Novelettes! Good old novelettes! What do you call something that’s longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel? A novella, of course, but that’s too easy. Let’s invent something between a short story and a novella, and call it a novelette! On the one hand, it is a bit odd that SF/F seems to be the only genre in literature that makes this distinction (something about a legacy of SF’s pulpy magazine roots, where different sized works had different pay scales) and it seems rather pointless and confusing for no real reason. On the other hand, it just means we get to read more fiction, which is actually a pretty cool thing. Once again, none of my nominees made the final ballot, but such is the way of short fiction awards. Last year’s Novelettes were pretty darn good (with one obvious and notable exception), and it looks like this years will rival that:
- “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale“, Rajnar Vajra (Analog, 07/08-2014) – My clear favorite of the bunch, this tale of Exoplanetary Explorer cadets redeeming themselves after getting caught up in a bar fight is well written, well paced, and entertaining. It tells a full story, presents some interesting puzzles, and uses reason and logic to resolve the problems that arise. I don’t know that it’s particularly deep in terms of thematic heft, but it’s deeply entertaining, which is usually enough for me (and so many other stories seem to forget that part) and this story struck the right chord. I feel like I should be saying more, but this is the one story on the ballot that I definitely would have put on my nominations if I had read it earlier.
- “Championship B’tok“, Edward M. Lerner (Analog, 09-2014) – This one is a bit of an odd duck in that it feels kinda like a pilot episode of a TV show. In a colonized solar system, various unexplained breakdowns have been occurring with increasing frequency. This includes both human and alien settlements, and while the humans were able to weather the aliens’ initial invasion 20 years ago, tensions are high. The aliens are hiding something, the mysterious sabotage is hitting everyone, and the humans are getting ready to launch a new interstellar starship. I actually quite enjoyed the setup, but then, that’s mostly what this is: setup. It’s got a lot of great storytelling elements in play. Intrigue, subterfuge, conspiracy, and so on, but this feels like one of those stories that is really just an excerpt from a larger work. This sort of thing is always weird to judge when it comes to awards like this. I think it says something that I do really want to follow up on this story at some point, because that speaks to how engaging it was. But how to judge an incomplete experience when it comes voting time? Also worth noting is that Lerner’s prose style is a bit on the stilted side. I can see why some of the more literary Hugo voters are annoyed by a story like this. Often I read people’s complaints about this sort of thing and shrug them off, but they may have a point here. For instance, this sentence appears in the text: “Something long dreaded was at long last at hand.” Look, I’m not the most talented writer in the world, but even for me, this is a pretty obvious clunker. That said, it had some great ideas and the storytelling was on point, so it ends up falling higher on my list than lower (depending on how I feel, this may drop down a peg when voting time comes).
- “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium“, Gray Rinehart (Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, 05-2014) – This feels almost like the inverse of Championship B’tok. In this scenario, aliens and humans clashed in the past, but this time the aliens won and are keeping the humans kinda bottled up in their colony. The story concerns a man who is dying. His last wish is to be buried, a practice that he thinks might throw their alien masters for a loop. It’s a neat little puzzle and a complete story, but it’s not quite as entertaining or fun as the above two.
- “The Journeyman: In the Stone House“, Michael F. Flynn (Analog, 06-2014) – This is the weirdest of the bunch, a strange tale of various quasi-primitive clans coming together to train and set out on an expedition. Or something. This one is a bit light on plot. It’s got some nice character moments and a couple of great one-liners (particularly Sammi o’ th’ Eagles), but it seems to be somewhat lacking in the realm of points. Flynn’s style also threw me for a loop, as it’s pretty ornate and detailed, but didn’t really flow well for me (also annoying – the voters packet only had this on pdf, which has an annoying interface.) I did not hate it, but I never really got into it either.
- “The Day the World Turned Upside Down“, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014) – Remember above when I said that a lot of well written stories forget to be entertaining? Yeah, here’s a good example of this. The premise is that one day, gravity reverses itself. Most everyone who is outside simply falls off the planet, while those inside are slammed up against their ceilings, and so on. Interesting, I guess, but don’t go looking for explanations (fine) or even logical consistency (how are people still able to breath, why doesn’t water in rivers, etc… fall, and so on…). It reminded me of last year’s short story “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”, only this one is a little less coherent. There’s a guy and his girlfriend just recently broke up with him, making this the second time the world turned upside down for him (zing!) and he makes a trek across the city to get to his girlfriend’s apartment. Along the way, he meets a little girl and some other characters, but it’s all pretty pointless, and pretty emphatically not my sort of story.
So there you have it. I’d say that this compares pretty favorably to last year’s slate, and that it’s maybe slightly better than this year’s short story slate.