Now that the Nebulas have been awarded and the Hugo Voter Packet has been released, it’s time to turn to the Hugo nominees. With my tendency to fall behind, I’d better get at this smartly, and I’ll start with the short story nominees.
You will remember that Aliette de Bodard won the Nebula in this category, for “Immersion” — a story I thought very highly of. But winning the Nebula doesn’t always make a story the favourite for the Hugo. Only seven times in the last 40 years (17.5 percent) has a short story won both trophies: before “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu did so last year, the last story to win both awards was Connie Willis’s “Even the Queen,” 20 years ago. And “Immersion” is up against different competitors, because it was the only story to be nominated for both.
There are, in fact, only three stories on the ballot this year instead of the usual five. As I mentioned before, this is due to the rule requiring each story to receive a minimum of five percent of the nominating ballots. The rule also requires at least three stories on the ballot, whether or not they made the five percent threshold. (I’m looking forward to seeing the raw numbers listing the total votes per nominee, which get released after the Hugo ceremony.)
I suspect that this is likely the hardest category to get a nomination in, other than best novel. So many short stories are being published — in the traditional and online magazines, in anthologies, in mainstream venues and obscure corners of the field — that nobody can possibly read them all without making a deliberate effort. And many of those venues don’t publish novelettes or novellas. The field is fragmented to the point where virtually every venue has the same size readership, according to Locus numbers (around 25,000), but the readerships don’t necessarily overlap. The centre does not hold. Consensus is more difficult.
That said, here’s what the final ballot looks like:
I’ve already discussed “Immersion” in the Nebula short story post, so let’s deal with the other two, both of which are stories by writers whose work, like Aliette’s, I like very much, so this is a ballot relevant to my interests.
First, “Mantis Wives” by Kij Johnson, whose short story collection I reviewed here last summer. It’s a brief piece, less than a thousand words, and elegantly brutal in the manner of “Spar” and “Ponies”: mantis females have elevated the post-coital killing of males to an art, which are described in spare, lyrical, poetic detail.
Next, “Mono no Aware,” the fourth story by Ken Liu to receive an award nomination this year. (He had three Nebula nominations, none of which carried over to the Hugo.) In a blog post from 2010, Ken explains how mono no aware (もののあはれ) — the awareness of the impermanence and transience of things — is common in a lot of Japanese and Chinese art, and turns up in much of his own work. In the story, the protagonist, Hiroto, is literally the last Japanese person, rescued from the destruction of the Earth and living on a starship headed toward 61 Virginis; he reflects on the passing of the Earth, of Japan, of his family, and in the end of himself, as he sacrifices himself to save the lightsail propelling the ship to their destination.
It’s a deeply felt and powerful story, possibly the best of his four nominees, with the emotional heft of “The Paper Menagerie.” In many ways it’s the mirror image of “Immersion”: both stories are about loss and identity; Ken’s is wistful where Aliette’s is white-hot angry. The two stories could very easily be talked about in tandem and would make for a great story club discussion, I think. I also think I’m going to have a hell of a hard time deciding between them.