Hugo Awards: The Short Stories
Posted June 16, 2013on:
So. I’m eligible to nominate and vote in the Hugo Awards this year. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the Hugos are basically the Oscars of the Scifi/fantasy community. it is a very. big. deal.
The nominating process was really fun. But now it’s time to look at everything in the voting packet and read as much of it as I possibly can. And it’s. . . intimidating. I’m slowly making my way through the “big” categories, short story, novelette, novella, novel, even Campbell award. I count myself very lucky that I’ve already read a few of the novels, two of the Campbell award nominees, and a two of the novellas. VERY LUCKY. Even with a head start, will I be able to get through everything I’d like to read by the end of July?
Let’s find out.
my voting plans will stay a secret, but as I get through categories, I’ll publish my thoughts, link to earlier reviews, and we can generally discuss.
There’s two really good reasons I’m doing short stories first. Actually, three really good reasons:
they’re all available online for you to read for free
they’re all pretty short
there’s only three of them
And the nominees are:
Immersion by Aliette de Bodard
Quy lives on the independent space station Longevity, and these days her family’s restaurant, Sister Hai’s Kitchen, depends mostly on tourist dollars. The immerser technology is an overlay people wear. it’s a little like a veil, a little like cosmetics, it affects how you see the world, and how others see you. Educated on a Galactic station, Quy is often called upon to interact with the restaurant’s wealthier customers. An immersed woman is what they expect, someone who speaks their language, who understands their customs, and Quy knows how to navigate the interface and give the customers what they expect. Meanwhile, Quy’s sister, Tam, spends her afternoons tinkering with the immersion technology, trying to learn how it works.
The immerser is aptly named, it allows you to be immersed in a culture, with tips on dialect and slang, and offers natives an avatar that helps them look comforting, more familiar to tourists and others of the Galactic political majority.
Interspersed with Quy’s story, is that of Agnes. Written in the rarely used second person perspective, Agnes depends on her immerser for nearly everything. She’s a stranger in her own skin, almost fighting with the immerser to see who is the imposter, who is the foreigner.
It was funny to me, and telling, that the default avatar provided by the immerser is tall and pale, a Caucasian ideal of beauty. Typically used by tourists in foreign lands to learn about the culture, get smartphone-esque tips on restaurants, how much a cab ride should cost, where the safe hotels are, the immerser was a tool designed with the best intentions, and we all know there those lead. This is a story about assimilation and post-colonialism, with heavy undertones of the changes we make to ourselves to be accepted by others.
But how much assimilation is too much? Where is the line where you lose yourself?
Mantis Wives by Kij Johnson
It’s a fact of nature, female mantises often kill and eat the males during mating. Such is the strange ways of nature that the body of the male becomes needed calories to sustain the female during pregnancy. But what if that first step, that first sentence, wasn’t necessary? what excuses could the females then offer for the killing of their mates? The killing thus becomes a “difficult art”, with specific steps and movements to define the art.
The story then, is a description of the lethal things wives do to their husbands, sometimes indirectly causing their deaths, perhaps as a way of avoiding blame. Everyone willingly goes into a destructive and abusive relationship. The husbands know what will happen to them, yet they never resist. And when offered love and safety, they still choose pain and death.
No named characters, no agency, nothing to grab onto or relate to, and no less poetic in spite of it. Morbid and visceral, and metered like it’s own formal dance, this reads like a very short, yet very hopeful love story.
Mono no Aware by Ken Liu
A resident of the generation ship Hopeful, Hiroto is the last of his kind.
During the journey, he reminisces about his early childhood in Japan, about the lessons his father imparted on him, about how he ended up on the ship in the first place. A technician for the solar sail, he spends a couple of days each month teaching the ship’s teenagers about his Japanese heritage. Being the only Japanese person on board, he agrees that he has a duty to teach the young people about other cultures from Earth. It’s no easy task teaching Go to high schoolers who are used to playing video games. There are a few phrases translated into Japanese, as Hiroto spends time with his girlfriend Mindy, whose first language was Spanish. She has fun melding the Japanese, Spanish and English.
When something goes wrong, his life grows as tenous as the molecule thin solar sail. In the game of Go, there are no heroes.
Language is a beautiful, fickle thing, and I am continually fascinated by it. So many phrases have generations of meaning behind them, depths and weights that too easily become meaningless in a vacuum. The title of the story is explained as meaning “A sense of the transience of everything in life”. I found a sense of peace in that.
The portions of the story that take place on the generation ship, have a hard scifi feeling to them, but then it seamlessly shifts to Hiroto’s youth, to his poet father, his conflicted mother, the descriptions of a few kanji characters. With asides on language, handwriting, and the lessons learned from our parents, this could only be a Ken Liu short story. It packs quite the emotional punch.
On a somewhat unrelated note, I found additional meaning in the pronunciation of the title. It’s too easy to read it phonetically in English, and think maybe it means to be aware of the one person, perhaps aware of yourself. But the correct Japanese phonetic pronunciation of “aware” is ah-wah-reh, and the entire titles means a sense of transience. Isn’t there added balance to having an awareness of the transience of one’s self?