Mini-Reviews of Hugo Finalist Short Stories
The end of Hugo Voting is quickly approaching. 114 Hugo and Astounding Award finalists await your contemplation. Here are mini-reviews for the six Hugo finalists for Best Short Story. If you want to read these stories for yourself (you should), each story is linked in the corresponding subheading.
“And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, by Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons, 9 September 2019)
In 20th-century Bengal, an old woman named Apa makes dolls. These dolls are said to be unique, and possibly possess magic. One day, one of the British governor’s men comes to request a doll for the governor’s wife. Apa unequivocally refuses this demand. However, life then gets significantly worse all over Bengal due to the governor’s avaricious policies. Apa’s life changes forever, and not for the better. Eventually, Apa agrees to make a doll for the governor’s wife. However, it’s clear that some people should be more careful about what they wish for. This story is about the ravages of colonialism, and depicts one small act of revenge against a mighty machine.
“As the Last I May Know”, by S.L. Huang (Tor.com, 23 October 2019)
This short story is set in an unnamed country at war. Nyma is a young girl who was chosen to physically contain the security codes for weapons called seres. Although their exact use is never explained, they seem to be some sort of weapon of mass destruction. If the president wants to use these weapons, he must kill Nyma. Huang explores why this scenario would be personally awful, but institutionally sound. She essentially argues that leaders must consider how harmful these weapons are, and they may not unless they suffer an immediate consequence. This is a very heartwrenching story about consequences, and how we don’t always see them until it is too late.
“Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, by Rivers Solomon (Tor.com, 24 July 2019)
As this story begins, an enslaved woman named Sully murders the people who have enslaved her. This violent act shakes the spirit world in ways that no one can expect. Although that phrasing seems like the spirit world punishes Sully for her revenge, this is not true. Solomon makes no attempt to claim that the enslavers didn’t deserve their fate. All the spirit world does is try to reset the balance their deaths have undone. Even though this story starts with death, it is more about finding your place in the world after it has changed.
“A Catalog of Storms”, by Fran Wilde (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2019)
In the future, after the seas have risen up, people begin to fight storms. They do so in a manner like many before them: they work to learn their names and use that power to halt their course. However, storms are full of power, and becoming a storm-fighter, or weatherman, can use a person up. Sila, our narrator, discovers this truth when her sister Lillit decides to become a weatherman. The rest of Sila’s family, her mother and her other sister Varyl, are devastated when Lillit decides to leave them. However, Sila sees her future in her sister’s fate. This story is very beautifully written, and puts a magical spin on what may be the Earth’s future.
“Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, by Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 2019)
Eefa lives in an empire of endless war. She felt like she was a good husband, but her warrior wife Talaan will not stay with her, instead heeding the unceasing call of war. Talaan promises that their next child will be Eefa’s to raise, but Eefa worries that Talaan will be unable to keep her promise. Harrow writes beautifully and evocatively about the horrors of war for those left behind. Eefa seems like she’s the only person in her society who sees how much damage the fighting does off the battlefield, and her Cassandra-esque horror drives the story.
“Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare Magazine, May 2019)
As indicated by the title, this story takes the form of someone’s annotated bibliography about a fictional event. I really enjoy stories where the author takes something that should be completely mundane and twists it until the reader is stunned by the result (also see Sarah Gailey’s “STET”). Be warned, this story gets a little gruesome (this is also hinted in the title). In this annotated bibliography, Sen describes the tale of a schoolgirl brutally taken from her homeland, a connection she finds with someone else, and the consequences of both of those choices.
Conclusion – Read Hugo Finalist Short Stories!
I think that all of these Hugo Finalist short stories are incredibly innovative. All six of these authors wrote stories designed to make the reader think about the world within and without them. You really should have spent your time reading them instead of reading this, but you still have time to make the right choice.
Don’t forget! Hugo Voting closes Wednesday 22 July 2020 at 23:59 Pacific Daylight Time (UTC-7)/Thursday, 23 July 2020 at 18:59 New Zealand Standard Time (UTC+12).