Wednesday, July 15, 2015

2015 Best Short Story - My Hugo Ballot

Here is my current ballot for this year's Short Story category. I'm undecided whether to rank the stories below "No Award," or just leave them like this:

1. No Award

Not Listed on ballot:

Rabid Puppies block vote only
Sad Puppies block vote only
common to both block vote ballots
everything else

Some spoilery thoughts about the individual stories behind the cut:

"On a Spiritual Plain" by Lou Antonelli

This is a not unpleasant little ghost story. On a planet with a very active magnetic field, spirits of the deceased manifest much more clearly than on Earth, and the local sentient species has evolved the ability to communicate with these ghosts. "On a Spiritual Plain" briefly explores a couple of questions: Are these ghosts our actual souls, or are they just an echo of our bioelectrical presence in life? What happens if they are dissipated? We also have the tiniest glimpse into a society that is able to incorporate up to six generations of its dead into everyday life. All from the perspective of a human, Christian, priest who is experiencing his first human ghost, of course. It's interesting, but there's not really a lot to the story.

Puppy meter:
Is this a "rip-roaring good story"? No. 
It this story messagey? Oh hells yes.

"Totaled" by Kary English

OMG we have Death Panels! When you are injured or ill, a determination of your life's worth is made, and if your medical bills will exceed your life's worth, you are "totaled," much like a wrecked automobile. It's not clear whether you're euthanized or what exactly. With your signed consent, they can take your vital parts when you're totaled and use them for medical experiments (and organ donations I assume?). Our protagonist was totaled after a bad car wreck, and finds herself just a brain in her old laboratory, where she and her labmate were working on brain interfaces for a bionet. Horror, sadness, loss. She is dead, and this is basically the echo of her mind assisting with the completion of her research, while what's left of her brain slowly decays in its special fluid-filled jar. So, kindof another ghost story. The powers-that-be are unsympathetic jerks, and overall the story is just disturbing. It felt like it was trying to tug on the "Flowers for Algernon" heart strings, but it's not the same. Also, doesn't complete sensory deprivation very quickly result in delusions and hallucinations? Didn't see that here, before the protagonist's brain was hooked up to sound input. Overall: just disturbing and sad.

Puppy meter:
Is this a "rip-roaring good story"? No
Is this story messagey? Yes

"A Single Samurai" by Steven Diamond

This is another not-unpleasant little story. A massive mountain-sized kaiju awakens and begins to kill everything in its path. A single samurai happens to be in the right place at the right time. He scales the mountain that is the kaiju. With the guidance of his ancestors, he finds the only way one tiny man can kill such a beast. He triumphs and saves his country and his people at the cost of his own life - he hopes! He doesn't actually know for sure, does he? The imagery is pretty cool, and I liked the final solution, even though it took some suspension of disbelief. "Not-unpleasant little story" is not the same thing as "Hugo Worthy Story" though.

Puppy meter:
Is this a "rip-roaring good story?" Yes
Is this story messagey? Somewhat, but not in the way I expected. Kaiju stories are by nature messagey, "History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of men," and all that. This story didn't get into that.  We have no idea what wakened this kaiju.

"The Parliament of Beasts and Birds" by John C. Wright

I try to read all of the Hugo nominated works in a category before I vote in that category. If something really doesn't grab me, though, I will put it down and move on. Life is too short, and a Hugo-worthy story should be able to grab me and hold my attention. That being said, I do try to at least power through the Short Stories, no matter how terrible they are. They're so short, after all! 

This one, ugh. I just had to put it down. I gave it a couple of pages. The extreme run-on sentences were really annoying, and it just wasn't grabbing me. Next.

Puppy meter:
Is this a "rip-roaring good story?" Who knows? Not yet.
Is this story messagey? It has the feel that it would be - but I couldn't bring myself to care.

"Turncoat" by Steve Rzasa

A ship / machine intelligence is annoyed by the inefficiencies and stinks and illogical quirks of his flesh crew, and chafes at the restrictions which require him to be under the command of humans.

But, no, wait, these little flesh people make him feel alive, and when given control of his own body/ship and freed of his humans, he has doubts and feels there is something wrong. He doesn't trust the human overlords whose minds were uploaded into machines. He is ordered to kill the 'superannuated human' enemy combatants even if they surrender, and he feels that's wrong. He is ordered to kill a hospital ship 1/3 full of human children, and he defects to the other side, so that he can find his soul.

Very action-filled (fight-filled) piece of very message-y fiction, but for all that, it felt very clunky. 

The beginning of the story felt like a metaphor - We Superior Beings Are Being Kept Down! We'll take back what is rightfully ours, by force! Sound familiar? But then our protagonist, the machine intelligence, has a change of heart as he realizes the mind-uploaded formerly-human overlords are monsters wanting to kill all other humanity. And suddenly, for no readily apparent reason, he's contemplating the souls of the humans he's killed and his own soul.

Maybe some vital bits of the story got left on the editing room floor. It's just so clunky.

Puppy meter:
Is this a "rip-roaring good story?" Sure
Is this story messagey? Oh hells yes.

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