Hugos 2023: Best Short Story

Of the fiction categories, this has the most Chinese-language finalists; they are all recognisably sfnal, in the same genre, if perhaps a little old-fashioned compared to the English-language finalists. Each of these has one cool idea, which drives the story, and they are all decent pieces of work. My personal ranking is as follows:

6) 白色悬崖,鲁般 / “The White Cliff”, by Lu Ban

岩里说完,原本一直保持笔直的上半身渐渐放松了下来,重新躺回长椅的靠背上。After Yanli finished speaking, he gradually relaxed his upper body from its upright position and lay back on the backrest of the bench.
(my translation)

Perhaps here I felt the cultural gap at its greatest. The topic of the story is death with dignity, of producing a simulated virtual environment for those who are about to go; in Belgium, where we’ve had legal euthanasia since 2002, we think about these things in a different way and the story’s big idea doesn’t quite land right; it didn’t also have the emotional punch that I anticipated for this topic.

(And on a technicality, the English translation provided is rather poor, but you can see what is meant without too much effort.)

5) 还魂,任青 / “Resurrection”, by Ren Qing 

Second paragraph of third section:

还魂尸坐在桌边,连吃了三碗,雪白的背部一耸一耸。吃完饭,他抱着膝盖,蜷缩在椅子上,不言不语。The synthetic sat at the table and ate three bowls in a row, his pale back shrugging with each bite. After dinner, he curled up in a chair, hugging his knees, saying nothing.
(translated by Blake Stone-Banks)

Another story about death, but here there’s a whole industry of bringing people back, partially alive, for a second go. Nothing terribly wrong with it, but Silverberg’s “Born with the Dead” did it better back in 1974.

4) “DIY”, by John Wiswell 

Second paragraph of third section:

It was midafternoon. Noah was in his bedroom with the blinds drawn like an appropriately pissy teenager, hunched over his concentrator rig. A concentrator is one of those “baby’s first levitation” kits, a series of glass rods with minor magical charge that can float briefly in the air. Noah repurposed the kit to draw water from the air itself. After a week of tedious experiments, he had a cup one quarter full of water. Or was that three-quarters empty?

A story of kids using bulletin boards and magic. I felt it rather uneasily merged two different kinds of world-building, and did not quite work for me.

3) 命悬一线,江波 / “On the Razor’s Edge”, by Jiang Bo

Second paragraph of third section (in Chinese, the supplied English translation has different line breaks):

通讯恢复了。Communication was restored.
(translation supplied by author.)

A Chinese space mission comes to the rescue of the Americans and Russians in the International Space Station, and you kinda know what’s going to happen as soon as it becomes clear that one of the Americans is a cute woman; and yet the narrative pace, even in translation, is tremendous and I found myself getting really invested in it as we got to the climax. Perhaps the most old-fashioned of the stories in this category, but rather well done.

2) 火星上的祝融,王侃瑜 / “Zhurong on Mars”, Regina Kanyu Wang

Second paragraph of third section:

祝融发现,人类虽然消耗了资源、增加了熵值,让周遭环境变得更混乱,却也使火星更有趣。某种程度上,祝融也在做同样的事情,伊利用人类走后无人利用的资源,让整座奥林帕斯山的熵值大大增加,那么伊是否可以算作生命?Zhurong realized that, although life consumed resources, increased entropy, and caused the environment to become more chaotic, they also made Mars more interesting. To a certain degree, Zhurong was doing the same thing. E used the resources left behind by humans and greatly increased the entropy of Olympus Mons. Did that mean e was a form of life?
(translation by S. Qiouyi Lu. The original Chinese text uses a literary gender-neutral third-person pronoun 伊yī for Zhurong, translated here using the neopronoun e. Zhurong is the god of fire in Chinese mythology.)

This is also a story which uses an old trope – the AIs who are left behind after humanity has quit the scene, familiar from Zelazny’s “For a Breath I Tarry” and Aldiss’s “But Who Can Replace a Man?”, but this time set on Mars, with call-outs to Chinese mythology. It’s rather deep for such a short piece, and I enjoyed it a lot.

1) “Rabbit Test”, Samantha Mills

Second paragraph of third section:

Grace doesn’t know, and doesn’t care, and certainly isn’t laughing. She waits for Sal at the coffee shop, and every sip of spark makes her stomach roil with nerves.

I thought this was tremendous – a story about a near-future USA where abortion rights have been gruesomely restricted, a scenario which unfortunately seems less and less unrealistic, interleaved with well-researched historical reflections. An angry and timely piece that has my vote.

2023 Hugos:
Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Graphic Story or Comic | Best Related Work | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist | Lodestar Award for Best YA Book | Astounding Award for Best New Writer