The nominees are:
“Children of Thorns, Children of Water,” by Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny, July-August 2017)
“Extracurricular Activities,” by Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com, February 15, 2017)
“The Secret Life of Bots,” by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, September 2017)
“A Series of Steaks,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld, January 2017)
“Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time,” by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny, May/June 2017)
“Wind Will Rove,” by Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s, September/October 2017)
This is really a very strong shortlist. The strongest shortlist in years and years, I’d say. Two are stories I nominated, and two more were on my personal shortlist of stories I considered nominating. The other two stories are solid work, though without quite the little bit extra I want in an award winner.
My ballot will look like this. I’ll mention that first two were 1 and 2 on my list before the shortlist was announced, which is pretty unusual!
1. Yoon Ha Lee, “Extracurricular Activities” (Tor.com, 2/17) – a quite funny, and quite clever, story concerning the earlier life of a very significant character in Lee’s two novels, both Hugo nominees themselves, Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem. Shuos Jedao is an undercover operative for the Heptarchate, assigned to infiltrate a space station controlled by another polity, and to rescue the crew of a merchanter ship that had really been heptarchate spies, including an old classmate.
2. Suzanne Palmer, “The Secret Life of Bots” (Clarkesworld, 9/17) – a very old bot on a battered Ship trying to stop an alien attack on Earth. It shows a surprising amount of initiative – even, one might say, imagination – in dealing with the Incidental. Might that not be useful in dealing with the aliens? Or might bots have their own ideas about their own place? Very strong work indeed.
3. Sarah Pinsker, “Wind Will Rove” (Asimov’s, 9-10/17) – a story about the folk process, and memory, and the occasional importance of forgetting, set on a generation ship. Rosie is a middle-aged teacher on the ship, and a pretty good fiddle player. A malicious virus wiped most of the ship’s memory not too long into the journey, and Rosie and her fellows work on restoring what’s been lost by remembering everything they can, including folk tunes. But some of her students resent being taught history – another form of remembering – why should they re-create Earth on the ship, or even the new planet (that they will never see)? Even Rosie’s daughter has doubts. But purposeful forgetting – or malicious erasing – hardly seems right either. These questions are considered in the light of Rosie thinking about a particular folk tune, “Windy Grove”, a favorite of her grandmother’s, and how it changed over time – and might still change. Thoughtful and quite moving.
4. Vina Jie-Min Prasad, “A Series of Steaks” (Clarkesworld, 1/17) -- Helena is a frustrated art student who, in order to make ends meet, has turned to forging steak using a 3-D printer (in this future, real meat is very rare (pun intended!).). She’s pretty good at it actually (it’s an art!), but then she receives a huge order for a bunch of T-bones … with a blackmail threat attached. The story turns into a bit of a caper story, with a bit of a love story attached – effectively enough. The original central idea, and nice characters, lifted it above the ordinary for me.
5. Aliette de Bodard, “Children of Thorns, Children of Water” (Uncanny, 7-8/17) – set in a fantastical Paris ruled by houses of Angels, a couple of adversaries are trying to infiltrate House Hawthorn (using among other things cooking skills). It’s a story I liked – and a story that made me want to read the other works in this milieu – but it didn’t quite seem finished to me, more an outtake or pendant to its overall series.
6. K. M. Szpara, “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time” (Uncanny, 5-6/17) – Not a bad story at all, but not one that thrilled me. It’s a vampire story, and a gay/transgender story. The first aspect is, if I’m honest, a bit of a negative for me, which isn’t fair, I guess, but it’s real – I’ve been tired of vampires for a long time. The second aspect is just fine, and nicely – but maybe just a bit obviously – integrated with the vampire theme. Nothing wrong with any of this, but for me it all added up to “fine work, but not really award-worthy”. Many others’ mileage varied, which is fine.
Obviously several novelettes I nominated didn’t make the cut, but while I’ll still say that if “Soulmates.com” or “The Hermit of Houston” or “ZeroS” or “Keepsakes” or a couple others had made that ballot it would be marginally better, I really can’t complain about the ballot we got.