In contrast to the Best Novel category, I found this a pretty easy selection to rank.
With no hesitation, my top vote goes to The Enclave, by Anne Charnock. Second paragraph of third chapter:
Zach chips in with a single question: did I see any stalls selling figs? I’m not surprised by his question. He told me one time that his family had fig trees, but when I asked how many, he didn’t know. It’s possible his family owned an entire fig farm. Or, just as likely, Mikey remembered a small garden at his family home –two or three fig trees planted for shade as well as fruit. I felt sad that he remembered so little. I explain to Zach, that I didn’t have time to look around the fruit stalls, but there must be figs somewhere, and I’ll try to buy some at tomorrow’s market if Ma Lexie lets me.
A very nicely done, sad story about migration, exploitation and growing up in a flawed near future England. A story for our times.
My second preference goes to The Murders of Molly Southbourne, by Tade Thompson. Second paragraph of third chapter:
Employment with the university is not so bad. Her official designation is lab assistant, but built into her contract is the ability to continue her studies in a modular fashion should she wish. She works with James for four hours per day. This generates one hour of paperwork. After that, she can pretty much do what she likes. She loses interest in the courses, though. Even Shakespeare holds no fascination for her.
A very effectively told tale of doppelgangers and body horror. I felt it was a bit closer to the horror side of the genre than is generally my taste. Also, annoyingly, Molly’s mother keeps calling her DorogoyDorogaya, or more phonetically Daragoy/Daragaya (дорогой is masculine, дорогая feminine).
My third preference goes to “Angular Size” by Geoff Nelder. Second paragraph of third section:
She put her hand on his, feeling his sausage fingers drumming on the table. “You okay, chief? Really?”
Starts off looking like a typical story of a hard scientist dealing with a Big Dumb Object, and I was rather enjoying it, but I felt the end required some improbable engineering both from the humans and from the aliens.
My fourth preference goes to “All These Constellations Will Be Yours”, by Elaine Cuyegkeng. Second paragraph of third section:
In my first few days in the Torres, I prayed for the death of Madre Eglantine. I prayed for my family to come tearing at the walls in the night. For my mother to find me, and carry me out with her hands. But one night, I dreamed of the Torres in flames, our baby hands scrabbling bloody at the brick.
Maybe I was just sleepy, but I didn’t understand what this story was about.
And finally: Uncanny Valley by Greg Egan. Second paragraph of third chapter:
“The family’s going to contest the will,” Gina replied.
I hate cute anthropomorphic robots, and unless I misunderstood, this story is about a cute anthropomorphic robot.