There are no nominees who weren’t part of the puppy slates/bloc voting. As before, I’ve noted where each nominee was part of the Sad Puppies (S), Rabid Puppies (R), or both slates (SR).
- “On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli (SR): The strong magnetic field of the planet Ymilas preserves human and Ymilan souls. The infodumping of the first three scenes felt like it needed some serious rewriting. The dialogue was also rather stiff. Our protagonist takes the first human colonist’s ghost on a pilgrimage to help him move on in the afterlife. There’s reference to the polar magnetic field looking like the eye of God, a temple built like Stonehenge “with the dimensional ratio of 1: 4: 9–the Golden Mean.” Heavy-handed (and in that last quote, factually incorrect), but a nice sense of closure at the end as our protagonist settles into his new role of guiding human souls on their final journey. Also, Antonelli introduces the idea of a Faraday Segway, which is a potentially fun idea.
- “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C. Wright (R): A tale of talking animals, Christian myth, and the end of Man, all presented in a rather stilted formal style. (The Lion greets his fellow animals with a “Twilight of Man, forsooth?”) There’s nothing in the way of action, and the plot is basically the animals trying to figure out what happened to Man’s last city, and what they should do and become now. There are a few nice lines, but it feels like Wright was trying way too hard on this, and ended up with a pale imitation of C. S. Lewis.
- “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond (S): A samurai has to find a way to kill a kaiju the size of a mountain. I liked the core idea here, the lone warrior who’s less than a mite on a giant, slowly scaling the monster’s body and searching for a way to stop said monster from destroying his homeland. But it didn’t have the depth I look for in an award-worthy story. Nor did I get a real sense of the character or world. Our samurai could have been any samurai, with special swords, references to honor and duty and hara-kiri, and a contraction-averse voice to denote formality.
- “Totaled” by Kary English (SR): This was one of the most original ideas/stories on the ballot, about a researcher named Maggie, whose brain is preserved following the death of her body. We follow her “awakening” and realization that she’s in her own lab, and her efforts to communicate her awareness to her partner Randy, and to help complete their work on the bionet. Maggie’s brain is slowly giving out, and we get a kind of Flowers for Algernon decline over the course of the story. It’s better than most of what’s on the ballot this year, but I’ll have to read it again to decide whether I think it’s Hugo-worthy.
- “Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa (R): The first two sentences give a good sense of what you’re in for with this one. “I am a knight riding to war. My suit of armor is a single Mark III frigate, a body of polysteel three hundred meters long with a skin of ceramic armor plating one point six meters thick.” I ended up skimming much of this story about posthuman warships moving to wipe out humanity, and Taren X 45 Delta’s choice to turn against his(?) kind to protect the humans: “Our superiority is certain. However, we are the side killing those who have surrendered and laid down their arms. Are we zealots purified by the righteousness of our cause? Or are we ungrateful children, jealous to the point of patricide?” The ending picked up a bit, but the whole thing feels overwritten, and there’s not much new here. The Message is blunt and unoriginal.
No Award will be scoring pretty high in this category. That doesn’t mean I think all of the stories are bad. (Though I don’t think they’re all good, either.) But it’s one thing for a story to be competent or interesting or fun. It’s another thing for that story to be award-worthy, for me to consider it one of the best things published in the past year. Four of these stories don’t clear that bar for me, and the fifth I’ll have to think about a little more.