Review: 2011 Hugo Nominated Short Stories

Posted: June 20, 2011 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Hugo Awards, Short Fiction
2011 Hugo Nominated Short Stories

The 2011 Hugo Nominated Short Stories

Short stories are interesting beasts. They are extremely subjective—even more so than novels. For the sake of reviewing the Hugo Nominated Short stories, Steve & Shawn gave them a read. Enjoy!

Shawn: I love Hugo voting season. I know I’m one of the few, but I love seeing the nominees. I relish going online and finding all the works I can and reading them all. My dad and I read them and talk about them. We yell at each other for being idiots and liking certain works and disliking others. I love it. For the past few years I’ve read all the fiction works and now that I’m reviewing books for the Elite I thought I would share my ramblings.

Steve: I’ve come to have a greater appreciation for short fiction over the past few years. Some of it can be truly excellent. Shawn was all keyed up to talk about the 2011 Hugo Nominated short stories, and after reading them it’s easy to see why. While they were all good, two ended up standing out for me.


“Amaryllis” by Carrie Vaughn—This story surprised the both of us. Most of the time in these shorter works you expect to find a really cool idea. The author only has a few thousand words (or less sometimes) to tell the story and most of the time it’s used to just get across one really cool or weird idea. That wasn’t the case here. Instead we’re treated with a tender character story. The setting is a not too distant future where the world is worried about over-population and not enough food to go around, and quotas rule everything. The story follows a group of fishers as they struggle with the politics and prejudices of the world.

Shawn & Steve:
We both felt pretty equally about this story. It was well done, and exceeded our expectations.

“For Want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal—We’re both fairly surprised that this is Mary Robinette Kowal’s only nomination this year. Her debut novel SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY was excellent and deserved a nomination as well. This story takes place on a generation ship. A simple accident—dropping a family’s AI unit which severs its wireless connection to the ship—has major repercussions.

Shawn: I felt it was fun, but the repercussions weren’t as large as he was hoping. The ending depends on a deep feeling for the characters (a tough task in a short story, that’s why “Amaryllis” was so impressive) that I just didn’t feel story hammered home enough. Good, but not great in my opinion.

Steve: Whoa, I totally disagree. I actually liked this story much more than “Amaryllis”. Why? Well to give details would spoil some of the story, but I personally cared way more about these characters and the interactions with the AI. I thought it was fantastic. I will admit that part of may have to do with writing style, and I’m a big fan of the way Mary writes.

“Ponies” by Kij Johnson—There’s no easy way to discuss this story without hurting the experience. It’s a very short story, so seriously ANY in-depth discussion will totally ruin this story. It should be mentioned though that it seems like this one will invoke very different feelings in the readers.

Shawn: OK, am I the only one who didn’t really get this one? I mean I can see a bit of relevance to the story and how it could be a metaphor for blah blah blah…but this one just didn’t sit well with me. Nothing was explained and you’re just dropped into a weird social situation that is bitter and cruel. Not that I’m against those things. I actually like a bit of dark in what I read, but this one just didn’t do it for me. Sorry. I’d tell you the premise but that would almost be as long as the story itself. Read it if you want. Not my cup of tea.

Steve: Honestly, I hated it when I first finished it. Then I thought about over the next few days—not because I wanted to, but because my mind couldn’t get free of the visuals this story stabs you with. I started liking it more and more. I, too, felt that the story was lacking in explanation at first, but now I think that more explanation would have hurt the story. I still don’t love it, but for what it represents it is actually pretty solid. It’s pretty impressive really.

“The Things” by Peter Watts—Have you seen the brilliant John Carpenter movie The Thing (based on a short story of the same name)? Well this short story tells the same tale from the alien’s point of view. The alien in the movie is a monster so horrible and terrifying that it makes the chest-bursting aliens seem tame by comparison. And yet Peter Watts manages to give that horrible creature morals and method and reason. He twists the whole thing on its head and gives something really wonderful and actually alien.

Shawn: Here it is folks, my pick for the Hugo! I actually read this one awhile ago and was distraught because I thought it was eligible last year and it didn’t get the nomination. When I saw it here I was SO happy. This story is brilliant!

Steve: High-fives, Shawn! This story was AWESOME! For me, “The Things” was easily the best story here—which should say something since I enjoyed them all. It was fun, interesting, and had me smiling the whole time.


I’m thinking I vote “The Things” to win, followed by “Amaryllis”, “For Want of a Nail”, and then “Ponies” in that order.

I’ll also go with “The Things” as the winner, but I’ll follow it with “For Want of a Nail”, “Ponies”, and then “Amaryllis”.


EBR's take on this year's Hugo short stories.

So what do you all think? These were all solid stories, so it can be tough to pick out the order. Make your own decision and read them all online:

Amaryllis – Carrie Vaughn
For Want of a Nail – Mary Robinette Kowal
Ponies – Kij Johnson
The Things – Peter Watts


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