Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Award Nominated Short Stories Part 2

Still reviewing and sharing the short stories that have been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Award. Or at least, sharing the ones that are freely available online. All the links I find to Aliette de Bodard’s In the Land of the Spill give me a bad gateway error. I considered delaying this post until I had obtained a copy of the story, but I never got around to it and was getting impatient to post these reviews.

It has taken me so long to review these stories actually, that the winners for the Nebula Award have just been announced. Check out all the winners here. The winner for the short story category was my favourite haunted house story, Open House on Haunted Hill, by John Wiswell. Congratz!

A woman holding a glowing sword looks up toward a brown and pale yellow sky, her hair in a bun, wearing a skirt and jacket.

Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse

Rae Carson

Uncanny 1-2/20

Nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards.

Read it here.

Stories involving childbirth usually squick me out, so I wasn’t looking forward to this one. It’s still a good story though. Set in a zombie apocalypse and has a lot of cool worldbuilding. Also set in an all-woman survivor enclave, and therefore focuses on women-related survival needs that wouldn’t necessarily get much attention in other zombie stories.

Badass Moms doesn’t shy away from the risks of giving birth after the apocalypse. Our two moms are taking a huge risk to have their baby. The birthing place they need to hide in to not attract a horde of zomb- I mean, flesh-eaters to their community sounds like a terrible, uncomfortable, and terrifying place to give birth. And of course, we are made aware that many women don’t return from it.

This story contains one of my zombie fiction pet-peeves; the “Not Using the Z-Word” Trope. There is no reason why people in a fictional zombie apocalypse world wouldn’t have a concept of modern movie zombies. I get it; ‘real’ zombies aren’t the same as George Romero zombies, plus George Romero didn’t use the word either. I know why it is a thing, but I think modern zombies are common enough that characters in a zombie apocalypse set in the modern anglosphere should have a concept of zombies. The fact that this story has the words ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ in the title but still refers to them as ‘flesh-eaters’ makes me extra salty.

All in all, I enjoyed this story more than I thought it would, and we got to see types of badass behaviour that are less likely to be showcased in a standard zombie/apocalypse survival stories.

51952418

Little Free Library

Naomi Kritzer

Tor.com 4/8/20

Nominated for the Locus and Hugo Awards

Read it here.

This is an interesting one. It immediately made me want to check out the little free library that I’ve seen while driving to work, though I doubt I’d find anything as interesting there as the librarian in this story did. This is a short, whimsical fantasy that can almost be called a portal fantasy, except we only get the briefest glimpses of this other world.

Little Free Library is such a simple tale, which gives us just enough information to let our imaginations run wild. It also has mundane details that ground the story (of course someone would take a book from a free library and unload a copy of The Da Vinci Code as an exchange.)

I liked this story a lot. Books, and by extension Little Free Libraries, are portals to another world. In this case, literally.

Dresses Like White Elephants

Meg Elison

Uncanny 5-6/20

Nominated for the Locus Award

Read it here.

I’m kinda scratching my head over this one to be honest. Beni is a drag queen looking to buy a second hand wedding dress and the story that comes with it. He finds Melissa, who is selling her hand-made dress, which is the best part of a terrible relationship and time in her life.

I liked the metaphor I guess, about needing to let go in order to move on. I also liked that it was a story with a drag queen, that’s not something I’ve seen a lot of in science fiction or fantasy. And I did feel good seeing Melissa moving forward after everything she went through.

Overall though, this story was a miss for me. There is no explanation for why there is this weird mind-reading/feeling taking needed to buy a dress. I guess I’m not sentimental about wedding dresses, so maybe I just don’t get it, but none of the talk about what makes a good dress interested me at all. The whole speculative element seemed barely-there and wasn’t explained.

My Country is a Ghost

by Eugenia Triantafyllou

Uncanny 1-2/20

Nominated for the Nebula Award

Read it Here.

This is a very emotional story about what it’s like to be an immigrant in a new country. Even before I figured out how the world of this story worked, I was already getting sad at the thought of Niovi’s Mother’s ghost waving good-bye as she was forced to leave her with border patrol.

My Country is a Ghost presents us with a world where the ghosts of our loved ones are tethered to us, and provide comfort and support. The ghosts are visible to all, and are a commonplace part of life. To not have a ghost following you is strange. Niovi is followed by the ghost of her mother. The two have a close bond, and even though her mother is dead, the two still cook together. When Niovi travels from Greece to a new country that doesn’t allow foreign ghosts, she tries to smuggle her in with her. This doesn’t work, and she is faced with the choice of going back to Greece with her mother, or moving on and starting her new life in this new country. She chooses to go forward, and struggles both with adjusting to her new home, and with remembering the traditions of her old country and the memories she had with her mother now that she is alone.

We get to follow Niovi’s complicated journey to find herself in her new country, whilst also looking for a connection to her homeland. I have never lived outside my country of birth. I have the privilege of taking my ghosts for granted, and so this story isn’t going to hit me as hard as it will hit other people. It still hit me pretty hard though, and I loved the whole idea.

The Girlfriend's Guide to Gods by Maria Dahvana Headley

The Girlfriend’s Guide to Gods

Maria Dahvana Headley

Tor.com 1/23/20

Nominated for the Locus Award

One problem with reviewing a lot of stories together is that I inadvertently will compare them against each other. In this batch of nominees, there have been a few stories with themes of abusive/unequal relationships or dealing with misogyny. That isn’t a bad thing, as these are important themes that should be explored, but it makes reviewing The Girlfriend’s Guide to Gods tricky. I have read Advanced Word Problems in Portal Math, The Sycamore and the Sybil, and Dresses Like White Elephants all in rapid succession, plus a few other short stories of a similar nature outside this project. Basically what I’m saying is that I read The Girlfriend’s Guide to Gods whilst burnt out on the story’s theme, so I don’t know how fair this review really is.

I feel that is important to get out of the way, because I didn’t like this story. I can see why it resonates with people, because it is a story about finding love, and loving yourself. It uses Ancient Greek mythological imagery to make a story about finding yourself after a string of terrible relationships much more interesting, and that was cool. But I really don’t feel the story itself has any fantasy elements. We aren’t literally dating Icarus or going to hell.

I say ‘we’ because this is a second-person story, and written in a somewhat poetic, abstract way. These types of stories can be a bit hard for me, even when I can tell they are well written. And this story is well written, I appreciate that. I smiled at the end, I chuckled at the perfect way that first boyfriend was described, and I appreciate how well the word choices work.

I just didn’t really care much for the story.

Metal Like Blood in the Dark

By T. Kingfisher

Uncanny Magazine, September/October 2020

Nominated for the Hugo Award

Read it here.

Just when I thought I knew how I was going to vote for the Hugos, I read this final story and am utterly blown away. This is a fairy tale – a full on Once Upon a Time tale – about two nanite robots in space. Enough said.

Though, I will say more, because there is a lot to like about this story besides it’s cute genre mash-up. It has Hansel & Gretel vibes, being about robot siblings called Brother and Sister hiding in space who come across a spaceship, start eating it, and are then imprisoned by the evil robot who lives there. Actually, no, not just vibes. Thinking about how the story ends, and about how they were sent into space in the first place because their father was worried about how to feed them, this is Robot Hansel and Gretel in Space. Though that didn’t really click for me at the time; whilst the bones of the plot are similar, this story does it’s own thing, and it does it very well. Also, there are no breadcrumbs.

The story starts describing the man who created Brother and Sister, all the things they can do with their nanites, and how they are always hungry because their little planet doesn’t have enough of the metals they need to fuel all their shapeshifting. When Father has a heart attack, he starts imagining the horrible fate that awaits his creations should he die. He activates an emergency beacon so he can be rescued and receive the medical treatment needed to save his life, and then sends his children to hide in the asteroid belt, because he knows what governments and corporations would do to them, and they are too naïve and trusting to defend themselves.

This naïve and trusting nature gets Brother and Sister in trouble when they eat part of a spaceship belonging to the mysterious robot dubbed Third Drone. Third Drone locks Brother up and says he and sister can go if he grow them a pair of wings to pay for the damage to the spaceship. Whilst Sister mines metal, she realizes that she does not trust Third Drone, and to save herself and brother, she has to reprogram herself to lie. Watching her struggle to do that; both the grief at her loss of innocence and the actual logistics behind doing so, was amazing to read.

This story doesn’t just recast Hansel and Gretel as robots and put them in space. This story delivers a real gut punch as characters we grow to love are taken advantage of and learn terrible truths about the world.

Wait for Night

By Stephen Graham Jones

Tor.com 9/02/20

Nominated for the Locus Award

Read it Here.

Sometimes, it’s nice to sit back and enjoy a simple bloody monster fight. As moving or thought-provoking as some of these stories are, sometimes it’s good to just imagine a vampire and a skeleton beating the shit out of each other.

The plot is simple, and the writing is quite good. A pulp horror story told in a literary style. Wait for Night is a tight first-person narrative that puts us in protagonist Chessup’s head. On paper Chessup isn’t the most likable person, what with the spontaneous attempt to sell human remains and all that. Even when he was stashing bones away and thinking about murdering his co-worker to keep his find, I never disliked him. Of course, once night falls, Chessup isn’t the main actor in this story. Our Vampire isn’t like other vampires. I feel like I’ve been saying that a lot lately. This one is not the sophisticated, sexy vampire lord we’re all familiar with. More a stoic lone wolf. A badass drifter type. Still very creepy. The vampire lore is also toyed with, which made this story feel different.

One of the most important things about a horror story is whether or not it is scary. Or at least unsettling. Wait for Night delivers in this aspect. The skeleton is described as moving like a claymation cartoon, which I thought was a clever way to convey the ‘wrongness’ and shock at seeing a reanimated skeleton. The body horror aspect that comes with being an immortal (but apparently not indestructible) vampire is also showcased. Also that ending, whilst it may have been a bit abrupt, had some very unsettling implications.

_________________________________________________________________________

And with that, I am 99% done with reviewing the Locus, Hugo, and Nebula nominees. Whilst I did see similar themes pop up in a few stories, this was fun to do partly because of the variety of stories I got to read. Out of the fourteen stories I was able to review, I’m going to count five of these as science fiction, three as horror, and seven as fantasy. I’m counting The Mermaid Astronaut as both fantasy and science fiction, and whilst Open House on Haunted Hill is clearly a horror story, according to it’s premise and the tropes used, I don’t have the heart to put it in that category. I’m also on the fence about where I am putting a couple of stories, and thought about classifying two as ‘mainstream’ or ‘literary’. Also, one of those ‘science fiction’ stories is literally a fairy tale.

Judging by what I do know about In the Land of the Spill, I think that falls into the science fiction box. It involves exploring a deserted, flooded, post-climate change Vietnam overrun by feral A.Is, but I know that Aliette de Bodard is good at weaving fantasy and science fiction elements together, so I’m not going to make that call without reading it.

I think it’s cool in and of itself that assigning genres to these stories is such a challenge. There are a lot of platforms for short fiction, and some have very rigid criteria for their stories. Whilst science fantasy and other genre-bending stories are nothing new, I feel like with the rise of Uncanny and Tor.com I have been seeing a lot more of them. Of course, this could be because Uncanny and Tor.com stories are easily accessible, or that I have started looking for such stories more lately. Anyone else feel there have been more genre-bending stories these last few years? Or have any recommendations?

The Nebula Awards have already been announced. The winners of the Locus Award will be announced on June 26 2021, during the virtual Locus Awards Weekend. The winners of the Hugo Award will be announced during Discon III, which will be held December 15 – 19. Before I sign off, it occurs to me that the way I have presented these stories may make it harder to see which stories are competing against each other, so I’ll provide three quick lists:

Nebula:

Open House on Haunted Hill (Winner)

Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse

A Guide for Working Breeds

Advanced Word Problems in Portal Math

The Eight-Thousanders

My Country is a Ghost

Hugo:

Open House on Haunted Hill

Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse

A Guide for Working Breeds

The Mermaid Astronaut

Little Free Library

Metal Like Blood in the Dark

Locus:

Open House on Haunted Hill

Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse

The Mermaid Astronaut

50 Things Every AI Working with Humans Should Know

The Sycamore and the Sybil

Little Free Library

Dresses Like White Elephants

The Girlfriend’s Guide to Gods

Wait for Night

In the Lands of the Spill

Open House on Haunted Hill has already won the Nebula Award. Do you peeps think it can win the triple crown? Last time a short story won all three awards in the same year was 2017, with Amal El-Mohtar’s Seasons of Glass and Iron. It’s possible it can happen again this year, but those are some very competitive ballots. Especially that Hugo Award Ballot. I’m still figuring out how I want to vote. Which stories would you pick to win? I’m looking forward to seeing the winners announced.

Until then, happy reading,

~ Lauren.

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