Tag Archives: novelette

Hugos 2017, part 1

Best Novelette

Best Short Story

Best Related Work

Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form

Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form

“The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” by Rajnar Vajra

Category: Novelette
Published in: Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine, edited by Trevor Quachri
Slates: Rabid Puppies & Sad Puppies

“The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” is a lightweight adventure story that — according to its subtitle — tries to take us back to the Golden Age of science fiction. There are space cadets who get into trouble because of a fight and have to make it up for it by going on an expedition to an alien world, the inhabitants of which the Earth scientists have a hard time understanding.

My own knowledge of Golden Age SFF is quite limited, I have to admit. However, what little I have read by the authors who are deemed “prominent Golden Age authors” by Wikipedia, for example, seems to suggest that the really lasting Golden Age stuff usually had a little more scope than this competently written but completely harmless little story. I remember enjoying “All You Zombies–” and “Nine Billion Names of God” considerably more myself.

So, is it actually a pastiche of Golden Age SFF or a pastiche of the somewhat mythic Golden Age mindset that we ahistorically associate with SFF of that era? I really don’t know, but I suspect the latter. What I do know is that it’s, again, a competently written but completely harmless little story. There’s nothing very imaginative, interesting, special or subversive that would make me remember that I ever read it. Maybe there’s something that Golden Age SFF fans can appreciate, but I fear it’s lost on me.

I think Rajnar Vajra is the most competent Puppy-nominated author I have read so far, even though the story is quite lame. Gray Rinehart’s and Kary English’s stories are powered by much better ideas, but they fail to make the most out of them. Vajra, conversely, executes quite well everything that is there to execute in his story — the downside is that there’s a limit to what you can really do with these space cadets.

“The Triple Sun” didn’t make me roll my eyes at any point, but it did make me yawn a bit. A rousing space adventure this was not.

Score: 4.5/10

“The Day the World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

“The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, written by the Dutch novelist Thomas Olde Heuvelt and translated by Lia Belt, is the only no-slate story in the three Hugo short fiction categories. It got on the ballot after a story by the ever-present John C. Wright was disqualified due to previous publication.

Category: Novelette
Published in: Lightspeed magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams
Slates: Nope

I was pleased that a Lightspeed story made it. It’s a very good magazine that won the semiprozine Hugo last year, after all, and it has published some pretty awesome fiction in 2014 as well. I’m quite sure I nominated two stories from the magazine for the Hugos, plus the whole magazine in the semiprozine category, plus the editor John Joseph Adams in the editor category.

I don’t read absolutely everything LS publishes, though, and Olde Heuvelt’s story was new to me. Naturally, I had some great expectations. Too bad this story let them down.

The title summarizes what happens in the story: up and down switch places and gravity starts to pull everything away from Earth. In this surreal environment, the protagonist tries to get back to his loved one who, unfortunately, doesn’t love him back anymore. He takes great pains to return her goldfish to her, and he meets a number of characters on his way.

There are some scenes in the story that are pretty evocative, but as a whole it’s too surrealist for my taste. Most of the encounters don’t really add anything meaningful to the story. Even though Heuvelt uses some edgy and interesting literary devices (comparing the man with the goldfish, having same lines in discussion between different characters etc.), there’s no depth. It’s just play with not enough storytelling logic, and I failed to enjoy that.

However, it’s nice to have a truly unpleasant protagonist for a change, and I do like the ambiguity of the fact that he repeatedly acts immorally because he is madly in love. After reading some reviews, it seems like some anglophone readers are struggling with the character, complaining that they found him unsympathetic and not someone they could root for. Well, no shit, Sherlock. That was the point.

Without the protagonist, I would have rated this work quite low, but he manages to raises the score for a couple of points. Still, there are better stories, and stories with a better grasp of goldfish biology.

Score: 6/10

“The Journeyman: In the Stone House” by Michael F. Flynn

Category: Novelette
Published in: Analog
Slates: Rabid Puppies & Sad Puppies

“The Journeyman: In the Stone House” by Michael F. Flynn is a sword and sorcery story without the sorcery part. It is situated in a post-apocalyptic world or on another planet where there are legends about arriving human spacecrafts and such, but the technology level is close to that of the Roman empire.

The main character is an adventurer who has been adventuring in some earlier Analog story as well. He isn’t terribly interesting in any way, and nothing of interest happens in the story, so I was left wondering what was the point, really. There’s some military training, sword-fighting and snappy dialogue that is meant to be smart-ass (I guess).

I didn’t enjoy it at all and have trouble seeing why it’s on the ballot.

Score: 1/10.

“Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” by Gray Rinehart

Category: Novelette
Published in: Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, a magazine edited by Edmund R. Schubert
Slates: Rabid Puppies & Sad Puppies

“Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” tells a story about a human colony on the planet Alluvium. Humans have been conquered and occupied by a race of spacefaring kitt… er, lizards, who have strange customs when it comes to dealing with the dead. The gist of the novelette is that burying a dead human makes the lizards very upset, and thus a dying man who plans his burial manages to shake things up. It’s an intriguing proposition, but the story itself felt quite dull.

The plotting would have needed some more work, even if the story is decently written. There’s just too much talking heads to keep me intrested. Now the whole story was about the dying guy’s friend finding out what it was all about, but the really interesting part would have been what happens next and what further complications there will be. It’s frustrating when a story fails to focus on the most interesting aspects of its proposition.

Rinehart could also have explored the tensions between humans and lizards in more detail. Now the whole occupation situation seemed quite artificial. Even though humans’ bitterness for the situation is mentioned a couple of times, it felt very superficial and unrealistic. Having read a couple of books about Palestinians, it seemed to me that this story lacked the desperation of people living under occupation in the real world. It was hard for me to get immersed in a storyworld that was this artificial.

This is the first story published in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show I’ve ever read, so it’s something new to me, at the very least. Card’s personality may scare off some people, but apparently he doesn’t really control the way the magazine is run day-to-day, so discarding everything that IGMS publishes because of the publisher’s views on gay marriage (“it’s the end of democracy in America”) or something like that is perhaps not a very sensible position. (Judging by Edmund R. Schubert’s own Hugo withdrawal post, Card’s name on the title is a same kind of disadvantage for the magazine as L. Ron Hubbard’s name is for the Writers of the Future contest.)

Knowing practically nothing about the magazine (you have to subscribe in order to read it online), it’s hard to say if the novelette does a good job at representing the kind of fiction that IGMS publishes. There’s a sample issue online for those who are interested, in addition to the Hugo-nominated story itself. After reading Rinehart’s piece, I’m not strongly inclined to give the magazine a go, because the story didn’t blow me away. However, it’s well possible that the Puppies failed to pick the best story that IGMS has to offer.

Score: 4/10

Even if this story didn’t really convince me, I’d like to add here Gray Rinehart has produced some interesting stuff, like this quite reasonable Hugo mess reaction post and this Larry Correia-inspired folk ballad:

End of the Puppy Monopoly in Short Fic, Plus Some Figures

There have been some interesting developments in the Hugo ballot. Two items were dropped due to eligibility issues, and two new nominees were brought in to replace them.

John C. Wright is no longer the person with the most nominations on the same year, even though he is the first man ever to achieve that. He has five nominations, same as Seanan McGuire in 2013.

More revealing, however, is the effect this change had on novelette category. There’s now one work of short fiction on the ballot that is not from neither Sad nor Rabid Puppy slate, “The Day the World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, published in Lightspeed. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m happy that something from Lightspeed made it, because the magazine has published some wonderful fiction this year and it was a shame nothing got into the ballot. One of the things I especially liked and nominated for Hugos myself is “Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology”, a great short story by Theodora Goss. I hope that Heuvelt’s story is as good.

This wrinkle in the system also gives us some further insight into the nomination mathematics. Because the nomination vote ranges were published with the original novelette ballot, we know that the least-nominated Puppy work got 165 votes. My guess is that it was actually Wright’s novelette, because that was only on the Rapid Puppies slate (the other four appeared on both Rabid and Sad slates).

As I’ve said before, it’s a huge number, significantly bigger than 118, the nominating vote count of “Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal last year — and that one got the most nominations then. Admittedly, more people nominated now, and the percentages of Kowal’s and Wright’s stories are roughly the same, about 16%. That’s still an insane number for a fifth story, and that demonstrates quite conclusively why voting blocs are bad for business in a vote like this — a large enough (15% of the voters or something like that) bloc that votes tactically is nearly impossible to beat.

So, there are at least 165 Rabid Puppy minded voters in the Hugo race, and at least 100 more of the Sad Puppy flavor (if we take a guess based on the high end of the ranges in novelette, short story related work and editor short form categories) — probably more, because you can’t have everybody bloc-voting in absolute lockstep and there’s bound to be some dispersing.

Chaos Horizon puts the maximum Puppy influenced vote somewhere in the 360 range that we saw in the novella category, but there were some John C. Wright, Tom Kratman or Arlan Andrews, Sr fans who were not ready to share the love for other works on the slate in different categories.

What about Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s nominating votes? He got 72 votes, 7%. It’s somewhat on the low end really when you compare it to the last year’s list:

  • “Lady Astronaut of Mars”, Mary Robinette Kowal, 118 votes, 16.2%
  • “The Exchange Officers”, Brad R. Torgersen, 92 votes, 12.6%
  • “The Waiting Stars Aliette de Bodard”, 79 votes, 10.9%
  • “The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling”, Ted Chiang, 75 votes, 10.3%
  • “Opera Vita Aeterna”, Vox Day, 69 votes, 9.5%

On the other hand, “Lady Astronaut of Mars” was well-known due to its disqualification the previous year. Aliette de Bodard and Ken Liu are both established professionals with Hugo, Nebula, Locus and BSFA awards undeir their belts. Torgersen and Day were on the Sad Puppy 2 ballot, which helped their novelettes.

72 nominating votes is actually pretty solid for somebody who is not so well-established in the SFF scene, and in a year without obvious hit pieces by high profile writers it should be enough to get you on the ballot. In 2013, it would have been on the high end vote-wise and low-end percentage-wise, but still on the ballot (check out the numbers in Kowal’s blog post). This year, with the slates in the game, Olde Heuvelt’s story didn’t stand a chance without a divine intervention, though. Happily for him and his fans, one just happened.

The novelette category might actually be the first one where all the works are available for the voters (and everybody else) for reading right now for free: