I recently unearthed a booklet, long buried in my reading pile, which consisted of the four short stories short-listed for the British Science Fiction Association awards – in 2010. Oh well, just a tad too late to vote… It was a convenient size to take on a recent railway journey so I managed to get through it, discovering that I had already read and reviewed two of the stories because they had first appeared in Interzone magazine.
Flying in the Face of God, by Nina Allan. This first appeared in Interzone 227, and the comment I made then was: "An astronaut makes her goodbyes as she is irrevocably changed by a treatment to make long space journeys possible." Not one of the three stories I liked from that issue, but on re-reading it's a powerfully atmospheric piece, as usual from this author.
The Shipmaker, by Aliette do Bodard. This one is from Interzone 231: "A story set in this author's 'Xuya continuity', an alternative Earth in which the Chinese discovered America before Columbus. A Grand Master of Design Harmony, responsible for integrating all of the aspects of a spaceship project ready for the new Mind which will be uniquely capable of transforming the ship into a viable entity, is thrown into a crisis when the Mind is born too soon. There is an appealingly lyrical flavour to this author's writing." This time I thought the writing was impressive but the story was not to my taste so I skimmed through it rather than reading it all again.
The Things, by Peter Watts. A shape-shifting alien able to take over human bodies causes havoc in an Antarctic station. Sound familiar? Indeed it does, since this story was told in the 1951 film The Thing from Another World (remade in 1982), itself based on the 1938 novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell (writing under the pseudonym of Don A. Stuart). A similar plot device was also used in the 2003 made-for-DVD film Alien Hunter which I reviewed in July 2013. Watt's version sticks to the original plot but with the intriguing twist that the story is told entirely from the viewpoint of the alien. I haven't read much by Watts (I reviewed his novel Blindsight in March 2011) but there is a certain grim darkness to the story-telling which also features here.
Arrhythmia, by Neil Williamson. A dystopia in which the citizens are brainwashed into enjoying spending each day doing monotonous and meaningless assembly work in a huge factory, with the aid of constant music with a regular, driving beat. A spark of rebellion is ignited by a young singer hammering out a revolutionary message without the rhythmic beat – but is the rebellion all that it seems?
I can't say that I really liked any of the shortlist, although I acknowledge that they were all well-written. If I applied the test of "which would I like to read again?" then my order of preference would be: Watts, Williamson, Allan, Bodard.
P.S. Aliette do Bodard's The Shipmaker won the award. It isn't the first time I've disagreed with awards judges!