Kudos to the folks nominating for the Hugo Awards this year. All of this year's Hugo-nominated short stories are well written, and the nominees include my two favorite short stories of 2011, either of which would be a most deserving winner.
Working my way up, "The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" by E. Lily Yu features some beautifully constructed sentences, which are especially impressive from such a young author. But I confess I reached the end without understanding the point of the exercise. The fault may be mine as a reader, but people who nominated this piece for the Hugo plainly got something out of it that I missed.
John Scalzi's "The Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue" is a very funny parody (and I believe Scalzi ties Connie Willis for most colons in a Hugo-nominated title). I particularly love the first three sentences. I don't begrudge the story's nomination—it's not easy to write something this funny—but to me there's not enough substance for this one to win the award.
"The Homecoming" by Mike Resnick is a strong tale of a father's reunion with his son, who is estranged in more than one sense. The father-son dynamic put me strongly in mind of Resnick's story "One Perfect Morning, with Jackals," which received a well-deserved Hugo nomination in 1991.
That brings us to my two favorite short stories of 2011, and I'd be happy if they tied and both won the award. Forced to pick one, I'm going to make Ken Liu's "The Paper Menagerie" my #2 choice. The story is simple yet moving, presenting basic themes—an immigrant's alienation; how children often don't appreciate their parents until they're gone—in an original and powerful way. Great work by a fellow Writers of the Future winner.
My personal favorite short story of 2011 (and it was from the time it first came out) is "Movement" by Nancy Fulda. Like "The Paper Menagerie," this is a powerful and moving tale, with the added element that it successfully tells the story from a nearly-alien point of view. Most impressively, Fulda uses her protagonist's condition to craft the story's sad and poignant ending. This is a unique and outstanding piece.
Aaron's Ballot for Best Short Story
1. Nancy Fulda - Movement
2. Ken Liu - The Paper Menagerie
3. Mike Resnick - The Homecoming
4. John Scalzi - Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue
5. E. Lily Yu - The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees