I've now finished reading the five nominated works in this year's "Best Short Story" category. I've previously commented on three of them, and to get my comments all in one place I'll reuse the gist of them here.
"A Single Samurai" is a fantasy story involving a magical samurai warrior's attempt to halt the path of a mountain-sized kaiju monster. Leaving aside a couple of small verbal infelicities, it is a well-written, well-crafted piece told in the first person by the samurai, whose character - one marked by honour, tradition, and invincible determination - is conveyed effectively. So vast is the kaiju that the samurai's efforts appear ineffectual and futile, but read on... All in all, this is a solid short story, if marred by something of a deus ex machina style of ending. By all means give it a try and see what you think.
"Totaled" is a more innovative and sophisticated story, and I think it's a genuine contender for the award. It's difficult to describe this one without giving away too much and spoiling the effect. Suffice to say that it's told - mainly in present tense, and for good reasons - from a very unusual point of view. Kary English was not previously on my radar but appears to be a noteworthy talent.
"On the Spiritual Plain" by Lou Antonelli (nominated for Best Short Story). I wish I could have liked this tale of human/alien interaction, but it doesn't belong in an award nomination list at this level. I expect that some readers might assume I'm hostile to its religious theme, but that doesn't bother me at all (I may be somewhat anti-religious, but I'm not a fanatic). Quite simply, the story is not up to Hugo standard in its basic technique. Some good copyediting might have improved it, but even with a lot of additional work this would not, as I see it, be a legitimate Hugo-winning story. Antonelli is a prolific, well-credentialed writer (particularly of short stories), but if he has published something worthy of a major international award, this is not it.
I've now also read "The Parliament of Beasts and Birds", by John C. Wright, who is an undoubtedly talented author, and Steve Rzasa's "Turncoat". Wright's piece is an animal fable in which the various animals argue and posture over who should have dominion with the passing of humanity from the world. "Turncoat", by contrast, is a story of posthuman existence, narrated by an artificially intelligent interstellar warship - there's nothing dreadfully wrong with this piece, apart from a bit (quite a bit) too much exposition. Alas, I found it pedestrian.
The problem will keep recurring this year: how much stronger might this list (each list) of nominees have been without blatantly political block voting delivered care of the "Puppies" campaigns? We'll never know. Meanwhile ... none of the stories really blew me away, but one came closer than the others. In this company, the standout, for me, was "Totaled", by Kary English : for its skill and innovation, it will receive my vote. I doubt that any of the others merit such an important international award.