Reading the Hugos (2020): A Catalog of Storms

This is the final nominee (Disregard that, I actually forgot not just to review another one, but actually to read it! There’s still one more story left) for this year’s short story Hugo Awards, A Catalog of Storms, by Fran Wilde. If you were expecting a roaring end to this review series, you are going to be disappointed.

Fran Wilde wrote years ago one of the few Hugo stories I actually liked, mostly due to its raw, angry energy and somewhat autobiographical content, but A Catalog of Storms has none of those things as far as I can see. To me, it feels like a by-the-book Hugo finalists: wandering, dreamy, with florid language, oozing with magic realism, and with barely any plot or real tension.

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Reading the Hugos (2020) Blood is Another Word for Hunger

This is the fifth of the Hugo finalists and, probably, the most important one. If you could distill the Hugo short fiction category into a platonic form, it would look very similar to this piece, Blood is Another Word for Hunger by Rivers Solomon. And now I have to review it.

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Reading the Hugos (2020) Ten Excerpts from an Annotated… oh God that’s a long title.

Some particular trends in genre literature have become obvious during the past few years. One of them is the use of Brobdingnagian titles, a compulsion to write paragraph-long titles, some of whom even give away the plot. I suspect this may have started as a quirky, ironic thing to do, but I don’t think it’s funny unless you are lampooning or referencing some stuffy style like academic papers or writing comedy. And, to be fair, that’s to some extent what this story is doing—referencing, not the comedy.

The complete title of this very short piece by Nibedita Sen is Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island, which is way less interesting than my alternative title: The lesbian cannibal she-devils of Ratnabar Island. It’s mating season… and they want your blood!

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Reading the Hugos (2020) And Now His Lordship is Laughing

For this short story, you can play a little game. Thanks to the benevolence and foresight of the people at Strange Horizons, this story is preceded by a long list of Content Warnings. You can ignore those, of course, but who could resist the temptation of clicking on that button to see what awful sins it hides. It’s like a flashing red button saying DON’T TOUCH ME.

VOMIT

The game is this: Try to deduce the plot of this story just from those trigger warnings. So what sort of Gomorrah-style type of story do we have here for it to include all that stuff? A surprisingly meh one. Yes, a child dies, and that sets in motion this story of racial revenge, but I don’t even remember half of the things from the list.

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Reading the Hugos (2020) Do Not Look Back, My Lion

I wasn’t sure if this year I would bother writing these analyses of the Hugo short story finalists. Although my experience has usually been that close to 90% of them are bad, at least they are bad in an interesting way. This year they are mostly bad and boring. Besides, to be honest, I don’t care that much about writing anymore. But these reviews of mine are sort of a blog tradition, so here they are once more. I think, however, that this may be the last year I do these. It’s neither worth it nor funny.

If you have stumbled upon this without knowing what I’m talking about: The Hugo Awards is one of the most prestigious literary awards in science fiction and fantasy. Also, they nominate a lot of crap, but it’s from that fact that the hilarity ensues.

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Reading the Hugos (2019) A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies

Of the six short story nominees, three have a witch as the main protagonist (or two, depending on how you define “main”) who is also pretty woke. Outside of these Hugo finalists, I don’t think I have read a story with a witch protagonist in years.

Another trend I have noticed these last years is what I call trivial or mundane fantasy. These are stories with characters that have reality-altering powers yet they don’t use them for anything moderately interesting or to help other people (or themselves) even when that’s the point of the story. In fact, most of these characters are surprisingly powerless and victimized through the entire story. Why? Well, there are many reason, but here are a few: these are fantasy stories only superficially, the fantastic elements being clearly tacked on; related to that, they are not proper stories either but allegories, where powers and fantastic elements stand for something else; and, finally, the ideological consensus of these stories demands victimized characters and it naturally frowns on superpowered characters or even assertive ones—hence why many of these stories are such downers and need a quota of woke characters/moments so they don’t feel absolutely nihilistic. You obviously can’t have an oppressed, let’s say, witch, which is a stand-in for women, if she can blow somebody’s head off with a word.

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Reading the Hugos (2019) The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat

What’s with these long titles that tell most of the story, sometimes even the ending? I know it’s hard to come up with titles, but seriously, it’s as if I renamed Star Wars to “The Fantastical Adventures of the Moisture Farmer who Discovers Space Magic and Blows up the Death Star.”

Anyway, this short story, TTTBRSATPWWMOM from now on, by Brooke Bolander appeared in issue 26 of Uncanny, which was entirely dedicated to dinosaur stories. It’s a fantasy comedy piece and it has to be read and understood as such; I wouldn’t recommend reading it with a serious mindset.

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Reading the Hugos (2019) STET

STET, by Sarah Gailey, is a short story finalist that plays with the layout and formatting possibilities of a website to explain a story through footnotes and comments. It’s basically a very short (a single paragraph) text written in standard, soulless academese but the text is expanded thanks to a copious amount of footnotes which, at the same time, have comments, back and forth, between the original writer and the editor of the piece. In fact, the title of the short story, STET, is the annotation written by writers or proofreaders when commenting alterations made by an editor, and it means “let it stand” (in other words, ignore that comment/I don’t agree with your correction.) It’s through these notes that the real story unfolds and you get a good glimpse of what is going on behind the apparently emotionless text.

As I said, the text itself is quite short, and I’m going to post it here (and there’s a reason I don’t want to link to it right now):

Section 5.4 — Autonomous Conscience and Automotive Casualty

While Sheenan’s Theory of Autonomous Conscience was readily adopted by both scholars and engineers in the early days of Artificial Intelligence programming in passenger and commercial vehicles, contemporary analysis reinterprets Sheenan’s perspective to reveal a nuanced understanding of sentience and consciousness. Meanwhile, Foote’s On Machinist Identity Policy Ethics produces an analysis of data pertaining to autonomous vehicular manslaughter and AI assessments of the value of various life forms based on programmer input only in the tertiary. Per Foote’s assessment of over eighteen years of collected data, autonomous vehicle identity analyses are based primarily on a collected cultural understanding of identity and secondarily on information gathered from scientific database, to which the AI form unforeseeable connections during the training process. For the full table of Foote’s data, see Appendix D.

Now that you have read it, you can jump straight to the first note and read them from there, navigating using the ↩ symbols. Don’t scroll up; only down. I’ve never cared about spoilers in these posts I make about the Hugos, but this time I will wait for you to read the story first; it’s not too long and I believe it’s worth it.


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Reading the Hugos (2019) The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington

Commenting on my last post, where I gave a harsh beating to the previous Hugo short story finalist, Alexandru Constantin mentioned that he “can’t get past the stupid titles.” Yes, I have thought about that too, and it’s a common issue with these award-worthy stories or those that give off some kind of literary aspiration: they usually have humongous titles. It’s like they are trying to compensate for something, or perhaps it’s a way to mark the story as one of their own. It reminds me of that amusing observation about the length of a country’s official names correlating with how undemocratic it is (e.g., People’s Democratic Republic of Something or Other.)

I’m pleased to announce that that does not apply to today’s story, and even if the title is ridiculously long and descriptive, in this case, it seems more a matter of extreme literalism and lack of imagination to come up with titles than anything else.

This one is good.

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