In the course of my reading life, I’ve only recently began to appreciate short fiction. Shorter in length, they can truly be works of art. Clocking in at less than 7,500 words, short stories are the distilled essence of that art form.
“On a Spiritual Plane”
On the surface, this is science fiction— aliens, distant planet, etc. Conditions on the planet mean the alien race is accustomed ghosts and when the first human dies on the planet, his ghost remains as well. So how does the chaplain assigned to the planet’s outpost deal with this new aspect of life after death?
This was an interesting story to read, but I think the author could have spent more time perfecting the story, which could have been handled more elegantly.
“The Parliament of the Beasts and Birds”
The writing seems contrived, as if the author is struggling to emulate something or someone… but failing. The characterizations of the animals were somewhat interesting, but very cliche. The story lacked subtlety and the religious overtones were too much.
This story could perhaps appeal to a very small and select audience but definitely not to me.
“A Single Samurai”
I really enjoyed this tale. The description of the Kaiju (what if a mountain starts moving…) was fascinating and the sense of scale was masterful. I would have wished for a stronger sense of Samurai culture and setting to have come through.
Regardless, the ending was satisfying.
The science stretched my limits of plausibility (remember that old Star Trek episode Spock’s Brain?) Although drawing on classic disembodied brain sci-fi with a modern update, the author deftly handled emotions throughout the story and I nearly teared up.
Total military science fiction setting that also wanders into the realm of questing what humanity means in the face of artificial intelligence. But instead of being handled artfully, the topic is blatant. Rather than raising questions, the text literally asks the questions.
I’m a little spoiled because I read many stories that dealt with this topic more elegantly in the anthology Bless Your Mechanical Heart (highly recommend). As a side note, I don’t think the author picked the correct tense for the story— present-tense seemed tiring rather than flowing smoothly.
My Top Pick
I’m a little disappointed in this year’s spread when it comes to short stories. Maybe I don’t read short stories a lot, but I’ve certainly read many that surpass these in what I consider award-winning quality.
Although I may vote No Award, my top pick out of the selection is “Totaled” by Kary English.
The Hugo Awards are the most prestigious award in science fiction and fantasy and I’m excited to be voting and attending WorldCon this year. My final ballot may differ. This analysis only considers the written work, ignoring other factors. I’ve shared my views on the Hugo Awards controversy separately.