BSFA Awards 2011: shortlisted stories

Anthony G Williams

BSFA Awards 2011: shortlisted stories

An unexpected bonus of my membership of the British Science Fiction Association: a booklet containing all five of the short stories shortlisted for their awards (although it did arrive too late for me to vote). Two of them I had reviewed before, but it was interesting to read through them again and I have repeated my reviews here.

The Copenhagen Interpretation by Paul Cornell. An alternative Earth with a strange mixture of the futuristic and the traditional, and some unexplained technologies which the reader has to try to figure out from the context: e.g. "folds" which may refer to folds in space-time, and "embroidery" which is to do with communications. The tale is a spy-cum-romance thriller concerning a British agent and a courier whose messages are kept securely inside her head. Somewhat entertaining, somewhat baffling.

Afterbirth by Kameron Hurley. The life of a woman who is passionate about astronomy, but who lives in a female-dominated religious world in which scientific enquiry is not encouraged, all but the ruling caste are primarily seen as wombs, and boys are merely cannon fodder for the endless wars. Not the most cheerful of stories.

Covehithe by China Miéville. The wrecks of long-gone oil rigs have been slowly reassembling themselves on the sea bed and are now marching onto the land. A bizarre tale, but well-told as usual from this author.

Of Dawn by Al Robertson. This appeared in Interzone 235, which I reviewed in July 2011. A young female violinist goes in search of what motivated her dead brother's bizarre poetry, following clues to a village abandoned since World War 2 when it was incorporated into an army training area. Strange visions and music feature in a story strongly reminiscent of Robert Holdstock. I concluded: my favourite from this issue. Although I am mainly an SF fan, there is something haunting about this story (and Holdstock's work) which appeals to me.

The Silver Wind by Nina Allen. This appeared in Interzone 223, which I reviewed in April 2011. A future in which Britain has elected a right-wing government, resulting in the formation of a police state and the ejection of all non-whites from the country. This is the kind of depressing scenario which doesn't appeal to me and usually sets up a "brave defiance by principled hero" plot, but this author handles it in a more subtle and intriguing fashion. She focuses on a conformist property agent who doesn't question the status quo (it all happened long ago) but who becomes fascinated by the history of a clock made by a talented dwarf, Owen Andrews. He manages to locate and visit Andrews in a remote part of London, separated by a new and dangerously inhabited forest from the main city, and learns of experiments concerning time which are taking place in an old hospital nearby, and their sometimes horrific results. He is captured after becoming lost in the forest and is taken to the hospital, where he finds that there is an alternative to the existing paradigm. An engaging story. I concluded: Nina Allen's story is certainly the stand-out one in this issue, I enjoyed her fantastical take on an unpromising scenario.

A very varied mix of stories, all of them intriguing in different ways. My personal preference is for Nina Allen's tale, with Al Robertson's and then Paul Cornell's following on. I see from the BSFA website that Cornell's story got the award.

(This entry is cross-posted from my science-fiction & fantasy blog.)