It’s voting time for the Hugo awards, which means that it’s also time for everyone with a Worldcon supporting membership to spam the universe with their opinions on the finalists. I’ll start this year’s ballot with novelettes and short stories, which are what I actually read most often day to day and thus require the least homework.
The two categories are a study in contrasting quality. Despite the second year of Rabid Puppy interference (I still can’t believe I just wrote that), the novelette shortlist is quite credible. Folding Beijing is easily one of the best stories of 2015 and would no doubt have made it onto the ballot without Theodore Beale’s help. And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead belongs on the ballot too – yeah, gratuitous foul language and dated cyberpunk plot, but it’s a hell of a story. Obits isn’t Stephen King’s best work, but even bad King is better than most of what’s out there. Even the two Castalia entries aren’t terrible – What Price Humanity is a tightly written and suspenseful story of war veterans being trained in virtual reality for one last mission, and Flashpoint Titan is no worse than ordinary missile porn. Granted, in a year where the eligible works included Ian McDonald’s Botanica Veneris and Rose Lemberg’s Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds, I’m sorry to see the Castalia stories there instead, but the top of the shortlist is very good indeed and none of it is bad enough to get No Awarded.
The short stories, on the other hand, piss me off.
The top two aren’t bad. Both Cat Pictures Please (the only non-Puppy entry to make the shortlist) and Asymmetrical Warfare are entertaining. There’s an idea or two in Asymmetrical Warfare, in which starfish-like aliens learn the folly of judging a book by its cover or a lifeform by its shape, and Cat Pictures Please is a nice portrayal of a self-aware artificial intelligence and its attempts to understand humanity’s self-destructive side. But though both are entertaining light reading, neither is really more than that, and in a year that featured (for instance) Ursula Vernon’s Wooden Feathers, Mary Robinette Kowal’s Midnight Hour, and Megan O’Keefe’s Of Blood and Brine, neither really stands out.
And the other three… well. There’s Space Raptor Butt Invasion, the Chuck Tingle dinosaur-porn story that Beale pushed onto the ballot as an exercise in pure trolling, and Tingle’s successful counter-trolling, while funny as hell, doesn’t cure the waste of a ballot slot. From there, it goes even further downhill. If You Were an Award, My Love has no literary merit that I can see, and is quite possibly the most spiteful story ever to be nominated for a significant literary award. And Seven Kill Tiger – even aside from the bad science, what can I say about a story that portrays Africans as subhuman and in which the hero, a Chinese mining exec in Zambia, successfully unleashes a genocidal plague against them so that Han Chinese can take over the continent? His inner monologue includes – I’m not paraphrasing – “Africa would be a glorious place were it not for the Africans” and “African men thought of themselves as lions, and they lived like kings of beasts, entirely content to lounge about living off the labor of one or more of his lionesses,” and he’s the good guy. He’s talking about Chewa people too – I know some Chewa people personally, and the story’s portrayal of them doesn’t amuse me.
I understand perfectly why Beale and Jerry Pournelle thought that Seven Kill Tiger was a good story. I disagree.
Bottom line: all the novelettes are going above No Award, three short stories are going below it, and I’d like to announce to the world at large that two of the items on the short-story ballot belong there less than Space Raptor Butt Invasion does.
1. Folding Beijing
2. And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead
4. What Price Humanity
5. Flashpoint Titan
1. Cat Pictures Please
2. Asymmetric Warfare
3. No Award
4. Space Raptor Butt Invasion
5. If You Were an Award, My Love
6. Seven Kill Tiger