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2008 BSFA Awards: Short Fiction

with 8 comments

The latest mailing from the BSFA came with not just the usual issues of Vector and Focus but also a booklet containing all four of the stories nominated for the BSFA Award. This is welcome because all th estories are available online (see links below) the printed page is infinitely preferable to the screen. The only problem is none of the stories are any good. They all cleave very tightly to the SF story archetype: take one idea and then pound it flat. So, here is my ballot (in reverse order):

#4 ‘Exhalation’ by Ted Chiang (Eclipse 2)

If you had told me before I had read the stories that I would be rating the Chiang bottom I would have told you to pull the other one. Generally, it is much as you would expect a Chiang story to be: typically rigourous, taking a single idea and working it through. Unfortunately it is a lame idea. Chiang sits us down and explains the terrible beauty of, er, entropy. Great. Oh, and it contains no dialogue which must make it slipstream.

#3 ‘Crystal Nights’ by Greg Egan (Interzone 215)

Likewise this is a typical Egan story. Some good stuff about artificial life let down by the total implausibility of the characters. At least it has got some cool bits in it.

#2 ‘Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment’ by M. Rickert (F&SF, Oct/Nov 2008)

This is the complete opposite. Like ‘Exhalation’ it is a well executed take on an extremely unlikely and not very interesting idea. The only thing that bumps it up over Chiang and Egan is that contains characters who are recognisably human. Niall Harrison has a typically lengthy, articulate and wrong review. God knows how he managed to write for so long about a story that, as others have pointed out, is like a modern version ‘The Lottery’ by Shelley Jackson. That isn’t a good thing, by the way.

#1 ‘Little Lost Robot’ by Paul McAuley (Interzone 217)

This is very much the winner by default. There is nothing massively interesting about it – a giant robot flies around the universe exterminating humanity before being confronted by its origins – but at least it isn’t completely bloodless. The stories by Chiang and Rickert are icily perfect and pointless, the story by Egan could have done with being a bit more abstract, out of all of them only McAuley is having fun and being serious at the same time.

Not much to pick between them all, really. They are all worth a read but only once and on another day their order on my ballot might have been completely different.

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Written by Martin

26 March 2009 at 19:47

8 Responses

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  1. Oh, and it contains no dialogue

    Not the first time Chiang’s done that, of course – neither did Hell is the Absence of God.

    Peter Wilkinson

    27 March 2009 at 22:29

  2. I can’t help but think you’re being overly miserable about this. You sound like a failed writer? I don’t mean that harshly but it’s more as if ‘you would do it better’… Which makes for bad reviewing in my opinion.

    david

    29 March 2009 at 20:46

  3. [...] Martin Lewis is less keen: If you had told me before I had read the stories that I would be rating the Chiang [...]

  4. [...] Martin’s take: this is a typical Egan story. Some good stuff about artificial life let down by the total implausibility of the characters. At least it has got some cool bits in it. [...] could have done with being a bit more abstract [...]

  5. [...] Martin Lewis: Like ‘Exhalation’ it is a well executed take on an extremely unlikely and not very interesting idea. The only thing that bumps it up over Chiang and Egan is that contains characters who are recognisably human. Niall Harrison has a typically lengthy, articulate and wrong review. God knows how he managed to write for so long about a story that, as others have pointed out, is like a modern version ‘The Lottery’ by Shelley Jackson. That isn’t a good thing, by the way. [...]

  6. David: I’m a (reasonably) successful writer. Would it help you read Martin’s mini-reviews more favorably if I said I agreed with them?

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Should only successful writers write reviews? Should writers *not* write reviews? Does a negative review necessarily indicate that the reviewer thinks he or she could have done a better job than the author? I know damn well I couldn’t have done as good a job as Ted with “Exhalation”, but that doesn’t stop me from wishing he’d written something else.

    David Moles

    3 April 2009 at 09:33

  7. [...] Paul McAuley’s “Little Lost Robot”: read here [pdf] or listen here. The roundup: Martin Lewis: This is very much the winner by default. There is nothing massively interesting about it – a giant [...]

  8. [...] Torque Control we have been discussing the BSFA short fiction award (links below). As a result my ranking of the stories has changed [...]


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