First, I have to confess I won’t be attending the Worldcon in Montreal, nor am I a supporting member. So I didn’t nominate the shortlisted titles, nor will I be voting on them. Nonetheless, I have decided to read the shortlisted novellas, novelettes and short stories, and give my thoughts on them.
So. Short stories first….
’26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss’ by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Jul 2008)
While this is clearly a good story, it’s not the sort of genre fiction I normally enjoy. The premise is whimsical, the treatment is whimsical, and I’m not a big fan of whimsy. Nevertheless, it’s one of the stronger stories on the shortlist.
‘Article of Faith’ by Mike Resnick (Baen’s Universe Oct 2008)
I thought this was appalling: dated, dull, and wholly predictable. A new robot joins the staff of a small-town church and ends up wanting to worship. Cue arguments on whether robots have souls. Yawn. And who writes stories featuring these sorts of silly pulp sf robots – because, let’s face it, if the robot is a stand-in for a foreigner, i.e., not-one-of-us, then why not actually use a foreigner and give the story more impact?
‘Evil Robot Monkey’ by Mary Robinette Kowal (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction 2)
What is this? The Year of the Monkey? Er no, it’s actually the Year of the Ox. But the story. The title is a silly joke – the monkey in the story is a live Chimpanzee. A “smart” chimp, in fact. Who makes pots out of clay. The story is around four pages long in the mass market paperback Solaris anthology. It is mildly amusing and mostly inconsequential. It’s not even the best story in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction 2.
‘Exhalation’ by Ted Chiang (Eclipse 2)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Chiang is one of the best writers of short science fiction currently being published. Which means every Chiang story is not only judged against all others published around the same time but against every other Chiang story. Which does him no favours. Especially in this case. ‘Exhalation’ is pretty much a thought experiment, with very little in the way of plot. It’s well-written, but it failed for me in several aspects. It lectures the reader… and the explanation for this doesn’t quite justify the up-front info-dumping. Further, the central premise isn’t actually that interesting, and all the story does is provide a slow and cumbersome vehicle for the narrator to figure out that entropy exists.
‘From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled’ by Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s Feb 2008)
This story is not yet available online, and I don’t subscribe to Asimov’s.
It is, overall, quite a poor selection of short stories, and I find it hard to believe they were the best last year had to offer. While I wouldn’t have nominated Kij Johnson’s, it’s clearly the strongest of the bunch. Having said that, I’ve yet to read the Swanwick, so perhaps I should reserve judgment until I have done. All the same, the Chiang is a bit dull, the Kowal is inconsequential, and the Resnick is embarrassingly bad.
Now to read the novelettes….