BSFA Short Fiction

This rounds off my BSFA posts this year – see previously how to get the finalists, Best Art and Best Non-Fiction. I’m a Clarke judge this year so won’t comment on the Best Novel finalists, and won’t have time to read the Best YA finalists.

I found it fairly easy to rank these, though I think the vote between my top two will be close.

5) ‘Seller’s Remorse’, by Rick Danforth, Hexagon Magazine, Issue 11

Second paragraph of third section:

At the gloomy door, Sheytl performed his routine of slicking back the hair and a triple knock.

A bit of a Shaggy God story. Our protagonist tries to raise supporters for a dying deity and shenanigans ensue. A bit uneven in writing style.

4) ‘A Moment of Zugzwang’, by Neil Williamson, ParSec #4

Third paragraph (there are no sections):

Wehlstrasse was a quiet street. Seldom frequented stores and cafés lined one side. Along the other, trees evenly ranked like soldiers guarded the low balustrade above the rolling, grey river. They’d proved poor guardsmen, at least as far as Albert Vogel was concerned. Stina had watched the bee footage a thousand times. The old man visible at the edge of the frame making his way down that side of the street, coming and going behind the trees as he approached the bridge. The distinctive bushy beard jutting before him. The slow but steady gait suddenly faltering, the hand going to the jaw is if he’d forgotten something as the induced heart failure had kicked in. The stumble, the lurch. The plummet into the waters below. No witnesses, either in person or online, so no one had come to his aid and his body hadn’t been found until a couple of days later among the Hundred Island reed beds six miles downstream. Bloated, the skin of his extremities wrinkled and nibbled at by hungry critters.

A near-future police procedural about a perfect murder committed despite panopticon surveillance. I’m always a bit wary of future police stories where the boys and girls in blue don’t behave much like real policemen in our timeline, and in addition here the technology is just sufficiently flawed to allow the twist in the plot to happen. God world0building though.

3) Luca, by Or Luca

Second paragraph of third section:

She’s sitting on the stone-cold floor of the shower, folded into herself. She watches the blood run from her wrist and into the drain.

Some good things in this novella: impressive depiction of the two major characters’ psychological and personal issues, and they are brought together neatly at the end. But I did wonder if it actually qualifies as science fiction or fantasy? The unreal elements of the story are explicitly the title character’s hallucinations, which didn’t seem to me to have much direct impact on anyone other than her. I also wasn’t hugely convinced by the setting, a country in the Middle East which doesn’t feel very Middle Eastern.

2) Ogres, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Second paragraph of third section:

Stunned silence from them. And then… a medley of reactions; quite the range, now you think back on it. Because some still have that core in them, hammered there by church and village life before they did whatever each one did to make them outlaw. Some are shocked that you could even lift a hand against the Masters, let alone shed so much of that vast reservoir of blood that it might kill one. Taboos like that, beat into you from earliest childhood, they don’t get shaken free so easily. Garett, the oldest of them, is pale and shaking his head, and Nell Wilso sucks at her toothless gums. But some of the others, their eyes are lit up. They’re the ones whose crimes were against the property, not of humans but of ogres. They lost that reverence, and maybe they’ve dreamed of doing just what you did every night since. And right then you’re in no position to appreciate it, lost in a welter of guilt and panic, but it’s the first time people look at you like that. Not fond, not exasperated. You’re not the prodigal son or the lovable rogue right then. You’re the hero who slays the monster.

Dystopian agricultural future where an elite minority of big people (the ‘ogres’ of the title) holds the majority of humanity in brutal slavery, and our protagonist discovers the awful truth and begins the overthrow of the system. Enjoyed it, but it didn’t quite convince me.

1) Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances, by Aliette de Bodard

Second paragraph of third chapter:

When Asmodeus saw the unfamiliar dragon trailing behind Thuan, his hand moved — and came back holding a knife he didn’t bother to hide.

I found this a total delight and it’s getting a firm first preference from me. I didn’t completely get on with the earlier parts of the Dominion of the Fallen series, set in a magically devastated Paris, but this is very digestible; the protagonists are a dragon prince and a demon, and the story has them sorting out a murder mystery where the ghost is still around while also babysitting some very inquisitive children. Unlike ‘A Moment of Zugzwang’, there is no police force to get wrong here, and one has the sense of a small but fascinating incident in a much broader and richly thought out society. I hope it wins.