2020 Hugos: Best Short Story

CoNZealand’s virtual Worldcon is now in full swing, and the 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony will be shown online at 11 am on August 1st NZST (UTC +12, 7 pm on July 31st EDT).  Today I’m taking a closer look at the finalists for Best Short Story.  I had read all but one of these before the finalists were announced.  While none made my own ballot, I think they are all strong stories, if rather grim.

“And Now His Lordship Is Laughing” by Shiv Ramdas was also a finalist for the Nebula Award.  This is Ramdas’ first Hugo nomination.

A powerful man forces a seemingly powerless old woman to make him one of her magical dolls to give to his wife.  My favorite part of this story is the opening scene between grandmother and grandson as she crafts a doll for him with his assistance.  It makes the ending extremely bitter sweet.

“As the Last I May Know” is S.L. Huang’s first Hugo nomination.

In order to prevent the country’s leader from unconsidered use of a weapon of mass destruction, the launch code is implanted in the body of a child.  The story really fleshes out the the child herself, the teacher who has raised her for this task, and the leader who would have to kill her and makes the relationships between them very believable.

“Blood Is Another Word for Hunger” by Rivers Solomon is also a finalist for the World Fantasy Award.  Solomon is on the ballot this year in the Best Novella category as well.  They were nominated twice for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer (formerly known as the John W. Campbell Award).

A slave girl murders the family of women who owned her creating a rift which allows another long-dead girl to be reborn through her.  The story is surreal and brutal, but ultimately ends with hope of building a new life.

“A Catalog of Storms” by Fran Wilde was also a finalist for the Nebula and the Locus awards.  Wilde is on the ballot this year as a finalist for the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book as well.  She has two previous Hugo nominations for her short fiction.

A young woman watches her older sister leave home against their mother’s wishes to join the weathermen who have the ability to fight the storms that plague their community and eventually become part of the storms themselves.  She hides her own potential talent and desire to follow her sister’s path.  At the risk of sounding like I’m being punny, the story has a fitting nebulous and atmospheric quality.

“Do Not Look Back, My Lion” by Alix E. Harrow was also nominated for the Nebula, the Locus, the World Fantasy, and the Washington Science Fiction Association Small Press awards.  Harrow is last year’s winner in this category and is also on this year’s ballot for Best Novel.

A healer is tired of watching her revered warrior wife and their children seek glory in the endless battles for their country.  The extensive world-building here almost begs to be expanded into a novel or more, and I’d definitely read that.

“Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” by Nibedita Sen was also nominated for the Nebula Award.  Sen is on the ballot as a finalist for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer as well.

This was the only story here I had not read before the finalists were announced.  Structured just as the title indicates, the story trusts the reader to deduce the truth about these women from these tantalizing suggestions.  The writing deftly shifts in style to mimic each type of resource, and it is impressive how much is conveyed in such a short piece.

We have three first-time finalists and three authors familiar to Hugo voters.  My favorite story here went easily in the first spot, but the remaining five were extremely hard to rank.  It came down to how much I connected with each one.  Here’s what I decided on:

  1. “Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, by Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 2019)
  2. “As the Last I May Know”, by S.L. Huang (Tor.com, 23 October 2019)
  3. “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, by Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons, 9 September 2019)
  4. “Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, by Rivers Solomon (Tor.com, 24 July 2019)
  5. “A Catalog of Storms”, by Fran Wilde (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2019)
  6. “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare Magazine, May 2019)

Will last year’s winner defend her title?  Or will it go to someone completely new here?  What do you think?

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