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Short Fiction Friday: Reflections on the 2013 Hugo Award Short Fiction Winners

The Sunday evening of Labor Day weekend most likely found the eclectic group of SF Signal readers doing any number of relaxing, geektastic things.  I was basking in the glow of a decent fantasy football draft and watching the Hugo awards live via Twitter feed.  You have to hand it to 21st century technology.  Although the feed from LonestarCon’s hotel venue was poor and kept dropping, the avid SFF fans on Twitter managed to keep fans like me aware of things as they were happening.

In my opinion the short fiction categories were very strong this year. In many of the categories I had my own favorites that I was pulling for, and yet the short fiction category for me personally was one of agonizing choices because I found myself torn over who I hoped would win.  There were several stories that I felt were deserving of artist Vincent Villafranca’s gorgeous 2013 rocket.

Serendipitously, it happens that I have read all the winners of the short fiction category as well as many of the deserving also-rans and I thought it would be a nice idea to honor the short fiction winners this year by discussing them this week for Short Fiction Friday.  What were your impressions of this year’s Hugo short fiction winners?  Let us know whether you agree or disagree and why.

Best Novella: “The Emperor’s Soul” by Brandon Sanderson

The 2013 Hugo Awards was especially favorable for prolific author Brandon Sanderson.  He won an award with Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, Jordan Sanderson, and Howard Taylor for an episode of their podcast Writing Excuses and then he won the award amidst very worthy competition in the Novella category for his 2012 novella, The Emperor’s Soul.  Of the five novellas nominated, I had read “After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall” by Nancy Kress and “On a Red Station Drifting” by Aliette de Bodard.  Of those I read I felt all were deserving of the award and was truly torn about who to root for.  I read Sanderson’s novella back in December 2012 and then turned around and re-read it in January, aloud to my wife, who also gave it high praise.

In my review I stated:

Set in the same world of his debut novel Elantris, this novella tells the story of Shai, a Forger whose talents are procured by force when she is caught trying to steal a work of art from the Emperor’s palace. Shai has a special talent, she is able to create soulstamps which allow the user to change the physical aspect of objects by changing their very history. These forgeries when done well are practically indiscernible from the real thing and Shai is one of the best of the best at creating them. Her task, upon which her continued existence depends, is to forge a new soul for the Emperor in under one hundred days. A job of this magnitude is something that Shai has never attempted, does not believe can be successful, and she is certain that regardless of promises she will not make it out of this assignment alive.

The Emperor’s Soul is a focused tale. It does not meander nor is any time wasted setting up the world for the reader. Instead Sanderson does what he is extremely skilled at, he reveals the world of the story through his characters, worlds that are consistently fascinating.

Sanderson is something of a phenom in that he seems to have work coming out constantly…blink and there is another Sanderson work.  What makes this particularly impressive is that his world building is inventive and his magic systems maintain an internal consistently while also being uniquely fascinating.

Despite not being able to speak for two of the nominees, this one was up for grabs because the Nancy Kress story was impressive and won the 2013 Nebula Award and Aliette de Bodard’s novella captured my affection.

Best Novelette: “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan

In the Novelette category I am woefully under-read and I hope to obtain some feedback from those of you who have read other stories besides the winner. I was very impressed with Jonathan Strahan’s anthology Edge of Infinity and that all started with Pat Cadigan’s opening story which walked away with the Hugo statue last weekend.

On my site I gave the story an A- grade and said:

The anthology opens with Pat Cadigan’s “The Girl-thing Who Went Out for Sushi”, a story about a Jovian Operations crew of asteroid miners and a possible next-stage of evolution that would allow humankind to live and work in the harsh realities of space. It is a story that very cleverly examines the kind of sacrifices that not only have been made for our past efforts to move beyond Earth but those that might be necessary to continue that journey. Pat Cadigan gets the anthology off to a fun start.

Cadigan’s is an entertaining, somewhat post-human story that is visually striking while also weird and fun. I was pleased with the win, but again cannot speak to how it stacks up to the other nominees.

Best Short Story: “Mono no Aware” by Ken Liu

Only three stories received the requisite number of votes to be included in the competition and all three were home runs. Ken Liu’s short was one of the first stories I read in 2012. Thematically it reminded me of one of my favorite short stories, Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations”. “Mono no Aware” tells the story of Hiroto, a twenty-five-year-old Japanese youth aboard the generation ship Hopeful, bound for a new star, a place for humanity to rise from the disaster that befell Earth. Liu’s story alternates between Hiroto’s present timeline his childhood, when the Earth was in the course of impending doom and Hiroto and his family were waiting to board one of the Japanese starships.

Liu’s story is an emotionally satisfying story that not only examines a possible, generation-ship future but also educates the reader to non-Western-culture science fiction. As with the novella category I was torn in my devotion to the stories nominated but feel that Liu’s is a very deserving story that is also accessible to non-SF readers.

That is my brief overview of the winners of the 2013 Hugos. I personally am not disappointed with any of the short fiction winners while at the same time acknowledge that other stories could have won and I would have been equally happy.

What are your thoughts on this year’s short fiction winners, or the Hugo awards in general? Have you read any of the short fiction nominees? Do you feel the winners are the best of the nominated shorts in each category? Feel free to share your opinions.

And before we launch into our weekends, I invite you all to say a hearty “Congratulations” to John DeNardo and the team at SF Signal for their second Hugo win.  My heart was in my throat as the award came up for announcement and I was thrilled for John and the rest of you who contributed in 2012 for your richly deserved Hugo win.  Enjoy it, you earned it!


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