Welcome to another edition of Reading the Hugos! Today we're going to take a look at the Novelettes, a category which none of the stories I nominated made the final ballot. Of course, this is as good of a time as any to note that I only nominated one story (Matt Wallace's "Small Wars") and the odds were not in my favor.
I'll get a bit more into this when I talk about the specific story in question, but Novelette is the only category this year which includes a finalist from the Rabid Puppy Slate (see here for the slate and the impact) put there with the sole purpose of the slaters being dicks and attempting to embarrass Worldcon and people who care about the Hugo Awards. I almost described this as a "troll job", but the Rabid Puppies, but I didn't want to gild the lily. They're being dicks, and deliberately so. Most of the Rabid Puppy nominations were self serving: Castalia House works, authors, editors, blogs, and friends of the movement. Then, there are some works that could have (and perhaps would have) made the ballot without any help: China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, Deadpool. Finally, there is Alien Stripper Boned From Behind by the T-Rex, by Stix Hiscock - because the Rabid Puppies just can't have enough dinosaur porn when they decide to urinate in someone else's pool because they just can't let some things go.
Anyway, on to the stories!
Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex, by Stix Hiscock (self-published)
“The Art of Space Travel”, by Nina Allan (Tor.com, July 2016)
The Jewel and Her Lapidary, by Fran Wilde (Tor.com, May 2016)
“The Tomato Thief”, by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, January 2016)
“Touring with the Alien”, by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld Magazine, April 2016)
“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay”, by Alyssa Wong (Uncanny Magazine, May 2016)
Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex: It isn't quite fair to talk about Alien Stripper Bone From Behind by the T-Rex as to how it relates to a story on the Hugo ballot last year, but in this case I think it is pertinent. Last year the Rabid Puppies were were responsible for getting Chuck Tingle's Space Raptor Butt Invasion on the ballot in the Short Story category for no better reason than they wanted to embarrass the folks who care about the Hugo Awards by nominating science fiction dinosaur porn. It mostly backfired due to Chuck Tingle's delightful response and continued trolling of the Rabid Puppies (though the story remaining on the ballot will be a stain on the history of the Hugo Awards). So - they tried again this year with more science fiction dinosaur porn and once again managed to get it on the ballot. This isn't award worthy science fiction by anyone's definition. I could make an argument that in the other categories the Rabid Puppies managed to place a finalist, they do honestly think the work is strong and worthy, but given that they've repeatedly stated they don't care about the Hugo Awards, I know that's not necessarily the case. But this, this is another stain on the Hugo Awards because in twenty years when people who have no idea who the Rabid Puppies were or why they possibly mattered for a blip of time look at the past finalists to see what people thought were some of the best stories of 2016, "Alien Stripped Boned From Behind By The T-Rex" will be there. I don't know that it is bad story for the erotica it is intended to be. I'm not the audience for it, so I can't judge it on its own merits in its intended sphere. But as a science fiction story and a finalist for the Hugo Award? Sigh.
No Award: As a general rule, I use No Award in a very surgical manner. I
understand that not every work is to my personal taste and that simply
because I do not like something does not mean that it is inherently bad
or unworthy of a Hugo Award. I may prefer that something else would win
and that a particular work was not on the ballot, but again, that does
make the work bad. Unfortunately, there are also instances where my
subjective view is that the work is so bad that it is also
objectively bad and unworthy of receiving (or being considered for) an
award. There may also be examples of a work being so bad it comes out
the other side and is somehow entertaining. In both of these instances
No Award will be used.
The Jewel and Her Lapidary: I had previously read The Jewel and Her Lapidary as part of my reading of all everything put out by Tor.com Publishing and, as short as this is, I put the book down after only a few pages. Nothing about the tone and the writing connected and it felt like a complete waste. Had I left it there, this would have been listed behind No Award. Given a second chance, I appreciated the story a whole lot more. I think my failed first attempt was a situation of picking up the book at the wrong time. This time was better, though not nearly on the level of any of the other legitimate finalists on this ballot. I don't quite understand the adulation for The Jewel and Her Lapidary.
Touring with the Alien: Want to take an alien on a road trip? How about an alien that is intelligent, but not conscious? How about with the alien's translator, who is human but is also almost a separate species? There's a lot of cool stuff in this story and it was a near thing whether I was going to place "Touring with the Alien" just above "The Tomato Thief" or just after. What I most appreciated about "Touring with the Alien" is how the alien was treated as something completely "alien", as something completely other an incomprehensible. It also helps that because of this, we are always left wondering if perhaps the aliens really is conscious and making more nefarious plans and is using humanity.
The Tomato Thief: The world needs far more Grandma Harken in it (she was also in "Jackalope Wives".
"The Tomato Thief" lives on the voice and the character of Grandma
Harken, a woman who has seen and done it all and she's had enough of
whoever is stealing her tomatoes - except discovering the culprit opens
up an entirely different adventure where Grandma Harken tries to improve
someone else's situation. It's a journey through a fascinating
mythology. Vernon's writing is so smooth and her command of Harken's
voice is so strong that every moment spent with Harken is an absolute
delight. I could have happily spent a full novella with Harken.
The Art of Space Travel: This is a story of family and history and one woman finally understanding who her father is. Some thirty years after a failed manned mission to Mars, a second mission is about to launch. Two of the astronauts are staying at the hotel Emily works at. The Mars mission is more of a framing device for the story, but it forms the a push for Emily to think more deeply about her family's past. Her mother was an investigator for the tragedy of the first mission and she wonders if her father might have been one of the astronauts who died. But, perhaps that is just the wish for one's father to be more important and to have had a better reason to have stayed away. "The Art of Space Travel" may be light on speculative elements, but it is a simply excellent story.
You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay: With only nine published stories to her name I do not hesitate to say that Alyssa Wong is one of the best short story writers working today. "You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay" puts a stamp on that burgeoning legacy. This is a story of the West, of the desert, of a deep friendship, of identity, of family, and of an intense magic that draws visitors from out of town with questionable intentions. With Wong's note perfect prose and storytelling, the reader is drawn in deep to this raw and tense story. This is the best story in an overall strong category.
1. You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay
2. The Art of Space Travel
3. The Tomato Thief
4. Touring with the Alien
5. The Jewel and Her Lapidary
6. No Award
Our previous coverage:
BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 Hugo Award
Finalist for Best Fanzine. Writer / Editor of the mostly defunct Adventures in Reading since 2004. Minnesotan.