At the beginning of this month I mentioned that one of my challenges this Wyrd & Wonder was to read the novelettes and short stories that had made the shortlist of this year’s Hugo Awards – something I did and really enjoyed doing last year – so today I’m back to discuss my thoughts on this year’s shortlists.
I love the Hugo Awards, they’re one of the few awards I like to follow each year, and this is something I’d like to continue doing because I know I miss out on a lot of brilliant short work in favour of all the novels waiting for me on my bookshelves.
So, what did I think of this year’s shortlist?
- The Archronology of Love by Caroline M. Yoachim
- Away With the Wolves by Sarah Gailey
- The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye by Sarah Pinsker
- Emergency Skin by N. K. Jemisin
- For He Can Creep by Siobhan Carroll
- Omphalos by Ted Chiang
Well, this was an interesting selection! Unfortunately I was only able to read five of this year’s shortlisted novelettes – I haven’t been able to get hold of Omphalos without buying the short story collection it’s in, and I’m just not interested enough to do that – but for the most part I enjoyed the five I read.
My favourite, and the one I’d love to see win, is definitely For He Can Creep. It’s funny, but I mentioned in my post on the lack of centaurs in fantasy fiction that I read a lot of books about animals when I was a child, and I feel like I’ve been reminded of how much I used to love those kinds of stories this Wyrd & Wonder. For He Can Creep is narrated from the POV of a cat who takes on the devil, and it’s just so much fun; I liked Carroll’s writing a lot and I loved that the whole story was based on a poem a real poet wrote during his time in a mental asylum.
I also really enjoyed Away With the Wolves, and loved the way Gailey used a form of lycanthropy as a lens through which to explore living with chronic pain. Their writing was lovely in this novelette – I love that traditional fantasy town feel, it’s a very comforting setting for us fantasy lovers – and that the main love that appears in this story was platonic was so satisfying.
I did also enjoy Emergency Skin, because it’s N. K. Jemisin so of course I did, but I do feel like she’s explored the themes that she explores in this novelette with more nuance in her other work. That said, I do think the POV she decided to tell this novelette from is really interesting, and I wouldn’t say no to giving the other novelettes in the Forward Collection a try.
Unfortunately, The Archronology of Love and The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye didn’t work for me quite as much. I didn’t dislike The Archronology of Love, but I do find that I tend to enjoy fantasy novelettes more than sci-fi novelettes on the whole because sci-fi novelettes often have to simply drop you into whatever reality the story’s set in with very little, if any, explanation, and I’m a bit of a sci-fi dumb-dumb. Drop me into a new fantasy world and I can find my feet fairly quickly, but a sci-fi world takes a bit more brainpower and I felt as though I spent a lot of this novelette wondering what the hell was going on. Also, for whatever reason, Yoachim’s writing didn’t keep me as engaged as I’d have liked to have been.
I did like that novelette more than The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye, though, which just didn’t work for me. I actually liked Pinsker’s writing and I was enjoying the story up until the reveal came, after which I felt like I was watching an episode of Poirot, or something, where I was having the entire point of the story explained to me because Pinsker hadn’t found a way to drop enough hints that I could figure it out for myself.
I’ve got my fingers crossed that the award will go to For He Can Creep!
- “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing” by Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons, 9 September 2019)
- “As the Last I May Know” by S.L. Huang (Tor.com, 23 October 2019)
- “Blood Is Another Word for Hunger” by Rivers Solomon (Tor.com, 24 July 2019)
- “A Catalog of Storms” by Fran Wilde (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2019)
- “Do Not Look Back, My Lion” by Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 2019)
- “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare Magazine, May 2019)
Okay, another interesting selection here and, unlike last year, not a selection where I have one story I absolutely loved. The only story I didn’t particularly enjoy was “Blood Is Another Word for Hunger” – for no other reason than it was just a little too weird for me – but I liked the others well enough.
I’d be happy to see “As the Last I May Know”, “Do Not Look Back, My Lion” or “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” win the award—although I do wish that last story had been longer. I want to know what happened between Regina and Emma!
I did like how war and peace were explored in “As the Last I May Know”, but for some reason I didn’t fall in love with the story as much as I expected to, and I liked a lot of “Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, too, but I find babies being injured really difficult to read which is the main reason I didn’t love that story in the same way I’ve enjoyed other work by Harrow. (The baby is fine! I just hate the thought of people hurting babies because they’re so defenceless.)
To be honest I liked “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing” well enough too, and I certainly wouldn’t be mad if it won, but despite its very serious subject matter (the story is set during the 1943 Bengal famine) it didn’t really make me feel anything. Which sounds awful, doesn’t it? I will say that I found the way Ramdas wrote about starvation to be very powerful, and it’s made me want to learn more about this event in history that I should have been taught in school, but the story itself is essentially a revenge fantasy that left me feeling a little cold and I don’t know why.
All in all, I don’t feel particularly wowed by any of the short stories this year, which is a shame. I think “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” will stay with me longest simply because it’s the story that’s left me with the most questions!