Hugo Awards: Short stories

I’ll probably read all these because, I mean, they’re short. I’m not going to do that right now, though. I’m reading Legendborn instead, and besides, though I may like the occasional short story, I seldom seek them out. Only if they’re written in a familiar SFF world, really, or occasionally when someone presses a story upon me too fervently for me to ignore. Or sometimes I just stumble across one and really love it. That happened with, let me see … right, this one, here it is:

The Thing About Ghost Stories

That’s by Naomi Kritzer, which tells you something right there. If you’ve never read it, you should make sure to click through when you’ve got time and do so.

But back to the nominees this year. Let’s take a look just at the first few sentences of each one. I’ll present them in no particular order, one right after the other. The entries here are going to be very short, so I’ll add separators so you can most clearly see where each one stops. For the first one, I’m cutting details of the address and so on because none of that is important and I want to get to the line that matters while keeping the opening I’m showing here short.

So here we go —

A) Mr. Death — Alix E Harrow

I’ve ferried two hundred and twenty-one souls across the river of death, and I can already tell my two-hundred-and-twenty-second is going to be a real shitkicker. I know by the lightness of the manila folder in my hand, the preemptive pity in the courier’s face as she gives it to me. I read the typewritten card paperclipped to the front with my stomach tensed, braced for the sucker punch.

Lawrence Harper. Address. Time. Cause of death. Age.

Jesus Christ on his sacred red bicycle. He’s two.



B) Unknown Number by Blue Neustifter. Oh! It’s told as text message exchanges! How neat. Here’s the first exchange:

Person 1: Hello, I’m sorry, this is going to sound weird, but please give me a chance. When you were eighteen, did you have a childhood friend named Carli that you lost touch with after you left to go to college?

Person 2: Um, hi. Who the fuck is this? Carli? This is an extremely creepy way to get back in touch if so.

Person 1: No, this isn’t Carli.



C) The Sin of America by Cat Valente

There’s a woman outside of a town called Sheridan, where the sky comes down so close to the earth it has to use the crosswalk just like everybody else.

There’s a woman outside of Sheridan, sitting in the sun-yellow booth in the far back corner of the Blue Bison Diner and Souvenir Shoppe under a busted wagon wheel and a pair of wall-mounted commemorative plates. One’s from the moon landing. The other’s from old Barnum Brown discovering the first T rex skeleton up at Hell Creek.

There’s a woman outside of Sheridan and she is eating the sin of America.



D) Proof by Induction by Jose Pablo Iriarte

Paulie rushes out the elevator doors the moment they part, only to skid to a halt at the sight of his father’s wife. She shakes her head, but he doesn’t need the confirmation. If Tricia is out here and not in the hospital room with his father, it can only mean he has passed. He numbly accepts a hug from her.



E) Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather by Sarah Pinsker

“Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” (Roud 423, Child 313) is a traditional English folk ballad. Like many traditional songs, the lyrics are unattributed. Child transcribed twenty verses, and a twenty-first got added later (and is included here for some unknown reason—I keep writing to the Lyricsplainer mods to get someone to delete it or include it as a separate entry, but nobody responds, and all they’ve done is put brackets around it. Sometimes I hate this site.)



F) Tangles by Seanan McGuire

There was something unique about the air on Innistrad. Maybe it was the horrors the trees had witnessed here, the blood that had watered the soil on which they fed their thirsty roots, the bones that littered the riverbed, but the air of this plane was like no other. Wrenn and Six took a step — one of their last together — and put their massive foot down on the soil of Innistrad, deep within the Kessig Forest. This was near the place where they had met for the first time.



Okay! That’s the set! What do you think? I haven’t read any of them, just these opening lines.

I like (A) a lot.

I love the idea of the text message story, so I’m looking forward to (B), also a lot.

FINE, Catherynne Valente can REALLY WRITE, this is like reading poetry and I’m definitely going to have to read this story.

(D) is boring boring boring. AND, bonus, also looks like it’s going to be sad. Absolutely nothing makes me want to read the next paragraph, much less the rest of the story.

(E) is interesting because it’s kind of similar to the Naomi Kritzer ghost story in a way! I didn’t expect that, but it looks like it’s written as though it’s nonfiction. I like that. I’m interested.

(F) sure looks like a horror story. But intriguing.

What do you think? Which of these story openings strikes you as most appealing? If you’ve actually read any of these, what did you think?

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7 thoughts on “Hugo Awards: Short stories”

  1. I’ve only read the text messages one (I saw it when it was first going around on Twitter) and it’s excellent. Really compassionate.
    I’m intrigued by A and E. C and F would probably have to catch me in the right mood. No way on D.

  2. I’ve read them all and am curious to see what you think of them.

    I actually liked “Proof by Induction” (D) a lot. It’s a story about family relationships and how things can improve across generations. But you may not be up for it right now, since the protagonist spends most of the story interacting with a simulacrum of his dead father using magic tech.

    Unless I missed something, “Tangles” (F) is fantasy rather than horror. It’s apparently a Magic the Gathering tie-in, though I only know that because I was told–I never played MtG.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Linda. Maybe I’ll read Proof by Induction and maybe not, but without your comment, it would have been a hard pass for sure.

    Glad you liked the text message one, Mary Beth!

    I still haven’t read any of them myself, but any day now I’m sure.

  4. I wasn’t as enthused about Unknown Number as most readers seem to have been. It’s hard to say why without spoilers, so I’m going to rot13 those. (Decrypt at

    Tnol vf unccvre. Ohg gur punenpgre jub znqr gur bgure pubvpr tbg n Cu.Q. naq nccrnef gb unir znqr n Abory-jbegul oernxguebhtu va vagreqvzrafvbany culfvpf naq pbzzhavpngvba, naq Tnol… qvqa’g. V zrna, zl bja erirnyrq cersreraprf ba gur pubvpr bs Npuvyyrf ner pyrneyl yratgu bs qnlf bire tybel gbb. Ohg V guvax V’q or urfvgnag gb or nf fzht nobhg vg nf Tnol vf vs gur pubvpr gb or zber rzbgvbanyyl fperjrq hc zrnag V vairagrq sgy be fbzrguvat.

    V guvax fgbevrf nobhg gur genqrbssf orgjrra terngarff naq unccvarff ner zber vagrerfgvat vs gung grafvba vf erpbtavmrq, naq V qvqa’g srry nf vs vg jnf urer. Naq znlor gung’f orpnhfr vg’f abg nobhg gur genqrbss, ohg gung znxrf vg srry qvqnpgvp. Arvgure punenpgre fb zhpu nf pbafvqref gung gur bgure cngu yrq gb na vzcbegnag, cbgragvnyyl jbeyq-punatvat nppbzcyvfuzrag jvgu vzcyvpngvbaf sne orlbaq crezvggvat bar crefba gb qb grkg gurencl.

    Be gung znlor n yvsr gung yrq gb gung jnfa’g ragveryl zvfqverpgrq, rira vs vg zrnag gnxvat n pbhcyr zber qrpnqrf gb npuvrir frys-njnerarff.

  5. Thanks, Mike! I don’t mind spoilers, so I decrypted your comments and yes, that does seem like it could be a big problem at the theme level, even if the story is extremely neat at the level of the writing and presentation.

  6. I’ve read all the stories except D (for the reason that Linda gave). I quite liked A, which was the clear standout for me.

    B, I found the Message so obtrusive that it’s hard to tell how good the story was. C is a pretty good mood piece, but I’m not sure it should be up for an SF award — actually, the nominees trend strongly to fantasy this year). I wasn’t particularly sympathetic to either story.

    E was fine, but it already won the Nebula and I don’t think it deserves two awards. F is an unexceptional fantasy piece; I uncharitably attribute its presence on the ballot to Seanan McGuire’s fans trying to make sure she appears every single year.

    I guess that’s kind of a grumpy overview this year. Oh well.

  7. I see what Mike means about B; it was an entertaining read, but doesn’t necessarily care about interrogating its premise too much. Which makes it feel more fantasy than sf, to a certain extent? It’s certainly a bit heavy handed.

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