Hugo Awards: Best Short Story Contenders (4)

Fourth on the ballot for Best Short Story: “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu. You can read it here.

Jack is the son of an American father and a Chinese mother, who was a mail-order bride. The marriage is a successful one, but at age 10 Jack becomes aware of the ethnic differences between himself and his American classmates.

When the family moves, two neighbors come to visit the new arrivals, and Jack overhears them talking about him:

“Slanty eyes, white face. A little monster.”

He begins to resent his mother’s lack of assimilation, refuses to speak to her in Chinese, and asks for “real toys” instead of the origami that his mother makes (animal figures which are more marvelous than the Star Wars toys that he desires, because his mother animates them with life).

The situation and the characters are compelling. But… it may be hard for a reader to believe the extreme coldness that Jack displays toward his mother, unrelenting until he reaches adulthood, a coldness that verges on cruelty when she appeals to him in vain and he rejects the new origami animals that she makes, her overtures to regain his love. Even ten-year-olds are not that easily ruled by peer pressure, or so steadfast in rejecting a loving parent. Nor is it easily credited that neighbors, no matter how prejudiced against a Chinese mother married to an American, would describe the child as a monster. I, at least, began to feel unfairly manipulated.

And this is a pity, because it is a lovely story that doesn’t need the excess. I think it has a chance of winning the Best Short Story award. Comments?

Hugo Awards: Best Short Story Contenders (3)

The third story for consideration is Nancy Fulda’s “Movement,” published in Asimov’s. Read it here. As with the previous discussion, I will not be avoiding spoilers.

This is an impressive story. Hannah, a teenage girl with “temporal autism,” is the narrator. Hannah is highly intelligent and is a talented dancer, but she speaks rarely and is disinclined to make human connection with others. Her parents are considering a new treatment, synaptic grafting, as a cure for her condition.

An interaction with her mother illustrates her condition:

“Would you like that, Hannah? Would you like to be more like other teenagers?”

Neither yes nor no seems appropriate, so I do not say anything. Words are such fleeting, indefinite things. They slip through the spaces between my thoughts and are lost.

She keeps looking at me and I consider giving her an answer I’ve been saving. Two weeks ago she asked me whether I would like a new pair of dancing shoes and if so, what color. I have collected the proper words in my mind, smooth and firm like pebbles, but I decide it is not worth speaking them. Usually by the time I answer a question, people have forgotten that they asked it.

The story title, “Movement,” refers to Hannah’s love of things that do not change quickly, such as glass and stone. Things that are always changing, such as clouds and conversation, make her uneasy. She is keenly aware of the flow of time, and sees herself as living on a different time scale. At the end of the story, she decides she doesn’t want the treatment, but she communicates this by telling her mother that she does not want new shoes–a message her mother will not understand.

Hannah’s perspective is a fascinating one, the story well crafted and unusual. It should be a strong contender for best story.

Hugo Awards: Best Short Story Contenders (2)

Next on the ballot for best short story is Mike Resnick’s “The Homecoming” from Asimov’s. You can find it here. If spoilers bother you, read the story before continuing with this post.

OK. Young man is transformed into insectoid alien creature. Not magically or inexplicably (see Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis“), but through some transformative process that, presumably, is not surgery, because he has metallic silver skin, multifaceted red eyes, stick-like limbs, and a tube-shaped mouth. Philip, we learn, is an exobiologist who undertook the transformation in order to study an alien world. As in “The Metamorphosis,” the family (or at least the father, who provides the story’s viewpoint) reacts with horror and repugnance. Then, estrangement, which has lasted for many ¬†years.

The story follows what happens when Philip returns home to visit his mother, who is suffering from dementia. After some bickering, an admonishment from the mother, and a brief description of the alien wonders Philip has seen, father and son are reconciled.

An interesting situation, but, emotionally, I couldn’t follow where this story tried to lead me, into a sympathy with and better understanding of the son. In fact, I started and ended with the same feeling of horror toward a person altering his body into an alien form, and my final thought at the end of the story was directed at the father–Ah, don’t make everything OK just because the story is telling you to! Perhaps the reconciliation was a shade too easy.

Evidently I am not the best person to send on a space exploration, not being up to the sacrifices required. I’ll continue to mull this one over while I turn to story #3 tomorrow.

Hugo Awards: Best Short Story Contenders (1)

The voting deadline for the Hugos is 6 days away, so I am taking a look at the five finalists on the ballot for Best Short Story.

First is John Scalzi’s “The Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” (whew).

This story is a lot of fun. It is somewhat in the vein of Terry Pratchett nonsense, and the setting may put some readers in mind of Gormenghast. Mostly, though, it reminds me of a Lord Dunsany tale. That is, like a Dunsany story, it veers from gothic to silly to sharp wit in a drunken, unpredictable, and wholly entertaining way.

It is refreshing to see a comic story on the ballot. “Shadow War” was published as an April Fool’s post on Tor.com, as a parody of too-much-used fantasy elements. (If you didn’t know that, of course, you’d be puzzling over why the prologue to a novel is on the short story ballot.)

So: read it. You can find it here.

It strikes me that this story, if it actually were continued (Scalzi does not intend to write the novel, because this is “April Fool!”), would ally itself with Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! and Scalzi’s Redshirts. I mean, look at the cover. Three guards, the disposable redshirts of medieval fantasies. I am beginning to think I’d like to read The Dead City.

Last, I have to share my laugh-out-loud moment of delight from this story:

The current Emperor of Skalandarharia was Sukesun IV, and as Skalandarharian emperors go he was…not as wantonly cruel as Gorsig the Pitiless, whose official cause of death [was] “sudden perforated bowel”…

Feel free to add your thoughts, all ye who stumble upon this.