As a member of CoNZealand, I get to vote on the awards. I’ve read all the short stories, and here are my votes. (The Hugos uses ranked voting.) They’re all good stories, well worth reading, and my ranking is a bit arbitrary because I had to choose, and my opinions are a bit harsh because I needed to be judgmental to choose. Your opinions may vary from mine and still be correct.
6. “As the Last I May Know” by S.L. Huang (Tor.com, 23 October 2019)
An emotionally riven tale about a war-winning weapon that can only be used at a great price. It almost feels like a vivid fable rather than a remotely probable story, although it leaves the reader with a lot of questions and doubt — and doubt is the point of the price of the weapon.
5. “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing” by Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons, 9 September 2019)
This classic-style horror story involves a dollmaker in India during British occupation — so classic that the ending can be guessed less than halfway through. Righteous anger undergirds the narration, but the conventional plot weakens it.
4. “A Catalog of Storms” by Fran Wilde (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2019)
As storms become sentient, a small town’s children fight back. The writing evokes a timeless dreamlike quality and creates sharp characters: pathos abounds. The point of view character is a child, however, which traps us in a limited horizon that is both claustrophobic and kind of a cheat, since the larger picture can go unexplained.
3. “Do Not Look Back, My Lion” by Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 2019)
A husband must send her wife off to war one more time, and she just can’t bear to do it again. This is another story that questions war, and it also questions and subverts gender roles, and it rent my heart. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wins the Hugo.
2. “Blood Is Another Word for Hunger” by Rivers Solomon (Tor.com, 24 July 2019)
The enslaved people in this story want freedom more than they want revenge, but even magic can’t fulfill every wish. A haunting story that could also deservedly win the Hugo.
1. “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare Magazine, May 2019)
This was my choice for the Nebula Award (it didn’t win), and I’m still wowed by the story. In 1891, something tragic happened, and we’re still living with the consequences. This very short story, told in an unconventional style, smacks the reader upside the head with nuance, ambiguity, and pitiless social criticism. Its densely packed details make it hard to read and irresistible to re-read: very much a story of our moment, and I mean that as high praise.