Monday, July 11, 2016

The 2016 Hugos: Short Story

The 2016 Hugos: Short Story

By Rich Horton

Repeating again: I am not planning to reflexively rank Rabid Puppy entries below No Award. I am of course disgusted by the Rabid Puppy antics, and I feel that many worthier stories were kept off the ballot by the Rabid choices. And if a story is bad enough, it will certainly be off my ballot, with No Award the last choice. (That’s always been my approach.) But, this year in particular, many of the nominees supported by the Rabid Puppies were either unaware of that, or aware and quite clearly not happy with that. Also, I don’t want to reduce the meaningfulness of the win for the actual, and probably quite worthy, winners – if they finish first and No Award is second, to my mind it to some extent delegitimizes their wins, through no fault of their own. Better to have been chosen the best with everyone voting on merit than voted best simply because all the other choices were automatically rejected regardless of quality.

The 2016 Hugo nominees for Best Short Story are:

“Asymmetrical Warfare” by S. R. Algernon (Nature, Mar 2015)
“Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld, January 2015)
“If You Were an Award, My Love” by Juan Tabo and S. Harris (, Jun 2015)
“Seven Kill Tiger” by Charles Shao (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
“Space Raptor Butt Invasion” by Chuck Tingle (Amazon Digital Services)

I’ll go ahead and show my nomination longlist (I think I ended up nominating the first 5 on this list but I may well have switched in or out a couple of the others):

“Mutability” by Ray Nayler (Asimov’s)
“Capitalism in the 22nd Century” by Geoff Ryman (Stories for Chip)
“The Game of Smash and Recovery” by Kelly Link (Strange Horizons)
“The Astrakhan, the Homburg, and the Red, Red Coal” by Chaz Brenchley (Lightspeed)
“Hello Hello” by Seanan McGuire (Future Visions)
“Consolation” by John Kessel (Twelve Tomorrows)
“The Daughters of John Demetrius” by Joe Pitkin (Analog)
“Unearthly Landscape by a Lady” by Rebecca Campbell (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
“The Karen Joy Fowler Book Club” by Nike Sulway (Lightspeed)
“Little Sisters” by Vonda M. McIntyre (Book View Cafe)
“Asymptotic” by Andy Dudak (Clarkesworld)
“Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld)
“Today I Am Paul” by Martin Shoemaker (Clarkesworld)
“Drones” by Simon Ings (Meeting Infinity)
“The Graphology of Hemorrhage” by Yoon Ha Lee (Operation Arcana)
“Please Undo This Hurt” by Seth Dickinson (
“The King in the Cathedral” by Rich Larson (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
“Time Bomb Time” by C.C. Finlay (Lightspeed)

So, only one story from this long list of stories I considered – less than I might have hoped. But easily explained – this is clearly the category Vox Day chose to make a mockery of. His nomination choices in the longer fiction categories (Novel, Novella, Novelette), were actually all readable stories, and some quite plausible Hugo nominees. That’s not at all the case in Short Story. And, indeed, the only good story on the list was only added after one of the original nominees withdrew.

So, my ballot:

1. “Cat Pictures, Please, by Naomi Kritzer

Here’s what I wrote about “Cat Pictures, Please” in the March 2015 Locus: “I really like a very funny short story by Naomi Kritzer, “Cat Pictures, Please”, about an emergent AI that decides it has to do good for people, though it must be paid, in cat pictures of course. The three cases it takes on are interesting themselves, and the AI's reactions are priceless – I laughed aloud in public.”

So, a funny story on the short list – that’s one valid complaint, I think, about the Hugos – there is a tendency to perhaps undervalue humor, or overvalue deadly seriousness (I’m sure I’m guilty myself), and it’s nice to see humor getting some notice. As with most good comedy, there’s some food for thought behind this story as well.

I’m torn about the next two stories. They are at least real SF, and of professional quality. But they’re a long way below my view of Hugo standards, more so than the least of the novelettes. I may end up moving my No Award vote to second. But maybe not …

2. “Asymmetrical Warfare”, by S. N. Algernon

This is part of Nature’s long-running series of short-shorts. It’s about aliens invading Earth, in the hopes of raising up a new predator species. The starfish-shaped aliens can’t believe the bipedal humans are the real intelligence, though … leading to rather asymmetrical misunderstanding. It’s amusing enough, not remotely Hugo-worthy, but a decent work in its short space.

3. “Seven Kill Tiger”, by Charles Shao

A Chinese executive is having a hard time meeting production goals in an African project. He blames the locals (described in quite racist terms, though to be fair this is presented as the views of a villain), and, in danger of losing his job, he authorizes a project for a race-specific plague, to wipe out the Africans and allow Chinese to immigrate. An American official for the CDC (or some similar organization) starts to track down the reports of a mysterious disease in Africa, but … Well, it’s a didactic story, and as such it doesn’t really have a story structure, instead choosing to make its point. The racial politics – indeed the politics in general – are dodgy as well. The story does manage to scare, that’s fair to say…

4. No Award

The remaining two stories are downright awful. The less objectionable of them is “Space Raptor Butt Invasion”, by Chuck Tingle. It’s gotten Tingle some good press, because he’s been a pretty good sport about the whole thing*, and because his politics don’t seem to align with Vox Day’s. I fear that some people are tempted to vote for the story because they think it will annoy Day. It won’t – if it won, Day would be thrilled. The story itself is straightforward gay porn – I won’t evaluate it on those terms, though I must say it didn’t seem anything special. Its SFnal veneer has an astronaut coming to a Moonbase to tend it for a while solo, and meeting an intelligent dinosaur, from a parallel universe. Soon they get down to business … As SF, it’s a joke (not a funny one), and it certainly isn’t remotely in the universe of stories that deserve a Hugo.

Even worse is “If You Were an Award, My Love”, a juvenile and rather vile, and very clumsy and unfunny, parody of Rachel Swirsky’s “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love”. The story itself is bad enough, the comments section of the blog post in which it even appeared even worse.

*Though a better sport would have had his fun and then withdrawn.

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