”Troika” by Alastair Reynolds
A former cosmonaut of the Second Soviet state has escaped from the prison he is apparently kept in order to prevent him from telling the secret of his last flight: He wants to tell something to an old woman who lives in a nearby town. He was visiting a strange artifact which arrived at our solar system apparently from nowhere. All the members of the crew went more or less mad. The story is told alternating on two time lines. The mid-section was little slow, but otherwise the story was very good.
“The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window” by Rachel Swirsky
A tale of a witch or sorcerer who was killed by treason, and is brought back to life several times during centuries. Excellent, poetic and well written story, even better that Swircky's last year's nominee.
“The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon” by Elizabeth Hand
A story of a fabled flying machine which was supposed to be flown before the Wright brothers, and about a replica made from it. Well written, but the science fiction content is fairly minimal and it is limited to the end of the story, where some irritatingly unexplainable things happen.
“The Lifecycle of Software Objects” by Ted Chiang
A story about AI pets which must be trained carefully (at least as carefully as “normal pets”) . First they were a popular fad, but when the amount of training needed become obvious, most people gave up on them. But a few were so fond of their pets that they kept training them for years. Slowly, the pets got better and better - to at least to some degree. Well written story, but then the ending seems only to whimper out - there is no real “bang” there.
“The Sultan of the Clouds” by Geoffrey A. Landis
Two visitors come to a colony on Venus which floats on air at an altitude where pressure and temperature are tolerable. That altitude on the whole planet is filled with such colonies, which are ruled more or less autocratically. The future head of the most important ruling family shows a great deal of interest towards a female visitor, while the male one gets involved with underground guerrilla movement. An entertaining and good story, but it is fairly standard science fiction.
All novellas were good this year, there wasn’t a single one I didn’t like for at least for some degree. Rachel Swirsky’s novella was even better that her nominee last year and it something which was very easy to place to the first place. The second place was also very clear - Chiang’s stories have always been good. This story wasn’t one of his best ones, but it was excellent nevertheless. The last three stories were harder to put in any order, I liked all of them about as much. They were all competent, nice stories, but they didn’t have anything really special, just “ordinary” good science fiction stories which would have needed something “special” to be really awardworthy.
My votes will be in this order:
1. “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window” by Rachel Swirsky
2. “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” by Ted Chiang
3. “The Sultan of the Clouds” by Geoffrey A. Landis
4.“Troika” by Alastair Reynolds
5.“The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon” by Elizabeth Hand