Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The 2014 Hugos: My Final Short Story Ballot

As the voting deadline is fast approaching, we have now reached that special time of year at which I share my impressions of this year's short list for the Hugo Awards. In this post, I will start with the short stories, for which my ballot will look something like this:

1. No Award

Harsh? Perhaps, but I have my reasons.

First of all, while all four stories are technically competent, only one can arguably be classified as sci-i/fantasy ("The Ink Readers of Doi Saket" -- if you squint at it sideways); the others are mundane stories in genre dress. "Selkie Stories Are for Losers," for example, would not have fundamentally changed even if the narrator's mother had abandoned her family for wholly ordinary reasons, and "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere" would've held together as a basic "coming out" tale even without - well - the water. Both "Selkie..." and "The Water..." may have included fantastic elements, but neither the Gaelic folklore in "Selkie..." nor the mystical lie detector in "The Water..." was critical to the flow of its story. The otherworldly element in both cases was mere ornament -- and in my view, you can't simply shoehorn a little unnecessary magic into a literary story and sneak it in under the sci-fi/fantasy banner. In sci-fi/fantasy, the magic - or the advanced technology - is an inalienable feature, not a careless afterthought.  

Secondly, every story on this list features a grim worldview, unsympathetic characters, or both:
  • In "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love," the point-of-view character sits beside her lover's hospital bed and imagines what would happen if said lover were a man-sized T-Rex who could gut his reportedly bigoted attackers. Not only does this daydream not count as sci-fi/fantasy (the narrator could've just as easily imagined her lover as a three-hundred pound black belt in Tae Kwon Do and an expert in combat weaponry without the skeleton of the story being altered one iota), it is also, in essence, revenge porn -- and I don't want to see that. Indeed, it makes me worry about the mental health of the fandom in general that such a tale has apparently been embraced by so many.
  • In "Selkie Stories Are for Losers," the point-of-view character finds her mother's selkie skin in the attic and consequently loses her mother to the call of the sea. To "deal with" her (understandable) feelings of abandonment, said point-of-view character smokes weed and plans to run off to Colorado with her girlfriend. Needless to say, I was not impressed with this particular coping strategy. 
  • "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere," which features a gay Chinese man struggling with the prospect of introducing his boyfriend to the rest of his family, is probably the least off-putting story of the four, but even here, the main character is unattractively passive and lets his domineering sister run roughshod over his feelings.
  • Finally, in "The Ink Readers of Doi Saket," a corrupt monk drowns an innocent boy in a river, and the spirit of the victim reads - and grants - the wishes of his fellow Thai. This might not have been so bad if the wishes in question weren't so self-serving and pointless. One character, for instance, wishes that her husband would be cured of his impotence. Really? We're going to murder a boy just so one of his neighbors can have sex? That's both awful and frankly nihilistic.      
So yes -- I'm going scorched earth with this particular category. If this is the best World Con voters can do, we need to widen the pool.


  1. Widen the pool ?? I'd say DEEPEN the pool. At least that way, we can DROWN the idiots who nominate such bilge. . . (evil grin)

  2. My wife - a liberal democrat from Massachusetts had this to say about that list of story concepts (I didn't read my co-author's precise commentary, just the plot concepts):

    "Those all sound like HORRIBLE story ideas! What is wrong with these people?"