Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Reading the Hugos: Novelette

It is time to take a look at the Novelette finalists for the Hugo Award. Out of the five finalists, only "Obits" was on my nomination ballot. While I (obviously) believe that any of my other four nominees would have and should have been on the ballot, the story I feel the loss of the most is Sarah Pinsker's superb "Our Lady of the Open Road". But, we are here to look at the stories which did make the final ballot, so let's get right to it, shall we?

And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead”, by Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed 2/15)
Folding Beijing”, by Hao Jingfang, (Uncanny 1-2/15)
“Obits”, by Stephen King (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams)
“What Price Humanity?”, by David VanDyke (There Will Be War: Volume X)
“Flashpoint: Titan”, by Cheah Kai Wai (There Will Be War: Volume X)

What Price Humanity: I've struggled with exactly how to rate this story. On the one hand, "What Price Humanity" was highly predictable, all the more so because I've read enough science fiction and without being overly spoilerish, it is also because I have read one particular award winning science fiction classic that I felt I knew exactly where VanDyke was going at the end of the story. On the other hand, even in its predictability, "What Price Humanity" was still an enjoyable story of military training and computer simulation. The story is well constructed and well written, but it was missing a little "something" to make it special.

Flashpoint: Titan: Cheah Kai Wai ratchets up the tension bit by bit with interstellar conflict as the threat of a space battle looms and builds and builds. "Flashpoint: Titan" is approaches nonstop action between one lone ship (with some rather specialized weaponry) and a small fleet bearing down on them. While lacking nearly anything resembling characterization,"Flashpoint: Titan" works as a straight up action story.

Folding Beijing: Hao Jingfang presents one of the more unique settings I've come across. "Folding Beijing" is a real world story, but one set however far enough in a future where Beijing isn't just the city that you can see from several miles away. It can and does fold in on itself, where the inhabitants are put to sleep and the city folds and reforms and rebuilds itself into something new in a 48 hour cycle. The wealthiest and most powerful are in the more sparsely populated First Space. The workers who do the most menial jobs are, of course, in the Third Space which never sees the daylight. "Folding Beijing" isn't exactly dystopian, but has it has a bit of that feel. It's both a story of inequality as well as just a small personal story of a man trying to make a better life for his child however he can. The setting is a cool (if inherently unpleasant) concept and the storytelling here is strong. I'll be looking for more from Hao Jingfang.

And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of the Dead: Rhye is a flaming ball of incandescent rage and it is only because "And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of the Dead" is a science fiction story that I feel compelled to mention that this is a metaphor for Rhye's character and a literal statement. But with that said, Rhye is a flaming ball of incandescent rage and so is Bolander's cyber-pulp story. It takes place much within a hack job, but the persistent threat and action of violence is pervasive - even as part of the hacking. Bolander, and thus the story, hits the ground running with a shot to the head and doesn't look back. It's one hell of a ride.

Obits: Stephen King's "Obits" is the one finalist here which was on my nominating ballot. It's a story that wonders what might happen if the very act of writing an obituary kills the subject of that obituary. While not my favorite story in King's The Bazaar of Bad Dreams collection (that would be the novella UR), I loved the mechanics of the columnist's discovery that his obituaries are actually causing the deaths he is writing about and how that power escalates into something truly terrifying (for the columnist, it's not so much of a terrifying story for readers). With "UR" I wanted so much more story, but "Obits" hit a perfect length for the story King is telling. Very well done.

My Vote
1. Obits
2. And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of the Dead
3. Folding Beijing
4. Flashpoint: Titan
5. What Price Humanity

Also, feel free to look at the rest of our Hugo Awards coverage:
Short Story
Dramatic Presentation: Long Form 

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Writer / Editor at Adventures in Reading since 2004. Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2015, editor since 2016. Minnesotan.