I read all the Hugo-nominated short stories, but only because they were short. And they all got a strong reaction out of me. Which is both good and bad.
In ascending order:
“Ponies” by Kij Johnson
I didn’t think it was possible to hate a story more than Spar, but this story proved me wrong. It’s about mean little girls doing mean little things to each other and their toys. Their brutal ritual rouses such outrage I thought at first that this story was about genital cuttings. But no, the cultural references are so Western, came away thinking it’s merely about the pressure of social conformity that takes imaginative little girls and turns them into horrible women. So who is this story for? Surely most of the women who read SF figured out that trying to fit in to such nasty cliques is stupid. Maybe this is about recapturing some particularly horrible moment of childhood when we figured this out, but even so, the whole tone of this story is so This Is The Worst Thing Ever, it’s total overkill.
“Amaryllis”, by Carrie Vaugh
I really disliked this story, but at least I didn’t hate it. Set in a post collapse world so obsessed with quotas and protein, I had to set it down for a few minutes to get over my irritation. Then the strong world-building and likeable characters carried me through the rest of the story. The narrator, Marie, is the captain of a fishing boat and head of household. She has problems with her elders because her birth was unauthorized; her mother went over quota. She needs the approval of the elders because one of the young women in her household, Nina, wants to bear a child. Marie seems resigned to getting screwed over, but when Nina sticks up for herself, her captain, and her household, everything falls into place. Happy ending, but I feel like it’s really Nina’s story, not Marie’s.
“The Things,” by Peter Watts
Another surprise, and a pleasant one: I didn’t think I would like a Peter Watts story, but this one proved me wrong. I think I read “Who goes there?” years ago, but I’ve never seen any of the movies called “The Thing”, so I wasn’t distracted by checking off which scene is which. I liked entering the alien mind of the creature and its struggles to accept a world where life is built on the survival of the individual. It’s classic every villain thinks he’s the hero stuff. It doesn’t want to devour you and take over your mind; it just wants to give you communion. As the alien fought to survive, I did get a little tired of its insistence that Earth was the only world where life was like this. Unfortunately, its plot is so dependent on the movie as a reference, on its own, this piece ends up more like a vignette.
“For Want of A Nail,” by Mary Robinette Kowal
Once I got past the gratuitous steampunkery, I rather liked this story. The narrator, Rava, recently took over caring for the ship’s avatar, Cordelia, which is charged with keeping memories and records for the community. Cordelia is having memory problems. The scene where they are trying to track down a cable to replace her broken wireless link are both amusing and annoying because it’s so much like the IT Help Desk, going through their stores of mismatched parts. Then it turns out Cordelia has been covering for her previous “wrangler”, Uncle Georgio, who’s also having memory problems. Rava goes through so much effort trying to recover Cordelia to a point where she is still useful, you almost forget that Georgio has been ruled no longer useful, fit only to be “recycled”. None of the human characters seems to feel any pity for his fate, which turns a story that starts out warm and caring into the beginning, very cold in the end.