Hugo Awards: Novelettes

As far as I can tell, Science Fiction is the only genre that continues to use Novelettes as a category. For the uninitiated, the Hugo Awards defines a Short Story as less than 7,500 words. A Novelette is between 7,500 words and 17,500 words. A novella is between 17,500 and 40,000 words, and a novel is more than 40,000 words. Everyone else says there are short stories and Novels, with the Novella being anything inbetween (and many awards only feature short fiction and novels, with no space for novellas). Science Fiction, on the other hand, clings to the Novelette. Legend has it that this is a legacy of SF’s pulpy magazine roots, where different sized works had different pay scales, which I guess makes sense, but it’s otherwise a pretty pointless distinction. That being said, I was much more happy with this year’s slate of Novelettes than I was with the Short Stories… There were 5 nominees, and it only took a couple hours to read all of them (on average, somewhere between 30-60 minutes per story), and if you’re looking for some quality short fiction, this is a decent place to start. My rankings for the Hugo Voting.

  1. “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”, by Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2013) – Anyone who’s looked at SF short fiction awards will be bound to recognize Ted Chiang’s name. Indeed, even I’d heard of him, and I don’t read much short fiction. This was the first time I read Chiang, and I am suitably impressed. The story takes the form of a relatively near future article, with our narrator describing how the world’s life-logging is about to get even more complicated by the emergence of better search and analysis software. Basically, this is a world where most people record most every action in their life logs. This proves useful in a number of ways, notably in court cases, but since so much data is collected, it can be difficult and time consuming to find a specific memory. Along comes this new software that promises easy recall. Our narrator is unsure of whether or not this will be a good thing. This future tale is juxtaposed against a missionary in Africa (Tivland), who introduces the written word to a tribe that relies solely on Oral Tradition. Of all the things I’ve read so far, this one seems to be the most relevant and prescient in that it’s something we’re going to deal with at some point. Those of you who are uncomfortable with something like Google Glass may be quite skeeved out by this story, especially insofar as Chiang is very clearly evangelizing this sort of technological change as a good thing. That is ultimately this story’s biggest fault (if you would count it as such), because while Chiang pays lip service to the challenges of such technology, he comes down very clearly on one side, and the entire story hinges on the narrator’s discovery of one particular memory and the revelation that imparts. It makes for a fine story, but it also feels rather contrived and manipulative. On the other hand, this is a very thought provoking and well written exploration of a topic that will only grow more important over time… A clear #1 vote here.
  2. “The Exchange Officers”, Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jan-Feb 2013) – (Sorry, not available online…) This is a well executed, entertaining, but pretty standard military SF story. The US is competing with China in space, and have devised a complex system of space stations built by robot proxies that are controlled by Operators back on Earth. The story alternates between the introduction and training of the titular “Exchange Officers” and a Chinese attack on an uncompleted space station. Torgersen manages to cover a lot of ground while keeping the story moving, and it’s the most entertaining and fun of all the Novelettes for sure. That being said, this is a soft #2 that I could easily swap with #3 below. It will probably depend on my mood at the time of voting…
  3. “The Lady Astronaut of Mars”, Mary Robinette Kowal (, 09-2013) – Apparently there was a bit of controversy about this story during last year’s awards because it was disqualified for only being available as Audio in 2012. Well, the text of the story was published in 2013, and voters decided to make things right by renominating Kowal’s excellent story. It basically tells the story of the titular Lady Astronaut, many years after she helped colonize Mars. At the core of the story is a heartbreaking dilemma that I don’t want to go into during this short review. Suffice to say, our protagonist has to make a painful decision. It’s an emotional, human decision and not some sort of SF puzzle or anything like that. So the resolution isn’t quite satisfying, but when all of your choices are horrible, how could it be? And given the circumstances, it’s about as good as it could get. The story is well written and has a sorta retro feel to it (lots of references to punch cards, which made me chuckle), but it’s that central dilemma that really weighs on my mind and makes this story something worth recognizing.
  4. “The Waiting Stars”, Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam) – This is a rather interesting far-future Space Opera type of tale that really made me think that there must be more to this universe (and apparently, there are other stories and books set in this universe). Unfortunately, as a standalone story, it doesn’t quite work as well as the above stories. That being said, I did enjoy it, and it does have some interesting components, but I kept wishing the story would go into more detail. It was never boring and it wasn’t so obtuse that I couldn’t read it or anything, and I did enjoy it, but it never really struck a chord with me…
  5. “Opera Vita Aeterna”, Vox Day (The Last Witchking, Marcher Lord Hinterlands) – Given all the vitriol surrounding Vox Day, I was not terribly excited to read this novel. It turns out that while this is clearly not a sexist/racist/homophobic diatribe, it’s also not all that great. It was never really boring either, but it’s a story where very little happens. It’s set in a sorta Fantasy world and leverages many of those tropes, but all that happens is that an Elf hangs out at a Monastery and befriends a priest. They talk philosophy and use Latin and stuff, and then everyone dies. Spoiler, I guess, but there’s not really enough here to spoil. Again, the prose itself is fine and I didn’t mind reading it, but when it ends, I was left wondering why I should really care. I don’t see any reason to vote No Award above this or anything so drastic, but there’s no way this is going to win, and it is clearly my least favorite of the bunch.

From what I’ve seen, I’d put even odds on the Chiang or Kowal to win. I don’t think anyone else has a realistic chance, though I think 4 out of the 5 stories are well worth reading and I wouldn’t be upset if any of them won… I may keep the Torgersen at #2 simply because he’s an underdog, and there are some folks who will be gunning for him because he was on Correia’s “Sad Puppies” slate. I find that unfair and since I did enjoy the story, I’ll probably keep it there.

I just finished the second Grimnoir book and am starting on the third (i.e. the actual nominee) this week. I’ve also started the Novella slate, and should be finishing that off soon enough. If I have time, I will try to tackle the second Wheel of Time book as well. The voting deadline for the Hugos is the end of July, so you will only have to deal with these Hugo posts for about another month or so…

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