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.

Advertisements

2017 Nebula Nomination Thoughts: Novelettes

  • “The Long Fall Up” by William Ledbetter (F&SF, May/June 2016)

Free version unavailable.

A quiet, banter-y story that takes place soon after an apocalypse of some sort. The rich and famous live on vast ships out at sea and have commandeered all available resources and amenities, leaving the rest to eke out a living as they can. When an impulsive, talkative rock star from one of those ships washes ashore, she’s the first human being the taciturn, scavenger Bay has seen or spoken to in years. These two women may be like oil and water, but together they might find something they’ve each been without—connection. Like Sarah Pinker’s award-winning novelette from last year, there’s enough story and world-building and potential for a longer story that I would have preferred reading over the shorter novelette version. Otherwise this was a pleasant, engaging read.

WOW.

This story is written in one of my favorite genres: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In a far-off future, damage to the earth and environment is a thing of the past, thanks to grains that are programmed to monitor and protect the land and anchors, grain-imbued humans that act as their proxy and are rooted to the land they come from, unlike the day-farers, who are grain-free and obligated to always travel and never settle. Frere-Jones has been an anchor all her life, and she has lost her husband and son for daring to rebel against the grains’ ironclad will. Now, for protecting day-farers from the grains’ wrath, she’ll pay a terrible price—and maybe make a difference.

I loved this story. It has a unique original concept that’s excellently executed, it’s gripping and filled with tension, and has enough pathos to make you really feel it, tinted with just the right amount of hope that maybe things will change. I also loved the Golden Bough-esque world-building and the way the grains both draw their power and motivation from memories and monitor and compartmentalize them to manipulate the anchors into fulfilling their programmed goals. All of the world-building is top-notch, and Frere’s dilemma is perfectly realized within the context of the world she inhabits.

  • The Orangery” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, December 2016)

This novelette draws inspiration from the many women in Greek mythology who are turned into trees for refusing the attentions of a deity. A guardian has tended the Orangery, a sanctuary of sorts housing all the trees who were formerly women, for years on end, alone, until Apollo breaks in to take back Daphne for good. Interspersed within the main narrative are the stories of three women-turned-trees, told by a guide who used to a tree herself. It’s an intriguing take on agency and choice, and what kind of agency and options a woman has when the only way for her to escape the attentions of a man is to cease being human. A solid entry.

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

I bounced hard off this one. In a kingdom with magical jewels where royalty are known themselves as “Jewels” and have lapidaries who can hear the jewels’ voices and wield their powers, the princess Lin and her lapidary Sumi, the only ones to survive a palace-wide betrayal that left everyone but them dead, must fight to save their kingdom from a conquering army and commander before it’s too late. The neck-breaking pace of this novelette read as though the story believed itself to be a full-length novel, except it wasn’t. The result was a story jammed in to fit a length that felt way too confining, whose world-building consisted of simplistic details about how the jewels worked and repetition of the rules binding Jewels and lapidaries. Pass.

Alyssa Wong never writes the same story or kind of story twice, and each one feels distinctly unique and fundamentally hers. A weird west story about a boy named Ellis who can channel the power of the desert and resurrect the bones of the dead, Marisol, his best friend and the one he loves, the man who wants to exploit the dead for his own profit, and the thin line between death and resurrection and desiccation and rebirth. The written setting is fantastic, the prose and imagery are lovely, and the story makes similarly excellent use of pathos and hints of change as “Blood Grains Speak Through Memories”. It’s also perfect for fans of Pretty Deadly.

My vote: The story of my heart on this ballot, and my first choice, is “Blood Grains Speak Through Memories.” “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” is runner-up.