I've decided on three classifications to use as I read through the nominees. These will be as follows: 1) Sorry, No; 2) Knocking On the Door; and 3) We Have a Winnah! I'm not going to provide rankings at this time. Most years, unless I think there's a single standout, whatever gets slotted into #3 changes its ranking daily. That will be especially true of Best Novel this year, I think.
(I'm starting now because I just received word that my state might not end its lockdown till the first week of June, which means the library may not open up till then. I don't know about y'all, but I personally cannot read 15 books in four weeks [the number I have on hold]. I'm hoping we'll receive the Voters' Packet before then, which will help.)
All of these stories are available to read online.
"Blood Is Another Word for Hunger," Rivers Solomon
I don't know if I didn't really understand this story or couldn't relate to the characters, but it pretty much left me cold. I'm also not fond of the idea that murder = birth.
"A Catalog of Storms," Fran Wilde
This was more "meh" than anything else. I tried to read it before, stopped halfway through, and remembered nothing. The second, complete read didn't leave any deeper impression.
Knocking On the Door
"Ten Excerpts From an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island," Nibedita Sen
It took a couple of reads for me to realize what this story was doing. When I finally got it, I thought the concept was clever (if a bit gory). I prefer an actual plot and characters though, not footnotes.
We Have a Winnah!
"As the Last I May Know," S.L. Huang
In one way, this story is the most idea-centered of the six: the central idea being if a leader will sacrifice a single life--the young girl whose body is implanted with the launch codes--to use the horrifying weapons he thinks are needed to save his country in a war (called "sere" in the story, but of course that's a synonym for "nukes"). But the idea would be useless without characters to bring it to life, and the characters in this story are spot-on. There are also hard ethical questions here, questions with no easy answers or indeed any answers at all, and the story does not flinch when it tackles them.
"Do Not Look Back, My Lion," Alix E. Harrow
I read this again, and damn. This is another story of war, fantasy rather than science fiction, and a different society where the women ride to war and the men wait at home. But the themes are similar, with the healer rebelling against the yoke of "the great wolf of war padding through the streets, howling its glee," and the healer's wife, the revered Lion of the city of Xot, finally realizing that her Emperor will feed the wolf of war "until there is no good thing left." The prose is simple and beautiful.
"And Now His Lordship is Laughing," Shiv Ramdas
This is a story of colonization, magic and revenge, set in India during World War II, when the natives were starved by their British colonizers taking their rice to give to the war effort. It's stark and brutal, with a violent ending that is earned. (I sometimes wonder how English people live with their country's history of conquest and colonization. It's just as bad as the US history of slavery and genocide.)
Looking at these stories as a group, I see that overall, they're pretty grim. This does not surprise me, given the state of the world. All we can do is hope next year will be better (and in the States, work to defeat the orange monster).