2009 Hugo Nominees: Short Stories

We’ve reviewed all of the Hugo-nominated novels and many of the dramatic works. I may get to novellas and novelettes in the near future. Meanwhile, I encourage you to read and discuss the short fiction, available online.

This seems to be Hugo’s Year of the Monkey.

5. “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang. (Eclipse Two).

This Clockpunk story winds around the concept of an artificial being examining itself. Personal questions concerning anatomy and origins lead to larger ones on the nature of the universe and its limited resources. I liked “Exhalation,” though not nearly as much as many other people do. I find Chiang’s style a little overwrought, but perhaps that style is an example of form reflecting subject and genre.

4.”Article of Faith” by Michael Resnick. (Baen’s Universe October 2008)

“If God is the God of all things, then is He not also the God of robots?” said Jackson.

Resnick takes a fairly traditional, Asmovian concept and develops a fairly traditional, thoughtful story. In the near future, a robot goes to work for the pastor of a small American church. When the pastor asks his artificial servant for advice on sermons—spotting logical inconsistencies, for instance—we think we know where this one’s going. Resnick can be predictable and sentimental, but he’s not that predictable. Despite the obvious influence of Asimov, this recalls for me something Bradbury might have written in the 50s, though he would have taken a different stylistic approach.

3. “Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal. (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two).

I really enjoyed this oddball vignette concerning an artistically-inclined, sentient chimpanzee. Mary Robinette Kowal’s style carries this one nicely to its conclusion. Fans of hard, tech-heavy SF may be less impressed.

2. “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s, July 2008)

The bus smells about as you’d expect a bus full of monkeys to smell; though after a show, after the bathtub trick but before the monkeys all return, it also smells of cinnamon, which is the tea Aimee sometimes drinks

Kij Johnson has crafted an original entry, which has already won the Asimov’s Reader’s Award for Best Short Story. The tale concerns a woman with an uncertain past—she’s not even certain what it is— who purchases an improbable troop of performing primates and travels from fair to fair. It’s more a pure weird story commenting on, you know, life, the sort of thing one might find in a moderately avant garde literary magazine. Yet it certain suits the Hugos, and it’s a lot of fun to read.

1. “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s, February 2009).

Imagine a cross between Byzantium and a termite mound. Imagine a jeweled mountain, slender as an icicle, rising out of the steam jungles and disappearing into the dazzling pearl-grey skies of Gehenna. Imagine that Gaudí—he of the Segrada Familia and other biomorphic architectural whimsies—had been commissioned by a nightmare race of giant black millipedes to recreate Barcelona at the height of its glory, along with touches of the Forbidden City in the eighteenth century and Tokyo in the twenty-second, all within a single miles-high structure. Hold every bit of that in your mind at once, multiply by a thousand, and you’ve got only the faintest ghost of a notion of the splendor that was Babel.

Now imagine being inside Babel when it fell.

Hello. I’m Rosamund. I’m dead.

Swanwick conjures bizarre worlds and species with the same frequency that Facebook adds stupid apps. This fascinating, history-heavy tale concerns a human and an alien anthropodoid escaping a war zone, carrying a very valuable package. A simulation of another human’s mind relates the events. It’s a tall order, and Swanwick keeps it believable, accessible, inventive, and interesting. Biology, culture, and history matter.