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2011 Hugo Awards for Best Novelette and Best Short Story

by Eric on July 1st, 2011

I’ve already covered Novels (> 40,000 words) and Novellas (17,500 – 40,000 words). This post will cover the Hugo nominees for Best Novelette (7,500-17,500 words) and Best Short Story (< 7,500 words).

Best Novelette

First, the nominees for Best Novelette, including links to where you can read them online and where they were first published:

“Eight Miles” by Sean McMullen (Analog, September 2010)
“The Emperor of Mars” by Allen M. Steele (Asimov’s, June 2010)
“The Jaguar House, in Shadow” by Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s, July 2010)
“Plus or Minus” by James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s, December 2010)
“That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” by Eric James Stone (Analog, September 2010)

I’ll briefly describe each story, then walk you through my decision process.

“Eight Miles” is the story of a late 19th century balloonist hired to travel to heretofore unreached altitudes in order to document their effect on a rather interesting creature.

“The Emperor of Mars” is the story of a young man who receives tragic news while working on Mars, and cannot return home to deal with it for well over a year.

“The Jaguar House, in Shadow” is the story of sacrifice in the name of ideals to save a revived Aztec culture from corrupted leaders.

“Plus or Minus” is the story of how people react on an interstellar cargo ship when something goes wrong.

“That Leviathan, Whom Thou Has Made” is the story of what happens when a Morman Elder is confronted with a being that tests his faith.

Decisions, decisions

I’m going to start off by writing off “Jaguar House.” I just didn’t get that one. Felt half-baked and incomplete. “That Leviathan” came across as Morman propaganda, frankly. When confronted with what Leviathan actually is, the story bent over backwards to validate the Mormon POV. I absolutely didn’t buy any of it. Too bad, because there’s some good ideas in there.

“Plus or Minus” was a bit interesting. Without spoiling things, let’s just say there was a very critical event missing from the narrative. If it had been included, I may have well cast my vote here.

“The Emperor of Mars” was a poignant retelling of a young man’s attempts to retain sanity when faced with tragic loss and no real outlet with which to handle it. I could easily see this being a chapter in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars.

“Eight Miles” is going to get my vote, though. I found this story riveting and fascinating. There’s elements of Victorian sci-fi, intrigue, politics, and more. It feels like a Jules Verne story. My reaction to it was nearly an order of magnitude stronger than any of the other stories, making it an easy choice for me.

Best Short Story

Only four nominees here, as only four received nominations on at least 5% of the ballots.

“Amaryllis” by Carrie Vaughn (Lightspeed, June 2010)
“For Want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s, September 2010)
“Ponies” by Kij Johnson (Tor.com, November 17, 2010)
“The Things” by Peter Watts (Clarkesworld, January 2010)

And the descriptions:

“The Things” is a haunting tale of an alien being that doesn’t understand our biology.

“Ponies” is Unicorns and cotton candy. And just how evil little girls can be.

“For Want of a Nail” is the story of what might go wrong when you trust your family’s history to an AI on a Generation Ship.

“Amaryllis” is the story of a household’s struggle against their past in an apparent post-holocaust world.

My thoughts

I’m going to eliminate “Ponies” right off. It wasn’t a bad story by any means, but it was a quarter the length of the other contenders, and it just didn’t have time to build up enough meat to hang with the others.

Choosing between the other three might be my toughest decision so far. None of them really stand out, and they’re all high quality. So, I have to look for other reasons. “The Things” has the advantage of being written from a non-human perspective. This puts its difficulty rating rather high. I seemed to care about the main character in “Amaryllis” the most. Good characterization in a short story isn’t easy.

This makes me lean towards eliminating “For Want of a Nail.” Generation ships aren’t a new concept, though you don’t see many stories dealing with day-to-day issues faced on them. The point of the story is the interaction between the AI and one of the characters, and it seemed a bit odd.

There were times during “The Things” when it got a bit confusing. Nature of the beast, or maybe some tightening needed? Not sure. The primary conflict point in “Amaryllis” was a bit weak, though the story was very well told.

Okay, that sells it for me. I’m voting for “The Things” by Peter Watts. Yes, it was a tad confusing at times, but thinking about it, I believe that was intentional. Unique idea, difficult perspective.

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