“The Clockwork Atom Bomb” by Dominic Green (Interzone May/June 2005)
The lone UK entry in this category is a curious choice, although certainly a decent enough story. Green drops us into a complicated scenario in central Africa where the main character Mativi is the future equivalent of a UN weapons inspector, come to investigate some unexploded ordinance that turns out to be much more dangerous than anyone thought. The machine has been co-opted by the local government as a source of both energy and waste disposal, when in fact it is a miniature black hole that is on the verge of losing containment and sinking into the center of the earth, which would be a bad thing for everyone concerned. The author’s ability to explain the physics without getting talky, while at the same time setting up dramatic tension and filling in the political details surrounding it, is very impressive, although an extra reading doesn’t hurt to make sure you’ve got a handle on everything. Tucked away in Interzone where 99% of American fans would never see it, this story benefits from the preponderance of UK denizens from last year’s Worldcon doing the nominating this year. While a long shot for a win, it’s a story worthy of the extra attention the nomination can bring.
“Tk’tk’tk” by David D. Levine (Asimov’s March 2005)
Levine turns up in Asimovs for the first time after turning in solid stories and a couple of previous nominees from the more fantasy-oriented publications. This entry takes an odd premise, or at least one you wouldn’t see outside of the 1950’s, where Walker, an Earth salesman of inventory control software of all things, goes to an alien planet to sell his wares and has an awful lot of trouble adapting to the natives culture and their way of doing business. In truth the aliens wacky protocols and sudden business holidays doesn’t stray much from any third world country here, and meanwhile everyone is trying to take advantage of Walker and rob him of his material posessions, either through trickery or just plain thievery. Although he ultimately meets with some success, the difficulties he encounters causes him to question the purpose of why he was doing it at all, such that he ends up “going native”, which is not what would’ve happened in the ’50’s, I wouldn’t think. This twist is a surprise, not least because it happens rather abruptly, but ultimately you can sympathize with Walker and how as a lone representative of Earth, he is much more likely to be affected by the aliens than the other way around. There’s a strong element of gentle humor in this story, too, particularly in the epilog. Maybe not the best story of the year, but worth reading.