Hugo Awards Short Stories 2013: My Favourite

Three short stories are in contention for the Hugo Award and they are diverse. I’ve enjoyed them all. And, as I’m writing a few short stories at the moment, I’ve found it fascinating to read the best of 2013 (as nominated and selected by members of the World Science Fiction Society).

Here’s an admission: I’d intended to read all the shortlisted novels because I wanted to compare them with the Arthur C Clarke Award shortlist, which I reviewed here earlier this year. But with all the work involved with my novel’s new release by 47North, I scaled back my ambition. First, I opted to read all the shortlisted novellas, and later I scaled back again and decided to read the shortlisted short stories. So I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon reading these stories in the shade of my apple tree.

The winners of this year’s Hugo Awards will be announced on Sunday (1st September) at the World Science Fiction Convention LoneStarCon3 in San Antonio, Texas.

So, from 662 nominating ballots the Hugo Awards Short Stories shortlist comprises:
Mono no Aware, Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)
Mantis Wives, Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
Immersion, Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld, June 2012)

Ken Liu’s Mono no Aware is a father-and-son story that explores the nature of heroism. It is structured well. The story opens on the Hopeful habitat module travelling towards 61 Virginis and its planets. The module’s 1000 inhabitants hope to build a new settler colony, if they survive the journey. Liu then takes the reader back in time to Kagoshima in Japan to witness the emergency evacuation of Earth; an asteroid impact is imminent. The author writes of a father’s attempts to prepare his son, Hiroto, for the frightening times ahead by reciting poetry. It’s an endearing story, if a tad overwritten and occasionally the voice of Hiroto sounds too old – the author’s voice seems to intrude. A good read though.

It’s a surprise to see Mantis Wives by Kij Johnson included in the shortlist because it’s an odd fit with science fiction (not that I mind that). It does, however, start with a quote from John Wyndham: ‘As for the insects, their lives are sustained only by intricate processes of fantastic horror.’ And Johnson follows this by writing a range of alternate deaths that the mantis ‘wife’ could inflict on the mantis ‘husband’. It takes the form of a list of short scenarios. I had to read this a second time, which is fine – very short fiction, tightly written, can demand a close second read. The author seems to be suggesting that the male and female mantis are dedicated to the aesthetics of death. “A mantis woman is not cruel. She gives her husband what he seeks. Who knows what poems he fashions in the darkness of a senseless life?’ It’s impressive and it left me wondering if our willpower can overcome our pre-programming.

Immersion by Aliette de Bodard is set on Longevity Station where Quy feels aloof from her restaurant-owning family because of her education on Prime. She failed her Mandarin exam so she hasn’t achieved the success she’d anticipated. Instead she helps out in the family business. Quy is a Rong and her race is shorter and stockier than the more advantaged Galactics. Everyone wears immersers – semi-transparent avatars that makes Rongs look more like the Galactics, and make Galactics even more attractive. There’s an interracial marriage within the story but it was the relationship between Quy and her geeky sister that hooked me. Her sister is trying to reverse engineer the immersers because she loathes how the Rongs have accepted them. The Galactics seem to enforce this technology so that Rongs assimilate into their culture. They don’t wish to see the Rongs, in effect. And that’s a chilling thought.

So which of the three stories is my favourite. It’s difficult, but I’ll go for Mantis Wives by Kij Johnson. It is the shortest of the three, the most experimental and it’s written with precision, which you’d expect for a story about cold calculated murder.

Congratulations to all three authors. I’ll be reading more of their work in the future!

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  1. […] PS. My favourite short story did not win the Hugo Award but I did like the winner – Ken Liu’s Mono no Aware. Congratulations! Here’s my review. […]

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