Mataglap SF

mataglap -- an Indonesian word meaning "dark eye" or, probably, "dilated eye." It is an indication that someone is about to go berserk and start killing people at random. Used in Walter Jon Williams' novel Aristoi as the name of a berserk form of nanotechnology that devoured the planet.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Handicapping the short story contenders
Just a few weeks left until Hugo nominations close, and short stories are always the best category to vote for because there are so many possibilities, the subject matter is all over the map, and people have wildly differing opinions on which ones were the good ones.  So let me weigh in on what I've reviewed in the last week and what I'll vote for based on that.

Locus recommended 62 short stories this year.  About half of those are in anthologies that I'm not going to buy or magazines that I can't find, so those get the short shrift here.  Of that half, 15 of them were also included in one of the Year's Best anthologies, and two of them were included in two anthologies.  Those 2 are:

"Edison's Frankenstein", Chris Roberson (Postscripts 20/21), in Hartwell/Cramer and Dozois
"Three Twilight Tales", Jo Walton (Firebirds Soaring), in Strahan and Horton

Roberson maybe has a shot at a nomination, but he would have to get a vote from a high percentage of the readers of Postscripts, most of whom are probably in the UK.

So that leaves the half that are available, either online or through the major US magazines and anthologies, and I read 12 of those stories, trying to pick out the ones that had the best pedigree. 

If past years are any judge, at least a few of the nominations will come from the big three magazines.  From F&SF, and the only short story with 3 Year's Best nods is Geoff Ryman's "Blocked", but it's not a given to be nominated because it's a little artsy and not as sfnal or otherwise goofy enough as your typical short story nominee, but you never know.  The other F&SF entries, Mirabelli's "Catalog" has a shot, I really don't think Kessel will make the cut, and I didn't read Alexandra Duncan's "Bad Matter", which is on the Locus List but no Year's Best anthologies. 

From Analog, which is usually good for one nomination in one category, Steven Gould's "A Story, With Beans" got into two Year's Bests, but I fail to see why.  I actually liked Richard Lovett's "Excellence" better, but voters may see it as too derivative.  Hartwell/Cramer also picked non-Locus listers from Marissa Lingen and Eric James Stone, neither a name that should strike fear into the heart of any other potential nominee though.  Dozois liked James Van Pelt's "Solace", he's written some worthwhile stuff in this category recently, so there's a remote possibility there.

From Asimovs, which will no doubt get a couple of short story nominations because that's the magazine people go to first, there were five Locus listers:

"Going Deep", James Patrick Kelly (Asimov's 6/09) (also in Strahan)
"Before My Last Breath", Robert Reed (Asimov's 10-11/09) (in Strahan and Dozois)
"Colliding Branes", Rudy Rucker & Bruce Sterling (Asimov's 2/09)
"Erosion", Ian Creasey (Asimov's 10-11/09)  (in Hartwell/Cramer and Dozois)
"As Women Fight", Sara Genge (Asimov's 12/09)  (in Strahan and Horton)

I actually liked "Colliding Branes" a lot, but I'm a big Rucker fan and I don't think many voters are.  "Going Deep" was okay, but not among Kelly's better efforts.  "Erosion" has a good shot, a nicely done story but not quite Hugo-worthy in my book.  The two that stand out here are the Reed and Genge stories, both good sf that should appeal to a significant number of voters.  Genge is not a well-known name, but that's not necessarily a major impediment in this category.  The Hartwell/Cramer anthology veers the furthest from agreement with the Locus list, and picked four short stories from Asimov's that Locus did not.  I didn't read them yet, but two, by recent previous nominees Mary Robinette Kowal and Nancy Kress, have a shot at the ballot on name-recognition alone.  The other two, by Michael Cassut and Brenda Cooper, are less known, although Cooper had a novella nominated several years ago, but a short story nod for either seems a long shot.

Moving into the online realm, there were five stories Locus recommended from Strange Horizons and another five from Clarkesworld.  I read one of them, Genevieve Valentine's "Bespoke", which both Horton and Hartwell/Cramer tapped, the only one of the 10 with two Years Best inclusions.  It's a nice enough story, but probably not Hugo material.  Three others of the those 10 were picked for one of the anthologies, including "Spar" by 2009 nominee Kij Johnson, a possible contender.  The only other Locus-list story with two anthology bids is Jay Lake's "On the Human Plan" from Lone Star Stories.  Lake has enough of a fan following to get himself nominated, but I won't read the story unless it happens, since I have yet to read anything of his I understand, much less like.

Not much from the original anthologies that stands out, Gene Wolfe might make it for "Donovan Sent Us", and a couple of the Year's Bests picked non-Locus-list stories from the Solaris Volume 3 anthology.  Eclipse Three has a few major writers in Maureen McHugh and Karen Joy Fowler in this category, but opinion was strongly divided on their stories, so we'll see what happens there.

Since this year's voters will consist of larger than normal proportions of Canadians and Australians, due to the locations of eligible Worldcons, results could also skew to some lesser Canadian writer or a Greg Egan story that I'm not aware of.  None of the big name Canadian writers would seem to have written any short story length contenders this year.

So here's what I'm going to vote for, not to say these are the ones that will make the ballot:

"Before My Last Breath", Robert Reed (Asimov's 10-11/09)
"As Women Fight", Sara Genge (Asimov's 12/09)
"Blocked", Geoff Ryman (F&SF 10-11/09)
"Colliding Branes", Rudy Rucker & Bruce Sterling (Asimov's 2/09)
"Excellence", Richard A. Lovett (Analog 1-2/09)

The first three have a good shot.  The other two could easily be replaced by an anthology story or something from the online zines.  But every vote counts, there's usually no more than a vote or two separating fifth and sixth place, and I think this would be a worthy list to my taste.  Now on to the novelettes!

For whatever it's worth "On the Human Plan" has been included in three Year's Best anthologies.


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