Hugo Nominated Short Stories
April 6, 2019 7:00 PM - by Lynne M Thomas - Subscribe

A discussion of the shorts stories nominated for a Hugo this year

The short stories (thanks to Margalo Epps for digging up the links)
The Court Magician,” by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed, January 2018)
The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society,” by T. Kingfisher (Uncanny Magazine 25, November-December 2018)
The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington,” by P. Djèlí Clark (Fireside Magazine, February 2018) (Metafilter Discussion)
STET,” by Sarah Gailey (Fireside Magazine, October 2018) (Metafilter Discussion)
The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat,” by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny Magazine 23, July-August 2018) (Metafilter Discussion)
A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow (Apex Magazine, February 2018)

(This is a Hugo Nominees 2019 Club post. You can find the current schedule for upcoming posts here.)
posted by dinty_moore (15 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm reading all the stories now, one by one, having read none of them beforehand. I'll try to avoid spoilers in these brief responses.

Sarah Pinker's 'The Court Magician' - I thought this was good in the somewhat heavy-handed allegorical school of short story writing (this sounds more dismissive than I intend it to). Enjoyed how points that were introduced so matter of factly - the mourner's litany, the narrator, the pillow - become deepened over the course of the story. I'm not sure I liked the ending though, it seemed a rather easy one.
posted by tavegyl at 10:50 AM on April 7


Yeah, I typically like Sarah Pinsker's stuff ("Wind Will Rove" and And "Then There Were N-One" were two of my favorites from last year, and I'm most of the way through her new short story collection), but "The Court Magician" didn't do it for me.

I always have an issue trying to compare the lighter fare like "The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society" and "The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters. . " against the heavier stuff like "STET" or "The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington". Though "STET" and the "Nine Negro Teeth" both have a little more going on in the construction, also, so I don't think it's just the tone.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:04 PM on April 7


I've only read two so far. "STET" is brilliant. "The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society" is fun, and I don't discount comedy as lesser (right now Space Opera is one of my faves for novels), but I would lean towards "STET" of the two.

"The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat" is an amazing title. Fingers crossed that the story lives up to it!
posted by kyrademon at 2:36 PM on April 7


T Kingfisher's 'The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society' - really not my cup of tea, I'm afraid. I don't care for folktale stories generally (although I do have a degree in folklore, so it goes), and I didn't find it hilarious or clever enough to overcome how lightweight it is. Having read two of the contenders, my vote, if I had had one, would be for Pinker's. This was a pleasant way to pass the time but I'm already forgetting it.
posted by tavegyl at 6:18 PM on April 7


Phenderson Djèlí Clark's 'The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington' - this was great. The story goes tooth by tooth, all are fascinating, the last one near devastating in the way it snaps one back into our world. Great world building too. My top nominee thus far, despite some distracting comma usage.
posted by tavegyl at 8:13 PM on April 7


Thanks so much for the links! I'm slowly working my way through...

I thought the Pinsker story (the Court Magician) was impressive. I liked how bare the narration was, the details minimal and the characters barely sketched in (not even any names, just roles), and less and less sketched in all the time, until at the end, they just disappear -- I thought the tone, structure, and content of the story all echoed/mirrored each other perfectly. And just like with a magician's trick, you could tell that a lot of technical work was going on behind the scenes (in terms of editing, especially) but it's only visible to the audience by its absence. Very clever writing. Also, the disembodied narrator was interesting. I'd like to hear her story in more depth. Did she use the word too much, until she lost everything except the ability to tell it to people?

I've read Gailey's STET before, and remember it being a gut-punch the first time through. It's sort of the opposite of the Court Magician, in that the formal/bloodless tone and the "academic paper" structure all are in direct contrast to the content of the story (rather than unified with it), and amplify the emotional impact of the content through that contrast. Where the story kind of falls flat for me is that going for the heartstrings [trying not to spoil...uh...] "that way" seems kind of trite, and the structure is so high-concept that it kind of teeters on the line of being too gimmicky (to me, anyway). I dunno, it's very well-done but it's maybe more sizzle than steak? That said, the story is great and I don't mean those complaints to be too harsh. I haven't read all the stories yet, but it seems like it may be the one to beat for the actual award.
posted by rue72 at 11:39 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


Sarah Gailey's 'STET' - I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand it is a chilling and effective idea and the way it's told, through footnotes and comments, is clever. On the other hand, I found it manipulative: it lost me at the duration of bereavement leave which seemed added there solely for effect (Americans can correct me if I misunderstood this but I assume the duration is not statutory and was chosen for effect in this story). As an editor myself, it was a struggle to feel much sympathy for the writer; a writing brief is a writing brief to me.

On preview: 'more sizzle than steak' - rue72, you said it much better, thank you.

Finally, I wondered how my response was shaped by the content warning at the start of the story. I definitely am not one who opposes content warning, far from it, but in this case it (in conjunction with the title of the story and fictional chapter title) did mean that were few surprises in the story. (I reiterate that I am in favour of content warnings).
posted by tavegyl at 11:48 AM on April 8


I'd read "Court Magician", "Rose MacGregor", and "STET" before, but just finished reading the other three.

I can easily say that I like "The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters" better than "The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society", because both of them are doing similar things - light, humorous twists on fairy tales, but Bolander's story goes a little further and is just funnier. Meanwhile I can say that I like "The Secret Lives of Nine Negro Teeth" better than "STET" because the concept behind the Clark's story appeals to me more than Gailey's: centering and breathing humanity into people whose existence has traditionally been denied or brushed aside; then reflecting on the what effects literally having parts of those people residing in Washington's mouth might have on him - in some ways, giving their slaves back their agency.

But, like, scifi/fantasy doesn't have to be about Big Ideas all the time; I just don't know how to compare the quality of the two.

"A Witch's Guide to Escape" is somewhere in the middle, I think. It's not exactly as high concept or heavy, but it's also not a comedy. I liked it well enough, and the list of books worked well for me as a concept, but I'm not finding myself wanting to revisit it and think more about it the way I did with "STET" or "The Secret Lives of Nine Negro Teeth".

(On a completely different note, god, all of these short stories have really fucking long names - except for "STET")

I would very much like SUE the T-Rex's opinion on "The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat". I realize they have an anti-raptor bias, but their opinion might still affect my voting patterns.

Americans can correct me if I misunderstood this but I assume the duration is not statutory and was chosen for effect in this story

Nine and a half months is an unusually long time for bereavement leave - FMLA covers three months unpaid; none is actually required, but most workplaces I know usually have somewhere between three days and a week before you're expected to use FMLA or PTO.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:22 PM on April 8


I didn't particularly care for “The Court Magician,” or “STET,” they just seemed boring. And while I enjoyed “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society,” at first, the cutesy ending made it much worse for me. Rose's view could have been interesting, but telling her side of the story to a five year old could not possibly be.

I thought “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington,” was the most interesting and it and “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat,” are the ones I'm still mulling over. I liked the perspectives on them and the immersion on the story. Did George Washington wear just one tooth at a time? Because I thought it was a full set of dentures, but I'll admit I've never been that interested in him. Also, I kinda liked that the raptors and princess crone had their happily ever after, like, summing up the rest of their lives, but then went back to end the story at the point at which the raptors ate the prince.

“A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” was mildly compelling, but it mostly made me want something longer, that was getting someone else's perspective. I mean, sure, we can follow the White woman who does almost nothing in the story, rather than the young Black man who has a story. Though possibly I just want his portal story, which is just a completely different thing than this story.

(Oh yeah, it's fine to spoil anything contained in these stories in this thread. That's what Fanfare's for, so please don't worry about it.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 1:55 PM on April 8


Brooke Bolander's 'The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat' - A surprise second place for me. I really enjoyed it, though I did wonder if the final section (when the princess and the prince meet again) could have been much tighter than it was. Light and funny (funnier and cleverer than Rose MacGregor), some excellent turns of phrase, a great narrator and a couple of things to think about. Nothing too profound but enough to make it worth being a short story.
posted by tavegyl at 5:42 PM on April 8


Alix E. Harrow's 'A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies' - enjoyable, competent, read a bit like a test run for a longer novel set in a world of magical librarians. The bit about the books of power felt like a little cursory, maybe in a longer book the librarian's decision would have felt more momentous. However, for a story that was about the least interesting part of all the characters' lives, it kept me engaged and interested.

So, here's my ranking of the short stories:

1. “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington,” by P. Djèlí Clark
2. “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat,” by Brooke Bolander
3. “The Court Magician,” by Sarah Pinsker
4. “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow
5. “STET,” by Sarah Gailey
6. “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society,” by T. Kingfisher

Though I would not at all object if Raptor Sisters came above Nine Negro Teeth as it was quite delightful and very funny.
posted by tavegyl at 6:52 PM on April 8


STET is hands-down goddamn amazing.
posted by danhon at 9:59 PM on April 9


The Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters was pretty fantastic. The world of the story felt so completely imagined. And I loved the narrator's voice, from the very depths of my gizzard.

It's well-written and engaging and all, but I found The Witch's Guide too self-conscious and/or self-righteous to be much fun. And Rose MacGregor was too cheesy. It's the only story on the list that I straight up didn't like.

I loved the Nine Negro Teeth. The characters/situations that P. Djèlí Clark sketched lit my imagination on fire. So evocative. I especially liked the merman's song that George Washington would find himself singing, unwittingly awakening the things in the deep and making them restless. And Emma, whose only magic was her humanity, really.

If I had to rank the stories...
1. “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat,” by Brooke Bolander
2. “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington,” by P. Djèlí Clark
3. "The Court Magician,” by Sarah Pinsker
4. “STET,” by Sarah Gailey
5. “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow
6. “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society,” by T. Kingfisher

Interesting that so many of us are having more or less the same reactions?
posted by rue72 at 1:03 PM on April 10 [1 favorite]


Interesting that so many of us are having more or less the same reactions?

What I'm finding interesting is that I'm having more-or-less the same reaction as a lot of people in this thread, but my order (beyond the first two, which I can also easily flip on) is different:

1. “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington,” by P. Djèlí Clark
2. “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat,” by Brooke Bolander
3. “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow
4. “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society,” by T. Kingfisher
5. “STET,” by Sarah Gailey
6. "The Court Magician,” by Sarah Pinsker
posted by dinty_moore at 4:29 PM on April 10


(just in case anyone reading this is looking for the next hugo post - Spinning Silver was already on fanfare so I just added the club tag. It's listed under the club posts, but it also shows up with a July posting date)
posted by dinty_moore at 6:54 AM on April 15


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