2014 Hugos: Short Story Nominees

edited by Loncon 3

Publisher: Loncon 3
Copyright: 2014
Format: Kindle

This is a bit of a weird "book review," since this is not a book. Rather, it's the collection of Hugo-nominated short stories for the 2014 Hugos (given for works published in 2013) at Loncon 3, the 2014 Worldcon. As such, the "editor" is the pool of attendees and supporting members who chose to nominate works, all of which had been previously edited by other editors in their original publication.

This is also not something that someone else can acquire; if you were not a supporting or attending member, you didn't get the voting packet. But I believe all of the stories here are available on-line for free in some form, a short search away.

"If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" by Rachel Swirsky: The most common complaint about this story is that it's not really a story, and I have to agree. It's a word image of an alternate world in which the narrator's love is a human-sized dinosaur, starting with some surreal humor and then slowly shifting tone as it reveals the horrible event that's happened to the narrator's actual love, and that's sparked the wish for her love to have claws and teeth. It's reasonably good at what it's trying to do, but I wanted more of a story. The narrator's imagination didn't do much for me. (5)

"The Ink Readers of Doi Saket" by Thomas Olde Heuvelt: At least for me, this story suffered from being put in the context of a Hugo nominee. It's an okay enough story about a Thai village downstream from a ritual that involves floating wishes down the river, often with offerings in the improvised small boats. The background of the story is somewhat cynical: the villagers make some of the wishes come true, sort of, while happily collecting the offerings and trying to spread the idea that the wishes with better offerings are more likely to come true. The protagonist follows a familiar twist: he actually can make wishes come true, maybe, but is very innocent about his role in the world.

This is not a bad story, although stories written by people with western-sounding names about non-western customs worry me, and there were a few descriptions and approaches here (such as the nickname translations in footnotes and the villager archetypes) that made my teeth itch. But it is not a story that belongs on the Hugo nomination slate, at least in my opinion. It's either cute or mildly irritating, depending on one's mood when one meets it, not horribly original, and very forgettable. (5)

"Selkie Stories Are for Losers" by Sofia Samatar: I really liked this story for much of its length. It features a couple of young, blunt, and bitter women, and focuses on the players in the typical selkie story that don't get much attention. The selkie's story is one of captivity or freedom; her lover's story is the inverse, the captor or the lover. But I don't recall a story about the children before, and I think Samatar got the tone right. It has the bitterness of divorce and abandonment mixed with the disillusionment of fantasy turned into pain.

My problem with this story is the ending, or rather, the conclusion, since the story doesn't so much end as stop. There's a closing paragraph that gives some hint of the shape to come, but it gave me almost no closure, and it didn't answer any of the emotional questions that the rest of the story raised for me. I wanted something more, some sort of epiphany or clearer determination. (7)

"The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere" by John Chu: This was by far my favorite of the nominees, which is convenient since it won. I thought it was the only nominee that felt in the class of stories I would expect to win a Hugo.

I think this story needs one important caveat up front. The key conceit of the story is that, in this world, water falls on you out of nowhere if you tell any sort of lie. It does not explore the practical impact on that concept for the broader world. That didn't bother me; for some reason, I wasn't really expecting it to do so. But it did bother several other people I've seen comment on this story. They were quite frustrated that the idea was used primarily to shape a personal and family emotional dilemma, not to explore the impact on the world. So, go into this with the right expectations: if you want world-building or deep exploration of a change in physical laws, you will want a different story.

This story, instead, is a beautiful gem about honesty in relationships, about communication about very hard things and very emotional things, about coming out, about trusting people, and about understanding people. I thought it was beautiful. If you read Captain Awkward, or other discussion of how to deal with difficult families and the damage they cause to relationships, seek this one out. It surprised me, and delighted me, and made me cry in places, and I loved the ending. It's more fantasy than science fiction, and it uses the conceit as a trigger for a story about people instead of a story about worlds and technology, but I'm still very happy to see it win. (9)

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2014-09-23

Last modified and spun 2017-04-29