#balisebooks – Hugo 2021 Short Stories

I haven’t talked about books much (… if at all…) this year. Part of the reason is that I do not commute at all anymore, and my book-reading time got slashed in the process. Part of the reason is that I’m still struggling with committing to write longer pieces and, while my #balisebooks posts don’t go into much detail, they still take a significant amount of time that I’m having a hard time making, now that I’m back to working full-time.

And that’s how I end up on the day before the closing of the Hugo ballots going “argh, I haven’t read the short stories yet!” and doing that in a single evening, despite having had significantly more time than last year between the opening and the closing of the vote (In all fairness, this year I did rank all the Best Novel candidates!). And, since I thoroughly enjoyed all of them, I felt it would be a nice small, contained thing to blog about. So here we go! And you get my ballot order at the same time… and since they’re also available on their respective publisher’s websites, you also get some short reads if you feel so inclined 🙂

6. Metal Like Blood in the Dark, T. Kingfisher

“What if Hansel and Gretel were robots, and in space?” It was quite a lot of adventures for Sister-the-mining-robot and Brother-the-flying-robot, and I particularly enjoyed the existential discussion about lying and its consequences.

5. Open House on Haunted Hill, John Wiswell

“What if the only goal of the haunted house was to find new inhabitants?” This is a story told from the perspective of such a haunted house, and it’s quite heartwarming.

4. Little Free Library, Naomi Kritzer

“What if there was a mysterious but friendly borrower in a Little Free Library?” (you know these book boxes that spawn in various places? 🙂 ). This was quite cute, a bit sad, and it was a story about a library and the people that put and borrows books in it – what’s not to like?

3. Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse, Rae Carson

“What if zombies were attracted to birth giving?” I was prepared to not like this one at all, due to not liking zombie stories in general. It turns out that the take, the relationships between the characters, and the general action and feminist badassery was enough to make me give my first enthusiastic 5* on GoodReads for this Hugo ballot of short stories (with the comment “I don’t even like zombie stories!”). Quite a feat.

2. The Mermaid Astronaut, Yoon Ha Lee

“What if the Little Mermaid wanted to go to space instead of marrying a prince?” That’s it, that’s the story. It has a strong “Becky Chambers” feeling, and I was pretty convinced until the last minute that it would be the top of my ballot.

1. A Guide for Working Breeds, Vina Jie-Min Prasad

“What if indentured robots had a fondness for dogs?”, I guess. I also do have a strong fondness for epistolary or epistolary-like narrative styles, so that helps. The voices of the robots are very distinct and I laughed out loud for the whole time I read this short story. This was absolutely fantastic, and the top of my ballot this year, even if the ballot itself is very, very strong.

All in all, I think the short story ballot has been my favorite this year. I couldn’t help but notice that all the stories were essentially happy or hopeful or both, with possibly less conflict and shock than one would typically expect from the genre. And, to me, this was very enjoyable: I finished the evening of “reading all the things and ranking them” happier than I started it, and that’s worth a lot in my book.

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