I’ve tried to make it a habit in recent years to read through the Hugo short story nominees. I’m a few months late to the game this year, alas. Late or not, I can say with confidence:
All of these stories are worth your time.
Here are the nominees.
The Court Magician, by Sarah Pinsker. The nominees open with a decent story that attempts to pull the same kind of vanishing trick on the reader that it discusses throughout its length. It nearly works, too. Happily, the story is strong enough to withstand the canny reader who sees the ending coming.
The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society, by T. Kingfisher. This is probably the most “Gaiman”-esque of the bunch. This story isn’t as profound or as pointed as its fellow nominees (save perhaps Magician), but it makes up for it by being delightfully sweet as it posits the inverse of many an Irish fairy tale — a group of fae who pine for their shared mortal lover.
The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington, by P. Djèlí Clark. This tale wears its historical revisionism in its title and on its sleeve, as the narrative at first seems content merely to summarize the lives of slaves who, one way or another, supplied teeth to the most (apparently) well known of the founding fathers. Given that this is a Hugo award nominee, however, we catch references here and there early on that this is actually an alternate history, one where magic is very real and very active in the wars and struggles of both white and black independence.
STET, by Sarah Gailey. The Latin verb is, as my google-aided research informs me, an editors term meaning “let it stand,” and is used to dismiss a correction when proofreading. Here, we are reading a late draft of a textbook section written in 2042, and the author is letting some emotion creep into her footnotes. Bursting from the confines of encyclopedic ‘neutral’ point of view is both raw, emotional grief, and barely controlled fury. This is definitely the most emotionally powerful story in the entire collection, if not the best.
The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat, by Brooke Bolander. I’m not sure if I can add much of anything to my review of this story past typing out its title. I can say, however, that this story, the longest among the nominees, does not renege on the title’s narrative promise — quite the contrary, in fact.
The story also features a witch. She is delightful.
A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies, by Alix E. Harrow. This story also prominently features witches, as its own title indicates. Here, the witches are also librarians, and if T. Kingfisher’s tale is reminiscent of Neil Gaiman, then Harrow’s is highly reminiscent of Terry Pratchett. In particular, the late, great Terry’s ability to wield humor and emotional weight in equal measure in his work finds a ready echo here, as clever wordplay line by line builds, by the end, a solid argument in favor of (so called) “escapist” literature — literature which fulfills the need, indeed, to escape.