to them where I could. Attending and supporting members of Worldcon can read them all through the Hugo Voters Packet.
My thoughts on the short story ballot are here, along with links to the stories.
Six Months, Three Days by Charlie Jane Anders. The opening line is, “The man who can see the future has a date with the woman who can see many possible futures.” I really like this setup, and the conflict it creates between the man who sees a fixed, unavoidable future and the woman who believes she has free will to choose from various possibilities. I love how Anders presents the characters, both of whom have known for a long time that this relationship was coming and how it would go, but who still stumble through the same awkwardness as the rest of us. I loved the details, like the game Judy plays with her friend, picking random destinations and predicting what would happen if they packed up and went there that very day. Anders’ characters are so very human, and the conflict between them — is the future really fixed (Doug), or can you choose your future (Judy)? — is thoughtfully explored.
The answer Anders gives to that conflict is simultaneously tragic and scary and hopeful, and felt right for the story. This is the first story I’ve read by Anders, but it certainly won’t be the last.
Fields of Gold by Rachel Swirsky. “When Dennis died, he found himself in another place.” While exploring the possibilities of the afterlife isn’t exactly new (really, what is?), I like a lot of what Swirsky did here. Structurally, the things Dennis did and didn’t accomplish on his various lists of goals worked well, giving insight into his life and character. I particularly loved the celebrities who showed up, not as actual dead famous people, but as collective manifestations of the mundanes.
Overall though, the story didn’t work for me as well as it might have, because I didn’t really like the characters. They tended to be a bit too unpleasant for me. It’s a stylistically interesting and well-written story, but purely as a matter of personal taste, not my favorite.
“[O]ld Isaac’s in his garden, an apple falls on his head, he picks it up and sees this tiny worm crawling across its surface, and so he starts thinking about the very small…”
I read this as a key to the alternate history Cornell presents, one with carriages exploring the solar system, spies manipulating what act like tiny wormholes, and a very different and well-detailed present-day (I think?) world. Jonathan Hamilton is a spy who encounters a woman named Lustre Saint Clair, a woman he knew fifteen years ago…who appears no older than eighteen years of age.
This draws Hamilton into a plot involving twin arms dealers who have been exploring space, discovered the relativistic effects of near-light-speed travel, and made not-so-successful contact with aliens. (Though the ending calls all of this into question.)
I believe this is the third of Cornell’s stories about Jonathan Hamilton. I’ve not read the others, which might account for some of my disorientation. I love the ideas and the worldbuilding, but I felt a bit disconnected from the story. I may reread this one if I have time, to see if that helps.
Ray of Light ($1.49 on Kindle) by Brad Torgersen. “My crew boss Jake was waiting for me at the sealock door.” Max Leighton is one of the thousands of surviving humans who fled to the ocean bottom after aliens blotted out the sun for reasons we never knew. His daughter is part of the first generation to grow up never having seen the sky.
I liked the classic SF feel of this one. Torgersen does a nice job with mood, conveying the sense of desperation and desolation on the sea bottom. And I thought the idea of the children developing their own religion/cult, and setting out on a possibly suicidal mission to the surface ice, made for a good story.
But it wasn’t a great story. I think my main complaint was that it felt a little too easy. I didn’t feel the urgency, and the reward at the end of the story felt … unearned, if that makes sense. The weight of the setup didn’t match the weight of the resolution.
What We Found by Geoff Ryman. This story won the Nebula award for Best Novelette. Set in Makurdi, Nigeria, it presents two intertwined narrative threads. One of Patrick and his family, which includes a schizophrenic father, an abusive grandmother, and a brother I’d describe as a bit of a trickster. The other story shows Patrick as a researcher who discovers that stress and trauma are passed down from father to son. But over time, other researchers lose the ability to duplicate his results, leading to another revelation:
“Simply put, science found the truth and by finding it, changed it … Some day the theory of evolution will be untrue and the law of conservation of energy will no longer work … Atoms will take only 50 more years to disappear.”
The science is a fascinating game of “What if?” and also presents an interesting lens with which to examine family, whether we inherit the flaws and pain of our ancestors, whether recognition could give freedom from such inevitabilities.
Having read through the short stories and novelettes, I have a lot of respect for the ambitious stories, and for authors who push to explore new ideas and possibilities, even if the end result isn’t perfect.
For those of you who’ve read them, what did you think?