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It's time for the latest installment in my series on the Hugos. I started out going from big to small, novels to short stories, but I skipped the novelettes because I feared not being able to finish them all in time. It seemed a good bet that I could at least get through the Best Short Story nominees, and I now have. In general, I enjoyed these more than the Best Novella nominees.

I'll start with the ones I didn't like.

Evil Robot Monkey by Mary Robinette Kowal

There was just something ugly about this story that bothered me. Perhaps it was the teasing; perhaps it was the violent fit. I think, though, that it irritated me because it involved a trapped person being treated like a child, which bothers me even if he is an evil robot monkey. The story does have the virtue of being mercifully brief.

From Babel's Fallen Glory We Fled by Michael Swanwick

I didn't despise this one, but it didn't thrill me. The futurist setting was interesting, the language was well-done in parts, but I found the action confusing to follow because the dialogue was written in such a piecemeal fashion. It's even full of little "untranslatables". That was too much for me. Although there were features of the ending that I could appreciate, it bothered me in ways I don't want to reveal for fear of spoiling the reader. Let's just say that this one was tolerable.

Now we get into the ones I liked.

26 Monkeys and Also the Abyss by Kij Johnson

This is a well-told tale. I enjoyed the story. It's about a mystery involving a magic act with 26 disappearing monkeys. What disappointed me was the end. Again, I can't do more than describe the end as "disappointing" without revealing too much. But this story was like BSG in that I very much enjoyed until I reached the end.

Article of Faith by Mike Resnick

This was definitely a clever, well-told little story about a fascinating robot who works in a church and talks to the minister. Like so much of the best of science fiction, it uses a non-human character to tell us something about humanity. Again, I was somewhat disappointed by the ending, not so much because it was a poor ending, but because the earlier parts of the story were so enchanting that they led me to have very high expectations for the end. I thought it was going to try to teach a new and different moral lesson. In the end, the moral lesson it taught was an important but relatively mundane one, something with which most of us fen can heartily agree. So, it is doing some preaching to the choir, but it's still good. The story is compelling and the characters are fascinating and lovable. I would vote to give this one the award, except that the last one was even better.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Wow. What can I say about this one other than, "exhale?" I found it irritating at first because of the lack of any dialogue to break up long streams of text. But once I got past the relatively slow start, the story became so fascinating that I forgave it. Again, wow. This story is what makes us love science fiction. It's about the implications of science for everyday life on the one hand, and our ultimate destiny and the meaning of our lives on the other. And unlike 26 Monkeys, the conclusions it draws are not disappointing at all, but uplifting and thoughtful. Best of all, there's no magic, just science. The characters are made of machine parts, but they can be said to be living. They notice that their sense of time is slowing down. One of them sets out to find out why, and goes on an incredibly journey of discovery, into him/herself. This story is just dynamite, and I'll look forward to voting for it for Best Short Story.

Date: 2009-06-12 06:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
If you haven't already, you need to read Chiang's collection Stories of Your Life and Others.

Date: 2009-06-12 07:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Although you and I disagree about the Resnick, we agree on Chiang. The only thing I had to complain about was that it was read in a sort of stilted emotionless style on EscapePod. I think if it had been read by a woman, I would have *really* been blown away by it. The science is fascinating, and the descriptions that start out sort of tedious become fascinating as a result. I think the ending was definitely the best of the stories I read/heard. It's still a toss up for me whether I'll vote for this or 26 Monkeys.

Date: 2009-06-12 08:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'd swap the Kowal and the Johnson -- I agree that the Kowal was not a comfortable story, but it shouldn't be. It's in a class with _Charly_, I think, and others I'm remember titles of at the moment. (There was one about a robot/child, I think, and "The Ugly Little Boy"...). The set-up in the Johnson was somewhat interesting, but the lack of satisfactory ending made the house of cards fall down.

"Exhalation" was wonderful; and I think the StarshipSofa/EscapePod reading was appropriate -- it's the lab notebook of a machine intelligence. I have a weakness for short stories in this sort of voice, where something novel and wonderful is peeking out through this ordinary, even academic, language -- "The Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation" is one that I've occasionally forgotten was fiction, and [ profile] ozarque has posted some fragments using similar techniques in her LJ.

The Resnick was good, but somewhat reminiscent of the Willis story with the orangutan working in the church, though the endings are quite different.

The Swanwick just didn't hold my attention in audio; I might like it better in text, but I doubt it.


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