I've become a fan of Escape Pod, and they managed to snag four of the five Hugo-nominated shorts for Podcast. So now, I've been seeking out the Hugo Nominees. I've read/heard all five of the shorts; here's how I think they stack up:
Down Memory Lane, by Mike Resnick. Blech. Of the five Hugo shorts, this is the only one I well and truly disliked. The prose is competent, but the first three quarters of the story are nothing more than a cloying Hallmark Channel progression of Alzheimer's; the sci-fi twist appears very late in the game, isn't that impressive, and strikes me as selfish and desperate when the author is clearly gunning for a loving sacrifice. If I'd seen this story in either Worldwrights or WorD, I (and, I suspect, several others) would have ripped it a new asshole. I'm stunned that it's been nominated for any "Best Of" award that doesn't include a qualifier along the lines of "Produced in the Topeka Kansas Public High School System." Pass.
Seventy-Five Years, by Michael A. Burstein. Not a bad story, exactly, but I'm not certain I'd call it a good one, either. In the late 2090's, a senator wants to push the release of detailed census information from the constitutionally-mandated 72 years to 75 years; his ex-wife tries to talk him out of it. It's an underwhelming concept, and the execution consists entirely of a pair of talking heads. There's a few surprises tucked in there, but nothing all that exciting. Again, another story where I'm surprised it merited anything more than a polite form rejection.
Singing My Sister Down, by Margo Lanagan. Now we're talking. This story didn't quite do it for me, but unlike the prior two, I attribute that to taste rather than to the story's merits. It's basically a story about an execution; it's personal, character-driven, stylized and moody as hell. Some might question its specfic credentials, but the method of execution is (as far as I know) both utterly unknown in human history and crucial to the story; 'tain't hard sci-fi, but by gawd it's speculative all right. I generally prefer my specfic to have a larger scope than this, but it seems like the people who do like it respond very strongly to it. Wasn't my cup of hemlock, but by all means give it a read and decide for yourself.
Tk'tk'tk, by David D. Levine. This one is a charmer; a less-than-smooth salesman pursues a Big Deal on an alien planet that batters him to hell and back. An admirably restrained story, Levine pulls us into his hero's plight without resorting to cheap life-threatening theatrics. He never seems to be in any real physical danger, but we feel for the poor bastard as circumstance and his own unfamiliarity with a very alien culture conspire to break him down a piece at a time. My only complaint -- and it's a fairly substantial one, actually -- is that the story's sci-fi credibility is surprisingly weak. It's a classic case of duct-taping s-f trappings onto a story that, strictly speaking, doesn't need them; you could set this story on modern-or-earlier Earth and it'd work just as well. Drop an American/European businessman into the right Asian culture, and you barely even have to change the dialog. But, accepting that they're a bit tacked-on, the alien features of the culture are often very alien indeed; the hero can't count currency or read local street signs because his sense of smell isn't up to it, for instance. All in all, well worth a look. (And check out the Escape Pod podcast; you'd think this one would be literally impossible to do as an audio piece.)
The Clockwork Atom Bomb, by Dominic Green. Oh, hell yes. Now this is the kind of story I expect to read when I'm reading something on the short list of the year's best specfic. A weapons inspector in a post-nuclear-civil-war Congo discovers ... a problem. A big, biiiiiig problem. I won't say what it is; it's not a spoiler, exactly, since Green reveals what's going on fairly early in the proceedings, but he presents enough info for the alert reader to figure it out before Green lays it out explicitly, and I'd hate to cheat anybody out of such a wonderful "Oh, shit!" moment. (And as bad as you think the situation is at first, it's actually far far worse.) The main character is engaging, a fundamentally decent man whose regular contact with the worst ways in which human science can be abused have left him with a profoundly skewed perspective. (At one point late in the story, he watches corrupt officials selling nuclear waste as a light/heating source ... and ignores it, since those glowing bricks are only going to kill one family at a time. And by that point, there's no question that he's making the right call.) Smart, grim, inventive, unpredictable, and horrifically plausible, this is the story I'm cheering for. This Dominic Green fellow intrigues me; I clearly need to seek out more of his work.