Over the past few weeks I have read the short stories nominated for this year’s BSFA Awards. I am assuming that, as in the past couple of years, the BSFA will be producing a booklet containing them but since each has been posted on the internet (there is a link from the BSFA’s Awards page to the online versions which is how I managed to read them – though I found off a screen is not the most comfortable of ways to do so) perhaps that might not happen.
The Silver Wind by Nina Allan, from Interzone issue 233, is a kind of time-travel story mixed with parallel worlds. It tells of the encounter of a man from a fascistic future Britain with a genius who makes clocks (which he refers to as time machines.) To begin with there is too much info dumping and throughout a lot is told rather than shown. Perhaps the story needed more space to breathe but I felt the sureness of touch of an accomplished story teller was missing. There is a use of words that is not quite precise – eg “hoping one soldier would not see me” rather than “hoping none of the soldiers would see me” – and twice we are treated to the peculiar phrase, “It was growing dusk,” but at least Allan knows the use of “nor” as in, “not for love nor money nor any of these new-fangled gadgets.”
The Copenhagen Interpretation by Paul Cornell, from Asimov’s, July2011, is set in an altered future where European monarchies strive to keep the balance of power throughout the Solar System, souls have weight that is aligned to dark matter and Newton came up with a kind of relativity theory which allows space to be folded – all amenable to a tale of espionage and derring-do admixed with betrayals of various sorts. This stretches suspension of disbelief at times but overflows with ideas and is excellently written.
Afterbirth by Kameron Hurley, from Kameron Hurley’s website, is about a woman in a backward-leaning religious society which is engaged in a never-ending war, whose rulers have deliberately cut it off from the stars – originally as an escape from whatever’s out there but now to prosecute the war better. In her forbidden astronomical observations she finds God in a torn filter laid across the night sky. Again there is a fair bit of info dumping – perhaps inevitable in stories of short length.
Covehithe by China Miéville, from The Guardian, 20/4/11, features sunken oil-rigs returning to land to drill into the earth and lay – eggs? seeds? – from which smaller rigs later emerge. Atmospheric, but again info-dumpy. The human involvement in Covehithe – a father and his daughter observing one such landing – doesn’t really overlap with the SF background. Another scenario where society has suffered extreme breakdown and the military has a strong presence.
Of Dawn by Al Robertson, from Interzone 235, has a woman whose soldier brother has been killed being inspired by his poetry, the music of a long neglected composer, an all but forgotten TV documentary and a figure from Greek myth to produce a synthesis of poetry and music by bringing all those strands together. The final part of the jigsaw is provided by a shadowy figure in a village commandeered by the army long ago, but which had inspired both poet and musician. The story contains echoes of the Green Man myth and illustrates that English fascination with the pastoral. The info dumping here is well embedded.
The futures shown by the five stories are all bleak, having in common repressive regimes of either military or religious stamp. SF is never about the future, though. These stories tell us a lot about where we are now.
As stories though, rounded works of fiction, I found most of them unsatisfying. The only truly successful one was Paul Cornell’s. If these represent the best of last year the SF short story is in a bad way.