2017 Hugo Nomination Thoughts: Novellas

Theme I’ve noticed this yearthe Hugo ballots more closely match the Nebula ballot than previous years (ignoring the past two years of Puppy-rigged ballots), and no more so is this the case than the Hugo ballot. I barely had anything new to read at all! This seems to speak to some amount of consensus among the “popular” and the “professional” categories of voters that make up the two awards about the best works published in 2016.

Unfortunately I was not able to finish reading all the nominations before the awards tonight (namely Penric’s Demon). (Seriously, what is up with conventions like WorldCon and RCCC occurring one month earlier than usual?) Aside from this one discrepancy, behold the novella ballot review.

  • The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle, (Tor.com Publishing)

Previously reviewed elsewhere.

  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson, (Tor.com Publishing)

Previously reviewed elsewhere.

  • Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, (Tor.com Publishing)

Previously reviewed elsewhere.

  • Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold, (Spectrum Literary Agency)

Did not finish in time; intrigued by the bit I read.

Previously reviewed elsewhere.

  • This Census Taker by China Miéville (Del Ray/Picador)

I don’t care that this is written by China Miéville, and I don’t care that everything he writes is supposed to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. I have way too large a TBR pile and too little time to waste on books that bore me and my god, was this fucking boring. I gave up 70 pages in. Theoretically there’s a story buried underneath all the words put on paper to look and sound pretty and create setting, but I don’t have the time or interest to slog through and see if there is.

(I have enjoyed several of Miéville’s novels in the past, but he remains one of those authors whose writing I feel obligated to like because the Literary Establishment—both SFF and otherwise—have indicated that he can do no wrong, and even if he does do wrong it’s still brilliant anyway.)

My vote: A Taste of Honey

2017 Hugo Nomination Thoughts: Novelettes

Next up, novelette time, aka “Emily frantically rushes to finish reading all the Hugo nominations before the actual award ceremony.”

(The Rabid Puppy slate pick is not being reviewed.)

A quiet, literary science fiction story. Emily, the head housekeeper of a hotel where a team of astronauts will be staying before leaving on a mission to settle Mars, juggles caring for her fuzzy-brained mother who she calls Moolie and imagining/researching the identity of her father. Tying together Emily, Moolie, Emily’s musings on her father, and the astronauts’ impending mission is a wonder of space and its possibilities, the momentous feeling of being part of something grand and larger than yourself, even with inevitable, costly, and deadly failures.

Nina Allen’s writing reminds me of Jo Walton’s, with a bit more of an artistic flair on the word-smithing level, with lines like “It’s all still inside, I know it—everything she was, everything she knows, still packed tight inside her head like old newspapers packed into the eaves of an old house. Yellowing and crumpled, yes, but still telling their stories.” The story has a nice homey, neighborly feel to it and the writing is lovely, but overall it’s a bit loosey-goosey for my taste. I appreciate the craft and composition more than my experience reading and having read it.

  • The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde, (Tor.com Publishing)

Previously reviewed elsewhere.

More American Southwest, desert-y world building. Set in the same universe and starring the same Grandma Harken last seen in the Nebula Award-winning short story “Jackalope Wives”, Grandma is out to determine just who or what is stealing her newly ripened tomatoes. The answer is far more complicated than it seems. To stop the thief and free those he’s trapped, Grandma Harken takes a journey across a desert containing train gods, coyotes, gila monster dragons, and more.

Ursula Vernon has a knack for writing layered world-building filled with sensory details and characters (and stories themselves) with a penchant for dry, sardonic humor. I loved the hints of desert lore intertwined with the straightforward, engaging storytelling, and I enjoyed Grandma Harken’s down-to-earth toughness and love of the simple things in life, such as tomato sandwiches.

An alien invasion story crossed with a good old-fashioned American road trip. A middle-aged itinerant driver named Avery takes a job transporting to St. Louis an alien—whose species has zero consciousness yet are far more knowledgeable than humans can ever be—and his human translator named Lionel. His and Lionel’s relationship is parasitical—on behalf of the alien. The more the alien experiences consciousness through Lionel, the more he dies.

It’s a thought-provoking story, unique and mind-boggling while grounded in the realism of small-town America and sincere questions of what it means and feels like to be conscious and have awareness. Carolyn Ives Gilman does a good job balancing the thought experiment elements with the storytelling and forward momentum of the narrative. I enjoyed trying to wrap my brain around the ideas of life with and without conscious thought, and I’d be curious to learn which and how many of the ideas and suppositions presented are based in scientific fact or reasonability.

Previously reviewed elsewhere.

My vote: Almost all of these entries are strong, and I can make a case for why each of them should or might win. My vote lies with “The Tomato Thief”, though my hunch is that “The Art of Space Travel will take the prize.

I’m going to try as hard as I can to get my post for the Hugo novellas up before the end of next week. I only just obtained a copy of This Census Taker and still don’t have a copy of the Bujold entry, so we’ll see what happens.