The Hugo voting deadline is July 31, so you better be well read by now. If not, get reading! Last month I wrote up a review of all of the short fiction nominees for Emerald City and then failed to get it to Cheryl in time for the June issue, so I'm posting it here. Within each category I discuss the stories in the order in which they appear on the ballot, since that seems as reasonable an order as any. All of these stories are available online, with links to Hugo nominees on LACon IV's website.
In "Seventy-Five Years," Michael A. Burstein displays once again his above-average control of the English language, and, unfortunately, his tendency to put together a tepid, almost sappy story that in this case involves far too much exposition in the form of a drawn-out, tense conversation, ending in an unexpected (and not quite believable) partnership between two people. Human rights and history are at stake in this very political sketch that I doubt will garner a rocket for Burstein this year. I would tell you what kind of human rights, but I'm afraid it would ruin the already limited suspense of the story.
Dominic Green's "The Clockwork Atom Bomb" isn't about an atom bomb, or any bombs except peripherally as part of the war-torn setting scattered about with the discarded ordinance of a more militant time. I can only imagine the title was selected to give the prospective reader the idea that it's about a really scary thing that could go out of control any minute; hopefully reeling the reader in long enough for Green to provide the physics explanations and the build-up of suspense sufficient to scare you with the idea of questionably contained black holes being misused for all sorts of domestic purposes in the middle of the Congo. Green clearly got into the exploration of how to use a black hole for weaponry, power storage, and even waste disposal, and small black holes are very Now on the physics circuit, as I understand it, but otherwise this is a fairly typical "Big men must contest with one another over something that is powerful and also threatens EVERYTHING" kind of story. Read it for the ideas if you like, but not for character or plot.
I have seen a number of people singing the praises of "Singing My Sister Down" by Margo Lanagan. And though I approached it with subsequent high expectations, it did not disappoint. This is not a complex story so far as plot, but rather in terms of emotion. A young woman has committed a crime and her family has come to see her off with ceremony into the tar-pit according to tribal law. It takes a long while for her to sink into the tar, and in that time the reader gets to know the family through the eyes of a younger brother as they struggle to sing her down right and sweetly in the face of an audience filled with uncaring and scorn. Not often you see such a beautiful depiction of how people bring their love out despite their anguish, to lighten the darkest experiences.
In my Asimov's: Year-in-Review, I wrote that I appreciated David D. Levine’s “Tk’tk’tk,” about a salesman struggling to stay afloat on an alien planet where the culture spins him so off-balance he finds himself re-orienting. I liked the philosophical stance of the story, in which the protagonist learns that letting go of your goals can be a step toward accomplishing them, and in the process realizes that the purpose he had held most urgently to wasn't necessarily the road to happiness. An almost Zen story that, like the best SF, reflects back on modern times – especially regarding the push to succeed financially above all else.
In contrast, Mike Resnik's "Down Memory Lane" didn't even get a mention it in my year-end review of Asimov's. This story really is sappy, just like Resnik's other nominees in recent years, and this sort of thing doesn't appeal to me. I mean really. Even if it wasn't a cliché phrase, wouldn't "we never once went to bed mad at each other" be a saying just designed to make a real person feel inadequate? I guess I had a hard time reading this, mainly because it's about Alzheimer's; my Father-in-law had Alzheimer's and Resnik's depiction of it reminded me of the difficulties without actually capturing the aspects of it that were most upsetting. Perhaps some of my issue is that the tone of the narration is too distant, such that I don't feel personally connected with the characters. A number of Resnik's recent stories have seemed to propone the idea that you lose everything you have to live for when you lose your first love, with characters willing to do anything to escape that awful condition, instead of healing, finding new life and love, and redefining their self based on acceptance of their new situation. I feel sorry for anyone who thinks this story has a happy ending. Maybe Resnik himself is being ironic; I can't tell.