Much like last year, I’ve not had much time for reading this year, so my list is woefully short. But that just means that other people can still sway me to fill my vacant spots with their own favorite story recommendations if they hurry. :)
I’m a sucker for stories about gods. Big gods, small gods, angels, devils. If the story is good it reaches inside me and grabs me by my sense of the divine. It’s a very strong sense, and if I hadn’t been born into such a ridiculously literal religion I might not be an atheist. Now that sense needs to find expression in other ways, and by far the best way is amazing mythological god-stories, like this one.
A Plant explores a relationship between a mortal and a god. The consequences of omniscience on a being who needs to believe he has free will. The fallout of subconscious omnipotence on causal physics. It is sweet, and it is sad, and it is very human. Also, I believe this story counts as rationalist fiction!
A great story about a highly autistic (but functioning) person, and how she gets around in a world ruled by neuro-typicals. I have to say I cannot believe how little buzz this has gotten, especially when compared to last year’s horrible “Movement.”
The stories are similar in that they center on an autistic character, in a world were a cure for autism is possible, and the protagonist does not want it. But while Movement is unqualified trash, Difference of Opinion is beautiful and terrifying and funny all at once.
The protagonist of Difference of Opinion is a real person, with agency and motivations and character. The protagonist of Movement was an object. Things were done to her, but she was not a person. And this wasn’t just a matter of how others in the story related to them – this was how the authors treated their characters. Meda Kahn respects her protagonist (Keiya). She sees her personhood and clings to it fiercly. That is why it is horrifying when society tries to alter her personality – the autism is part of what makes her who she is. They’re killing the person inside the body and replacing her with someone that fits into society better.
Nancy Fulda seems to think of autistic people as toys, or sympathy-receptacles. They are there to be babied and felt sorry for. They are useful as dependency super-stimuli, rather than as people. It’s kinda disgusting. And that’s why I sympathized with those coming to fix her autism. They were removing the thing that caused everyone – including the author – to treat her as a toy. Better to not be used like that.
Meda Kahn touches on this in her story as well. At one point her character says:
“(2) They want you to stay alive for them. For their inspiration, their edification.
(3) They start doing things like patting you on the shoulder and telling you they’ve been so privileged to meet you, that you’ve changed their outlook on life.”
Not only is it a respectful treatment of people with autism, it has an amazing prose style that really feels alive and speaks to you. And it has a tragic story about the powerless trying to stand up in the face of a remorseless, powerful machine and how society will chew you up and spit you out. I’m torn between this and A Plant for best story of the year. They’re both amazing.
I’d like to add that the audio version of this story is fantastic. It captures the voice of the character very well. You’ll remember Anaea Lay’s delivery of “Well fuckballs” for a long, long time. :)
All That Fairy Tale Crap, by Rachel Swirsky
I’m not sure I want this story to win. I really dislike the protagonist. I tend to dislike stories about people who don’t give a fuck, and decide the best course of action is to burn down the world around them while they try to steal and exploit whatever they can on the way down. That being said, the world the protagonist finds herself in is shit, and you can’t say it doesn’t deserve it. The character is a powerless shlub doing what she can to flip off the system that fucked her over in the first place. It plays with fairy tale tropes and feminism tropes and post-modernism tropes, and then it gets all meta on you and makes a shoulder-rush right at the fourth wall. As much as I disliked the protagonist, I loved what the story had to say, and how it said it. I am as much a sucker for structure-play as I am for gods. And I gotta say, this story will stick with me for quite a while. That’s worth at least a nomination, if nothing else.
The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling, by Ted Chiang
Look, it’s mutha-fuckin’ Ted Chiang, do I even HAVE to say anything else? The man is a god among short fiction writers. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. He brings his signature style and analytic mind to the subject of memory plasticity, and the fairly modern invention of historic truth. Every time I read something by Chiang I start seeing it more in my normal life. Just a few months ago, after a venerable guest at a gathering related a very humorous anecdote about something that had happened earlier in his life, I had the temerity to ask “But did that really happen?” To which a third party gave me an incredulous look and asked “Does it really matter?” I had to think about that for quite a while. And I’m still not sure I have an answer. The story had the truth of humanity behind it, and it was enjoyable. Does it matter if every bit isn’t literally true? I still think it does… but I’m not so sure as I used to be. And that’s the great thing about Ted Chiang’s stories. Even when you’re done reading them, they keep affecting your life and your thinking for years.
The Wheel of Time (the entire series), by Robert Jordan
I only ever read the first book, and I didn’t really care for it. However according to the Hugo rules it appears that a series can be nominated once it is completed if none of its component novels have previously been nominated for a Hugo. From the link “The administrators of the Hugos have declined to rule on this interpretation unless and until it becomes an issue, and therefore that’s precisely what Jennifer (and many other WOT fans) propose to make it.”
Um, fuck yeah. I love making trouble for the establishment. :) And Wheel of Time has a large enough following that it has a shot at making this happen. Let’s do it!
This is perhaps the only novel I read in the past year that was published in 2013, so it’s kinda a shoe-in for my nominations. :) But it is a fascinating book, half of it is written in a lovely 40s noir style that is just a pleasure to read, and it is well-written and strongly plotted, like all of Tregillis’s novels. A strong contender, and I like it!
As a personal note, it doesn’t tickle my “sense of the divine” that I mentioned earlier, because the angels/gods within it are not true Religious Deities. They are extra-dimensional creatures with incomprehensibly vast powers and different physical laws. It’s an interesting contrast.
I’ll be reading this next month, so maybe I shouldn’t technically be nominating it yet. But the deadline approaches quickly, and the first book in this series, Way of Kings, was so fucking amazing that I’m willing to give this one a pre-emptive nod. I have confidence that this will be at least in the same league as Way of Kings, and thus entirely worthy of a Hugo nomination/win.
Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)
Commonly known as The Red Wedding episode. Because c’mon.
This series is great, and it really should get recognition for it. Castle Mane-ia was one of the best episodes of an already very strong season, and it fell in 2013. You may ask “Why not the season 3 finale (Magical Mystery Cure), which also fell in 2013?” Well, MMC is not as enjoyable if you don’t already know the characters and the world. It requires some knowledge of the ponies’ personalities, as well as the importance of alicorns. Castle Mani-ia, OTOH, is completely enjoyable by even a first-time watcher. It would make a better intro for the poor, deprived souls who might first be hearing of MLP from the Hugos (and I’m sure there will be some).
I was reminded of this and had to add it after this post initially went up. How could I forget WTNV?? This episode showcased the best this show has to offer in terms of oddness, originality, and creepiness. And as I’ve said before, I adore structure-play, and the way the two episodes intertwine (you must listen to both 19A and 19B!) is fantastic! Episode 25 – One Year Later – is also great, and really has the most storyline and character development of any single episode (at least of 2013). However it requires so much back-knowledge of WTNV to really enjoy it that it wouldn’t be a good introduction to any new listeners. I’m going with The Sandstorm.
No Dr Who. I’m so sick of that over-played, over-hyped mediocre show.
And while I’m not trying to imply anything, The Sword of Good was released in 2013. It’ll never get through the crush of Dr Who and GoT noms, but I couldn’t not say anything. :)