Votes for this year’s Hugo Awards must be received by next Monday. A lot of attention goes to the novels and dramatic presentations: here are some mini-reviews of the nominated short stories, and links to online postings of the stories themselves.

5. “Distant Replay” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s April/May 2007)

An aging man meets his late wife’s doppelg√§nger in this fantasy, which arrives at a predictable conclusion. It’s a cute story, but not on the level of the other nominees. Resnick has offered better in the past.

4. “Last Contact” by Stephen Baxter (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, ed. George Mann, Solaris Books)

This well-written story takes a low-key look at the end of the universe. It features a lot of expository dialogue and a somewhat predictable ending, but Baxter gives us an interesting take on two popular SF subjects: first contact and last days.

3. “A Small Room in Koboldtown” by Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s April/May 2007, The Dog Said Bow-Wow, Tachyon Publications)

Not everything he did was strictly legal, but none of it was actually criminal. Salem
Toussaint didn’t trust him enough for that.

A murder mystery set in a “transitional neighborhood” where haints and humans coexist, Swanwick’s entry gets the award for weirdest nominee of 2008. I like the way the tale integrates elements of fantasy and horror with the everyday. We have a broader world here, one worth exploring, which Swanwick described as naturally as one might downtown Vancouver or Dove Creek, Colorado.

2. “Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359?” by Ken MacLeod (The New Space Opera, ed. by Gardner Dozois, and Jonathan Strahan, HarperCollins/Eos)

After running into some legal trouble, our protagonist opts to perform an undesirable task on distant Wolf 359. Fast-paced and witty, this story gives us a couple of takes on civilization.

1. “Tideline” by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s June 2007)

“Chalcedony wasn’t built for crying. She didn’t have it in her, not unless her tears were cold tapered glass droplets annealed by the inferno heat that had crippled her.”

My vote for the best story of the year goes to this entry, beautifully written and terribly moving. It features a lone robot’s encounter with a human child on the shores of a desolate world. What sells the story for me is the strong sense of Chalcedony. An artificially-constructed character with robotic soul, she proves noble, tragic, and entirely believable.