Well, the short story category seemed like a good place to start, being nice and... um... short. So here's my thoughts on the nominees.
- "On A Spiritual Plain", Lou Antonelli (Sci Phi Journal #2, 11-2014)
A fascinating concept, but the writing jerked me out of the story repeatedly. It's not that it was bad, it just wasn't very smooth or polished. It felt like it needed another draft to clean it up. The idea behind the story is thought-provoking... what if a human died on a planet upon which the dead stick around as ghosts as a matter of course? But I felt like the story never quite gelled. While the concept is good, I'm not sure the package as a whole deserves an award.
- "A Single Samurai", Steven Diamond (The Baen Big Book of Monsters, Baen Books)
Oh, I want to like this one. It's strong in many places, and has a sense of whimsy I really enjoy. But in order for me to really like it, the story had to nail the landing, and in my opinion, it didn't manage it. I think I get what the author was going for, but it didn't hit that mark for me. I love the idea of the samurai being guardians against the demons and darkness, and I love the idea of a samurai having to fight a monster as big as a mountain. But it just didn't quite work for me.
- "Totaled", Kary English (Galaxy's Edge Magazine, 07-2014)
Wow. I wasn't expecting that. Well-written, nicely defined. It was a solid story from start to finish. I was particularly moved by the way the narrator's "voice" started to break up at the end. When I heard this described as a brain in a bottle story, I wasn't sure what I would get. But I think it was good. Nice and touching.
- "Turncoat", Steve Rzasa (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)
Another almost great story. There are some great moments and great thoughts, but the story is betrayed by weak writing and a predictable ending. It certainly could have used another draft with a strong editor to make it fantastic instead of just good. I liked it, but I doubt I'll be thinking about its details tomorrow... if I even remember it at all.
- "The Parliament of Beasts and Birds", John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
I only got a few pages into this one before I found myself wanting to do something, anything, else except read it. It has a fable-ish, pretentious writing style that takes a very skilled writer to pull off, and this writer doesn't seem to fit that category. I skimmed through the rest, which went on far too long, and didn't see any conclusion worth reading toward. In short, this is not something I would read for pleasure. It would have to be assigned to me by a particularly sadistic teacher.
Note: I am also always looking for anything you have run across that will be eligible for a Hugo next year, so if you've seen something you liked, drop a note in the comments about it. I'll also be regularly posting my own suggestions for stuff to consider for next year.