So we come to the short fiction categories of this year’s Hugo Awards. This year, I start with the Novelettes, that odd category that fits stories that are longer than a short story but shorter than a novella. If the past several years are any indication, these stories actually tend to be my favorite of the short fiction finalists. Short stories have been almost uniformly a disaster for the past few years (partly the doing of the Puppies, but it was an issue for me even before then). Novellas somehow seem to be bloated and overlong while still missing the depth you get from a novel (with the notable exception of Bujold’s Penric novellas, which I love). Novelettes hit the Goldilocks zone, providing enough space for a complete narrative, but not so much that the story drowns in hooptedoodle. Does the trend continue this year? Let’s find out:
- Touring with the Alien by Carolyn Ives Gilman – Mysterious alien ships arrive one night without warning. Translators (comprised of formerly abducted humans) emerge and claim the aliens come in peace and don’t want anything. A woman is hired by the government to drive around a translator so that he can see the sights. It turns out that the aliens are intelligent but unconscious, which has some interesting implications. This story works well, with a good exploration of consciousness with the occasional detour into other areas. The ending has a twist that’s pretty easy to see coming (though it does elicit some questions as to the premise of this whole road trip – aren’t there, like, security clearances or something? Is the trip even necessary?), but it works. Lots of open questions, but at least we’re getting something that’s engaging with an interesting idea and trying to hit that sense of wonder that makes SF so great. Short and sweet, this is certainly not perfect, but it’s got some solid ideas and it works well enough…
- The Tomato Thief by Ursula Vernon – An old woman with a penchant for growing tomatoes in the desert is surprised to find that a mockingbird is stealing her ripest tomatoes. All is not what it seems, and the old woman takes it upon herself to free some magically imprisoned folk. This is a neat little story, reminiscent of Stephen King’s Dark Tower setting, it has a solid throughline and a genial protagonist. Moderate levels of hooptedoodle, but manageable and probably the tightest plot of the bunch. I currently have Touring with the Alien at #1, but this is really close and could potentially take it when it comes time to finalize my vote.
- You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay by Alyssa Wong – A western about a necromancer pulled into service by greedy folk from out East to clear out a mine that’s overrun by the undead. We find out about the source of his power and his relationship with a prostitute, but it seems his talents doom him to be forever alone. Or something like that. A markedly more somber tale than The Tomato Thief, but it almost feels like it’s set in the same universe (and thus, it also has that Dark Towerish feel to it). Well written, but not a whole lot of meat on the bone here. Certainly a worthy entry, even if it didn’t completely do it for me. Pretty clearly a #3 or #4 rank for this one.
- The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde – A valley protected by magical gems harnessed by “lapidaries” and wielded by ruling “Jewels” is invaded, thanks to the betrayal of a high ranking lapidary. Now it’s up to two teenagers, the titular Jewel and her lapidary, to repel the invaders. This is one of those stories that just drops you in the deep end, which makes it rough going at first, but it eventually settles as you begin to understand the various worldbuilding concepts. The ending is a bit anticlimactic, but it works. Certainly not the best of this crop, but a decent read nonetheless. Again, could move up to #3, but not any higher.
- The Art of Space Travel by Nina Allen – A woman works at a hotel while astronauts destined for Mars stay for a night. We get a little about the mission and some information about a previous, failed mission, but it turns out that all the SF elements of the story are nothing more than window dressing for our protagonist’s character study, relationship with her mother, and her quest to find out who her father really is (again, we initially think he might be an astronaut, but the truth is far more mundane). Well written and a decent story on its own, but it only barely clears the bar of SF and frankly not all that much happens, which knocks it down a peg or two (or, uh, 4) in the ranking.
- No Award – I don’t hand these out often, but…
- Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex by Stix Hiscock – *sigh* Some people like dinosaur porn and three breasted green aliens that shoot lasers out of their nipples, I guess. Oddly, this is the second time I’ve actually read speculative erotica due to the Hugo Awards. That’s a lot, voters. Below No Award for obvious reasons (this is only on the ballot due to trolling from a certain subset of fandom, so while I did read it just to be sure, it doesn’t really deserve to belong here).
Not bad, I say. Stay tuned for the Short Story roundup next week. Will I get to the Novellas? Or the Best Series? I might have, but then The Rise and Fall of DODO arrived in the mail and… Sorry novellas, that takes priority.