As part of my ongoing short fiction review series, I read the 2018 Hugo short story nominees.
I’ll rate these based on how much I enjoyed them personally, not on how good they are in general. These all were nominated for a Hugo, so you’re not likely to find a “bad” story.
I’ll be using a scale from one to five cups of joe, which is exactly like the five-star scale, only tastier.
Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand by Fran Wilde
Length: ~ 2,000 words
This was creepily surreal. There are way more questions raised than answered, though I think that’s part of the point.
The story is told in second-person, with an unnamed character leading us through some sort of museum-like exhibit. The exhibit is weird, creepy, and only described in just enough detail to pique your curiosity.
I’ll say this was…interesting. I’m not sure how else I’d describe it. It was definitely a quick read, by far the shortest of this batch.
The Martian Obelisk by Linda Nagata
Length: ~ 5,900 words
When the end of the world came, it wasn’t sudden. It occurred gradually, one step at a time. People didn’t notice what was happening until it was too late, and then they just gave up hope.
In the midst of this dying world, a scientist manages to purchase a plot of land on Mars. She is determined to remotely construct a grand obelisk that will stand untouched for thousands of years. When the world is gone for good, it might just be the last remaining evidence of humanity’s existence.
It’s not often that the worst has already come to pass by the time a story begins. This was largely about finding a meaning to life in a world beyond saving. I enjoyed this one, though the ending didn’t quite resonate with me.
Carnival Nine by Caroline M. Yoachim
Length: ~ 7,200 words
Despite not featuring a single human character, this story managed to encompass an entire life’s worth of human experience.
Every mechanical person is given a set number of turns to their mainspring each day. Once they’ve used up their power reserve, they cannot move again until the maker winds their mainspring again. The main character is given an unusually high number of turns each day.
I really liked this one. It manages to touch on many of the hardships encountered in life, and does so through a cohesive story and relatable characters.
Sun, Moon, Dust by Ursula Vernon
Length: ~ 4,250 words
With great power, comes great responsibility…to run a farm, apparently.
No, this isn’t Farmer Clint: Cabbage Mage 🙂
Allpa receives a magic sword from his grandmother as she’s lying on her deathbed. It has the power to turn him into a legendary warrior…but he doesn’t want it. Farming sounds much more interesting.
This was funny, feel-good, and compellingly written. ‘Nuff said.
Fandom for Robots by Vina Jie-min Prasad
Length: ~ 3,500 words
I really need to read some more slice-of-life, warm, cozy science fiction.
The story is told from the perspective of the only sentient robot. It’s an outdated relic living in a museum, only pulled out on occasion to answer questions for kids on field trips. During one of these Q&A sessions, a kid asks the robot if they’ve seen a TV show.
The robot hasn’t, and decides to correct that. You know, for science. It watches every episode and immediately starts joining the online message boards. It’s a huge fan.
If that’s not enough to intrigue you, I don’t know what is. It’s warm and cozy, and perfect for fans of Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series looking for another dose of Lovelace.
Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience by Rebecca Roanhorse
Length: ~ 5,800 words
Just…wow. Finishing this almost requires you to sit back and process what you just read.
I still don’t think I fully grasped everything from this story, but even following most of it was enough to hit hard. This story was chosen for the Nebula award this year, and for good reason. I will be very surprised if it doesn’t take home the Hugo in August, as well.
Seriously, just read this.