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Hugo Nominations -- Some Suggestions for Shorter Works 2009 by Sam Tomaino
Review by Sam Tomaino
Date: 01 February 2009 /

It's February 2009 and this is the time of year a young (or old) fan's thoughts turn lightly to…Hugo Award nominations. So here are the novellas, novelettes and short stories that I thought were the best of 2008. Let me once again caution that this is not an exhaustive list. I didn't read everything and this list comes pretty much from the magazines that I have read. In fact, the stories are all from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF), Asimov's Science Fiction (ASM), Abyss & Apex (A&A), Interzone (IZ) and a collection, Strange Roads by Peter S. Beagle. I'll be using the abbreviations indicated and all issues will have a 2008 date for the month indicated. I was a tougher judge this year and did not even get 5 novellas or short stories. I got less novelettes, too. One more thing: If my descriptions sound familiar, that's because most of them are taken from my reviews over the past year. So here we go!

This year, just four novellas made my minimum rating for getting a Hugo Award nomination:

We are told that Ian MacLeod's novella "The Hob Carpet" is an alternate history and, indeed, it is. In what seems to be a very different medieval-style Europe, a man born to comfortable wealth begins to wonder about a slave race called "hobs." They are pale, blue-eyed, slope-headed and "guiltlessly deferential" and they see to every need of the humans. The hob carpet of the title refers to a time when he had broken his leg and the hobs, en masse, carried him around in an upright position as if he was walking. The boy grows up and marries but becomes curious about the hobs and eventually comes to some startling conclusions. MacLeod has done some great work here and I will remember this story when it comes time to nominate next year's Hugos. ASM – April.

"The Philosopher's Stone" by Brian Stableford is the third in a series of stories about an alternate late 16th century featuring the other-worldly adventures of some famous men (like Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh, John Dee, etc). As the story opens, a man named Edward Kelley has arrived at an inn, en route to meet with John Dee and show him a black stone and red powder with strange powers. He is being pursued and his wife (traveling separately) actually has the stone and the powder. In this 1588, the ruler of England is Queen Jane but the Archbishop of Canterbury sides with the Puritans. Roman Catholics and others are being persecuted. Kelley is taken by the Church Militant along with a Dominican friar named Brother Cuthbert. Helped by a mysterious being, they escape and make their way to Dee. Edward's wife, Ann, is already there and neither Dee or the Dominican friar Giordano Bruno can see the "angels" in the stone that Edward can. The "angels" are "ethereals" from space and there is war amongst them. Stableford waves this conflict with the religious conflicts of England and fashions a great story that will be on my Hugo possible list for next year. ASM – July

In "The Political Prisoner" by Charles Coleman Finlay . Max Nikomedes is a "political officer" on the planet Jerusalem. Founded by religious fundamentalists, the planet had been taken over by secularists, 20 years earlier. Max is an agent for one of the leaders but political strife puts him in a prison camp. In a powerful story, reminiscent of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Finlay shows us the meaning of survival – and more. This will be on my Hugo short list for next year. F&SF – August

In "The Erdmann Nexus" by Nancy Kress . Henry Erdmann is a 90 year-old nuclear physicist, now living in the St. Sebastian Nursing Home. One day he feels an odd sensation in his brain. It's not a stroke, he's fine afterwards, but others in the facility, and elderly people all over the world experience the same thing. There are more incidents and physical manifestations resulting from them. Meanwhile, something is approaching Earth that is sensing an important change in its people. Kress creates many interesting characters and her prose is a joy to read. This will be on my Hugo short list for next year. ASM – October/November

This year, seven novelettes made my list. Here they are:

A brilliant novelette by Mercurio D. Rivera, "The Scent of Their Arrival" . The inhabitants of another planet wonder why communications from a ship orbiting their planet have been unsuccessful. The problem is that their race communicates by scent. We see the messages from the ship and they are from a future Earth which has been invaded by a race of vampire-like beings. Further, this planet appears to be ruled by inhabitants who are either "supernatualists" or "naturalists". They cooperate and share power. The story of both Earth and this planet develops in an exciting way with a great finish. This story will be on my Hugo Award short list for next year. IZ - February

Another novelette that I found Excellent was "The First Editions" by James Stoddard . Jakob Mamolok is an avid book-collector in the tiny country of Aquitanita, somewhere near France, in what seems to be the late 19th century. He is invited to visit the library of a rich and mysterious man named Yon Diedo. After a sumptuous dinner, he tells Diedo his life story and is then taken on a tour of the man's library. In a special section, he is turned into a book! He has one eye with which to see and can feel and communicate with other books adjacent to him. He falls in love with his neighbor book named Janine and what follows is a wonderful tale. This will be on my Hugo short list for next year. F&SF – April

When I saw the title of Elizabeth Bear's novelette "Shoggoth's in Bloom" , I expected something humorous. I got a very serious, very moving story about a world in which H.P. Lovecraft's shoggoths (and other parts of his mythology) are real. Paul Harding is what is called in the setting of November, 1938, a "colored professor" who is up in Maine researching shoggoths, when they are in their "blooming" time and motionless. He is hoping for some breakthrough that will give him tenure. He is also concerned about the growing clouds of war in Europe. What he discovers changes his perspective in a very surprising way. I won't spoil it but I was so impressed that this story will be on my short list for the Hugos next year. ASM – March

In the introduction to the novelette "Alastair Baffle's Emporium of Wonders" , we are told "According to Locus, Mike Resnick is the all-time leading award winner for short fiction, and most of those stories have appeared in Asimov's". His latest story shows us why that's the truth. The story is told by an old man named Nate Silver, who along with his best friend, Maury Gold, used to frequent a little magic shop called Alastair Baffle's Emporium of Wonders that was located in Chicago's Palmer House when they were kids. They met there and became fast friends for life. Seventy-Eight years later, they are living in a retirement home. As they talk of old times, the Emporium comes up and Maury convinces Nate that they should see if it still exists. Nate is skeptical of the old magic tricks that Battle used to show them but Maury wants to venture out once more while he can still walk. So off they go on a marvelous adventure. Other writers would have made this like most sentimental tales that used to appear on Twilight Zone but Resnick takes us in a different direction. Maury and Nate have different viewpoints on life and make different decisions. Resnick leaves it up to us to judge which one is in the right. It will not be until 2009 that this will be eligible for a Hugo Award, but I would bet the ranch that it will be nominated. It will if I have anything to say about it. ASM – January

In the novelette "Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel", Peter S. Beagle saves the best for last. David is a ten-year old boy who stays with his painter Uncle Chaim in his studio during the afternoon. One day, a beautiful angel appears to them both and insists that Chaim paint her. Eventually, he agrees and continues to paint pictures of the angel for quite some time. But there is more going on and the story becomes something truly special. To say more would spoil it. I'm glad I picked up this little book, if only to read this story and I urge you to do the same. When it comes time for me to make up my Hugo nominations for next year, "Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel" will definitely be on it. Strange Roads by Peter S. Beagle – DreamHaven Books - ISBN: 978-1-892058-10-2

Will McIntosh's "Midnight Blue" is a novelette set in an alternate 1970s in which, many years before, colored spheres had suddenly appeared. When combined with a staff and another sphere, they would be absorbed by their bearer and give him or her some kind of power or quality. It could be the ability to fly or pay music, invulnerability, good looks, etc. By now many of these had been used up and only the rich could afford them. Jeff and his mother live simply and, while she had absorbed some in her youth, she cannot afford any for Jeff. Then, one day, Jeff finds a sphere with an unusual color, Midnight Blue. No one had found one of these before. What Jeff decides to do with it makes for a great little story and one to add to my Hugo Short List for next year. ASM – September

For more than 20 years, I've been reading the stories of Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem , both individually and "In Concert" as their novelette is titled. The both bring a wonderful sensitivity to their work and this one is one of their best. Inez is an old woman living alone who has been getting random thoughts from other people all her life. She suddenly worries that she has received a suicidal thought from her great-grandson, Daniel, and cannot get in touch with him. Then, she starts receiving message from a man she has read about in the newspapers. An astronaut named Casey whose ship has been lost in space. All these come together in a beautiful story and one that I will remember when nominating for the Hugos next year. ASM – December

There are just three short stories that made my list. Here they are:

Robert Reed contributes a little gem with the short story "The House Left Empty" . Sometime in a not-to-distant future, the United State has broken down into small "SGs" (self-governing communities). EMP bombs wiped out much of what was working in New York and Washington, including the Internet, but roof tiles that can store solar energy and nano-machines that can produce just about anything have made it possible for people to live quite comfortably in small enclaves. Two men come into possession of something from a more hopeful age. What have they lost? This is a beautiful, bittersweet story that will be on my Hugo short list for next year. ASM – April/May

"Snatch Me Another" by Mercuio D. Rivera is an amazing short story. In about 4000 words, he introduces us to a brand new idea and manages to write a great story about it. Kristina and Lindy live in a world in which an invention called the Snatcher allows people to snatch a copy of anything they want from some alternate dimension. Need some paper plates for a birthday party? Put in a sample and snatch a dozen from a dozen other worlds. Want a near-to-original of Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night? It's in the system and can be had easily. Need a replacement for you dead son? Pop a lock of his hair into the Snatcher! This one came up on me unawares. It will be on my Hugo list for next year. A&A #25

Jason Sanford's "When Thorns Are the Tips of Trees" takes place in a future where a phage has killed much of humanity, but the victims have not died entirely. There memories and personalities are preserved in thorn trees and it is possible to communicate with them. The phage is still active and can be activated by skin touching skin. People can't touch people because one day nothing might happen and the next, the phage might be activated. Miles Stanton is a young man who communicates with the thorn personalities of his mother and friends. One friend, Elleen is something different, more aware than other thorns. But all are endangered by marauding "thorn die" (infected people) who are destroying the thorns. I'll leave the rest of the story alone and only say that this is one that you will not forget soon. IZ – December

So that's it! For those of you keeping track, that's 8 stories from Asimov's Science Fiction, 2 stories from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, 2 stories from Interzone and one story each from Abyss & Apex (A&A) andStrange Roads

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