"2000: SF Short Fiction Year in Review" by Richard Horton


[This was originally posted at my SFF Net newsgroup (sff.people.richard-horton, or go to SFF Net and follow the links to Newsgroups). I've added a lot of summary contents, particularly remarks about the eventual Hugo nominees and winners. I said much more about some of the stories in various Tangent reviews, or in other postings on my newsgroup.]


The following lists were assembled in February 2001, after I had read most of the 2000 short SF I was going to get to, and after I had seen the Locus Recommended Reading list, and as I was working on my Hugo Nomination Ballot, though as I say I've added comments on both the nominations and the winners.

A word, first, about the Locus list, to which I contributed this year. I've long wondered how they decide word counts, to place stories in the various categories -- the answer seems to be, somewhat chaotically. Which is really no big deal, but they have moved stories that were categorized by the magazine they appeared in as one category to different categories: i.e. Michael Blumlein's "Fidelity: a Primer" was listed as a novelette in F&SF, but they have it in the short story category. (I had it at 7900 words: a short novelette, but a novelette nonetheless.)

From 2000 I read a total of 36 novellas, 205 novelettes, and 415 short stories. 656 new pieces of fiction in all, nearly 5 million words. The novella total seems fairly constant (37 in 1999, 34 in 1998), but the novelettes and short stories represent huge jumps from the last two years. This is obviously a result of reading more small press magazines, which almost never publish novellas.

Novellas:

I'm listing nine novellas as contenders for my nomination list. The top five listed were my ownn Hugo nominees. My overall evaluation of the category is that it's a bit disappointing compared to other recent years. However, I did not see the PS Publishing chapbooks from the U. K., which have got very high praise from several sources.

"Seventy-Two Letters", Ted Chiang (Vanishing Acts)
"Radiant Green Star", Lucius Shepard (Asimov's, August)
"The Suspect Genome", Peter Hamilton (Interzone, June)
"Goddesses", Linda Nagata (SCI FICTION, July 5 etc.)
"Great Wall of Mars", Alastair Reynolds (Spectrum SF, February)

"The Cloud Man", Eleanor Arnason (Asimov's, October/November)
"Changeling", Sharon Lee and Steve Miller (Absolute Magnitude, Summer)
"The Forest Between the Worlds", G. David Nordley (Asimov's, February)
"The Enclave", Lois Tilton (Asimov's, September)

The Hugo ballot includes the Chiang and Shepard stories listed above, as well as Greg Egan's "Oracle", Catherine Asaro's "A Roll of the Dice", Jack Williamson's "The Ultimate Earth", and Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "The Retrieval Artist". The latter three stories were from Analog, which is a high total for them to have on the ballot. I think the Asaro and Rusch stories have their good points, though I don't think they are Hugo-worthy. They were probably the two best Analog novellas of last year. I really didn't like the Williamson story, however. Egan's "Oracle" is well-done and interesting, but for me marred by its deckstacking portrayal of a C. S. Lewis analog. It's in that range of stories I consider worthy of award consideration, but which didn't quite work for me. As for the Nebulas, they are harder to compare, as they include work from the past two years, but I was pleased that one of my top five, Linda Nagata's "Goddesses", was the winner.

The eventual Hugo winner was "The Ultimate Earth", which I can only regard as a sentimental choice (i.e. "Best Novella By a Man in his 90s" -- no argument from me there!). "Seventy-Two Letters" was certainly hurt by relatively limited distribution.

Novelettes:

I came up with 17 novelettes of note this year. As seems usual, this is the most crowded category. I've listed my prospective nominations first, and the next couple are close to the line. Indeed, I am very unsure which of the first 7 stories listed to eventually nominate. Otherwise the order is somewhat arbitrary.

"Milo and Sylvie", Eliot Fintushel (Asimov's, March)
"The True Story of Professor Trabuc and his Remarkable Voyages Aboard the Sonde-Ballon de la Mentalite", Jim Cowan (Asimov's, January)
"Stones of Significance", David Brin (Analog, January)
"Fidelity: a Primer", Michael Blumlein (F&SF, September)
"Liberty Spin", Keith Brooke (Interzone, August)

"Hybrid", Robert Reed (F&SF, July)
"The Dryad's Wedding", Robert Charles Wilson (Star Colonies)

"The Real World", Steven Utley (SCI FICTION, August 30)
"The Pottawatomie Giant", Andy Duncan (SCI FICTION, November 1)
"On the Orion Line", Stephen Baxter (Asimov's, November)
"The Reluctant Book", Paul di Filippo (SF Age, May)
"Cheetahs", Robert L. Chase (Analog, July/August)
"Dangling Conversations", Edward Lerner (Analog, November)
"A Colder War", Charles Stross (Spectrum SF, July)
"Bear Trap", Charles Stross (Spectrum SF, February)
"The Child Ephemeral", Terry McGarry (Terra Incognita, Winter)
"Generation Gap", Stanley Schmidt (Artemis, Spring)

The Hugo ballot in this category includes "Agape Among the Robots" by Allen Steele, "Generation Gap" by Stanley Schmidt, "Millennium Babies" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, "On the Orion Line" by Stephen Baxter, "Redchapel" by Mike Resnick. Though there are a couple of good stories on that list, the Schmidt and the Baxter, as a whole I think it's a terribly disappointing ballot. The Rusch story is fairly ambitious, but not, I thought, very successful. The Steele story is just silly -- not offensive, but hardly an award-worthy work. And the Resnick story is the essence of mediocrity -- it is frankly incomprehensible to me that people would nominate it for an award.

The Hugo novelette winner was "Millennium Babies", a disturbing choice. This is Rusch waving at profundity but not really doing anything particularly original or thought-provoking. I am further disturbed that not one of my top 9 (9!) stories even made the long list of Hugo nominees, let alone the final ballot. I guess I'm just out of touch -- but proudly so.

Short Stories:

I've only got 12 stories listed here, quite a small total. I chose to list two stories which my word count had as novelettes here because that's where Locus listed them. (I had "Antibodies" at 7700 words (but Interzone is a hard magazine for word count estimation) and "Malthusian's Zombie" has 8400 words according to Microsoft Word's word counting feature, but only 7400 words if you count characters plus spaces and divide by 6, so I'm willing to go along with Locus.) The top 5 are currently making my nomination cut, with the next two awfully close.

"Antibodies", Charles Stross (Interzone, July)
"The Eye in the Heart", Tanith Lee (F&SF, March)
"The Foster Child", William Browning Spencer (F&SF, June)
"Tinkerbell is Dying", John Alfred Taylor (Asimov's, September)
"The Rebranding of Billy Bailey", Cory Doctorow (Interzone, August)

"Malthusian's Zombie", Jeffrey Ford (SCI FICTION, June 9)
"Partial Eclipse", Graham Joyce (SCI FICTION, August 9)

"Pause Time", Mary Soon Lee (Spectrum SF, November)
"Chimera 8", Daniel Abraham (Vanishing Acts)
"The Fantasy Writer's Assistant", Jeffrey Ford (F&SF, February)
"Built Upon the Sands of Time", Michael F. Flynn (Analog, July/August)
"From Mars and Venus", Robert L. Chase (Asimov's, April)

The Hugo Short Story Ballot, aka the Michael Swanwick invitational, this year includes only one Swanwick story, his lowest total in three years. The stories nominated are: "Different Kinds of Darkness" by David Langford, "Kaddish for the Last Survivor" by Michael A. Burstein, "Moon Dogs" by Michael Swanwick, "The Elephants on Neptune" by Mike Resnick, "The Gravity Mine" by Stephen Baxter. I find four of these decent enough, though obviously they didn't make my "long list", so none of 'em wowed me. The other story is downright bad: Resnick's piece. Quite a disappointing ballot, really.

The winner here was the best story on the final ballot, David Langford's "Different Kinds of Darkness". Really, a decent choice. Though I remain disappointed that none of my top choices even made the Hugo long list.