As is often the case, the short story Hugo nominees are a weaker group than the novelettes, I suspect because it is difficult at such a short length to draw the reader in deeply enough to create the impact one expects of an award-caliber story. As a result, the Hugo short story ballot typically contains an unfortunately high proportion of fluff pieces.
This year, that includes Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359? by Ken MacLeod, a fun far-future romp that had entirely passed out of my mind one day after reading it, and A Small Room in Koboldtown, a silly little SF mystery that I found well short of the level of Michael Swanwick’s best work. (Apparently many others liked it rather more than I did as it just won the Locus Award, although that may just reflect the asinine decision by Locus to change how they counted the votes after the ballots were cast -- note that Koboldtown had fewer total votes and fewer first-place votes than Tideline.)
A half-notch above those two for me is Mike Resnick’s Distant Replay, the simple but charming story of an elderly gentleman who meets a young woman remarkably similar to his late wife, and Last Contact by Stephen Baxter, in which the human race learns that the end of the world is nigh, with understandably sad results.
My favorite of the short story nominees is Tideline by Elizabeth Bear, the poignant story of a derelict but intelligent war machine struggling to find meaning in its final days. Even if the short story category is not terribly strong overall, Tideline would be a worthy Hugo winner.
1. Elizabeth Bear – Tideline
2. Stephen Baxter – Last Contact
3. Mike Resnick – Distant Replay
4. Ken MacLeod – Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359?
5. Michael Swanwick – A Small Room in Koboldtown