Hugo-Nominated Short Fiction

The Hugos will be given out, once again, at the World SF Con, which will be in Boston this year. I hope to review more of the Hugo-nominated novels, and the shorter fiction, over the course of the summer.

Five short stories have been nominated. They are ranked and linked here (read them online), with my thoughts.

1. “Robots Don’t Cry” by Mike Resnick
First published in Asimov’s Magazine, July 2003.

We were picking through the stuff, wondering if there was any market for it, tossing most of it aside, when the sun peeked in through the doorway and glinted off a prismatic eye.

The setting might be compared to Firefly‘s, centuries after Serenity’s time. A two-being space-salvage operation reclaims a robot from an abandoned colony named Greenwillow, which, of course, isn’t green, and there isn’t “a willow on the whole damned planet.” The robot, once reactivated, has a tale to tell about why it was there, centuries after the colonists left.

Despite a somewhat cliched narrator, I really felt moved by this story. In a year when the title I, Robot has been attached to a robo-rampage flick, Resnick has written a thoughtful tale about natural and artificial beings. The epilogue marred my response somewhat; Resnick should have ended without hitting his readers over the head with a blank statement of the story’s themes.

2. “Four Short Novels” by Joe Haldeman.
First published in Fantasy and Science Fiction, Oct/Nov. 2003.

Eventually it came to pass that no one ever had to die….

These read more like four short SF fables, each sharing a variation of the same premise. We see little of real character and setting; instead, Haldeman provides the concept of the characters and settings, and takes them to bizarre, but valid, conclusions.

The story, which recalls Douglas Adams, will appeal to those who enjoy the humorous play of ideas.

3.“A Study in Emerald” by Neil Gaiman
First published in Shadows Over Baker Street, an anthology which places Sherlock Holmes in H.P. Lovecraft’s universe. It may be purchased at

“My dear Lestrade. Please give me some credit for having a brain. The corpse is obviously not that of a man – the colour of his blood, the number of limbs, the eyes, the position of the face…”

Holmes and his chronicler assist in a murder with far-reaching political implications. The story walks the line between tribute and affectionate parody, and thus lacks the creepiness and suspense one might expect in a Doyle/Lovecraft pastiche. Still, Gaiman avoid the obvious– something, reportedly, few writers did in the original anthology. In other words, he does not simply have Sherlock Holmes stumble onto a Cthulhian mystery which he solves despite his lack of belief in the supernatural. No, Gaiman gives us an alternate world where Holmes and the Old Gods might co-exist, and its characters and society behave according to the rules of that world.

While not, in my opinion, the best story nominated, it has the best chance of winning. More people will read this one because Gaiman wrote it, and because Gaiman wrote it, it stands a pretty good chance of being the popular second choice, and therefore the overall first choice.

4.“Paying It Forward” by Michael Burstein
First published in Analog, Sept. 2003.

For the months before and after New Year’s Eve 2000, everyone all over the world seemed to harbor a quiet expectation that things would become new and different. The twenty-first century, a century of imagination and great wonders, was arriving, and optimism was the order of the day.

Of course, most of us sobered up….

In the near future, an aspiring SF writer sends e-mail to a deceased hero, and receives a reply. For an SF writer, our narrator initially demonstrates a remarkable lack of imagination regarding possible origins of the reply. The story provides little setting, but it features a memorable character, and a momentum that kept me reading until the final revelation.

Burstein also intends the story to be a tribute to those writers who have inspired and mentored him. One might also find incidental commentary on online identity.

5. “The Tale of the Golden Eagle” by David D. Levine
First published in Fantasy and Science Fiction, June 2003.

“The Tale of the Golden Eagle” begins as one of those stories that narratees an entire history, though it provides a fairly interesting central character. The actual story develops some paragraphs in, and thematically recalls “Robots Don’t Cry.”

The folk-talesque narrative, which works in “Four Short Novels,” wears a little thin here, but the story contains some effective imagery and suspense.

4 replies on “Hugo-Nominated Short Fiction”

  1. Missed the best one!
    In my opinion, you missed the best one : Bernardo’s House, by James Patrick Kelly.

    It’s an awesome, poignant story of a sentient house who is waiting for her owner to return. If you’ve read Kelly before, you know how humanistic and right on the spot his stories can be. I sincerely hope Kelly wins it, although I really, really liked Joe Haldeman’s Four Short Novels.

    Anyway, no reason to skip this one… It’s available for free at Fictionwise!

    • Re: Missed the best one!

      In my opinion, you missed the best one : Bernardo’s House, by James Patrick Kelly.

      “Bernardo’s House” has been nominated in the “novelette” category, not the “short story” category. I plan to review the novelettes separately.

      • Re: Missed the best one!

        “Bernardo’s House” has been nominated in the “novelette” category, not the “short story” category. I plan to review the novelettes separately.

        Aaaaah… Gotcha.

        Novelette? I don’t understand the decision. Paying it Forward is slightly longer than Bernardo’s House (approx. 8,000 words each), and the structure of Bernado’s House screams “short story”. I’m at a loss to explain this.

        • categories

          For what it may be worth:

          novella: 17,500-40,000 words.
          novelette: 7,500-17,500 words
          short story: 7,500 or fewer.

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