Hugo Capsules: Short Stories
Best Short Story
1. “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds“, by John C. Wright
A richly written meditation on the fate of Earth’s beasts and birds after the End of Man; think C.S. Lewis by way of Jack Vance. The characterization, mood, and turn of phrase have a timeless quality about them that makes the tale fit seamlessly into the tradition of Great Western Literature. The theological speculation displays a great depth of thought, and concerns an area of much personal interest to me. On top of all these merits, the ending is one of the most moving, not only among the other Hugo contenders, but amongst my copious reading, I have read. It shows the hand of Milton’s Muse.
2. “Totaled“, by Kary English
The intriguing tale of Margaret Hauri, Ph.D, a neuroscientist who, postmortem, finds herself (well, her brain) the subject of her own previous research project. I was particularly impressed when she discovered how to communicate with her former lab partner, despite being a brain in a jar. Her solution displayed the kind of cool thinking under duress that characterizes so many great sci-fi protagonists, and it was for this scene in particular that I ranked “Totaled” the highest of the works after “Parliament”.
3. “On a Spiritual Plain“, by Lou Antonelli
An interesting piece set on a planet with a strong magnetic field, where the souls, or perhaps merely impressions, of the dead are entrapped as electromagnetic phantoms. Upon rereading, this story dropped slightly in my estimation, as I realized the Methodist base chaplain tasked with helping an agnostic human ghost find release does not at any point express concern for the state of the man’s soul; whether he need repent of his sins before moving on. It does not detract from the story that much, but it makes the chaplain feel almost as agnostic as the shade, and represents a missed opportunity to explore the tale’s theme in more depth.
4. “Turncoat“, by Steve Rzasa
I’m afraid this work suffered unfairly from being one of the last stories I read. It is a fine piece about an AI starship contemplating the humanity of its posthuman commanders, it’s human enemies, and itself, while in the middle of some blisteringly fast, exciting, well-written space combat. It is working in a very similar vein as Big Boys Don’t Cry, and I think my opinion of it was lessened by the fact that it was not as deep a tale as the latter, despite being no where near as long. Upon rereading it now, I found I enjoyed it much more as the short story it was written as, and though I do not believe I would change its ranking if voting again (perhaps I might bump it above “On a Spiritual Plain”), ordering short stories 2-4 was very difficult, as all were very different and very good.