Ponies by Kij Johnson is certainly the most unique of the Hugo nominated short stories. It is far shorter than the other stories and isn’t actually science fiction, but it certainly deserves to be nominated for this award because it is one of the most effective horror stories that I have read in quite a while eliciting a number of levels of horror in a very short story.
This story is an alagory and does not attempt to be a realistic story. The names of the girls are things like TopGirl, Second Girl and similar. In addition it is a modern day story with unicorns that have wings, horns, can talk and with blood that smells like cotton candy. This is about children who surrender to the crowd who do something they wouldn’t want to do because that is what other people want.
In the case of this story in order to join the popular group of girls she has to remove two of her unicorn’s abilities. She chooses the wings and the horn, allowing her unicorn to retain the ability to talk. A simple choice once you’ve decided to go along with the crowd.
While this is easy to see with children I think that looking at this as a story about children is largely missing the point. For a vast majority of adults the situation is exactly the same, just a bit more subtle. We constantly do things we don’t want to do, not because they are necessary, but because other people think we should do them. We cling to images of success that don’t make us happy and work far harder than we need at jobs we don’t like to do it.
This is a story that will likely make you feel sick to your stomach as you read it and make you remember just how cruel children can be, but don’t stop there. Try to remember that we all have unicorns, things we love and want cherish but are willing to surrender, at least in part simply for acceptance.
You can read Ponies by Kij Johnson at Tor.com.