Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Reading the Hugos: Novelette

Welcome back for another edition of Reading the Hugos, 2020 Edition. Today we're going to take a look at the six finalists for Best Novelette.

Novelette is inherently a weird category. There's not really a substantial difference between a short story and a novelette, except that a novelette is just a little bit longer (but not as long as a novella, which really is a different form).

I would mention that only one work from my nominating ballot made the final ballot, but I only had one work on my nominating ballot - that being "The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye". I did not read much shorter fiction last year, but I'll always stop for one of Sarah Pinsker's stories.

Let's take a look at the rest of the stories on the ballot, shall we?

“The Archronology of Love”, by Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed, April 2019)
“Away With the Wolves”, by Sarah Gailey (Uncanny Magazine: Disabled People Destroy Fantasy Special Issue, September/October 2019)
“The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye”, by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny Magazine, July-August 2019)
Emergency Skin, by N.K. Jemisin (Forward Collection (Amazon))
“For He Can Creep”, by Siobhan Carroll (, 10 July 2019)
“Omphalos”, by Ted Chiang (Exhalation (Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf; Picador))

For He Can Creep: I go into every story with the hope and the expectation that is going to be something special and that it is going to knock my socks off even if I'm not wearing socks. Basically, I'm looking for a story to de-glove my feet. The problem, and I fully recognize this is a deeply personal problem, is that "For He Can Creep" is a cat story. I am at best deeply ambivalent about cats and cat stories.Tell me a dog story, and you've got me. Tell me a cat story and I'm just not there. "For He Can Creep" is a story of cats fighting the Devil. There's more to it than that, but other than appreciating Nighthunter Moppet, this just isn't a story for me.

Away With the Wolves: Sarah Gailey's story of identity and transformation is absolutely lovely. It deals with friendship and pain, it's sort of a werewolf story but that's not really the point of it all. The physical and unrelenting pain that Suss feels is only relieved when she transforms to a wolf, but the heart of the story is so gentle, so perfect and welcoming. I haven't read all of Sarah Gailey's fiction, but much of what I've read has an edge protecting that heart. "Away With the Wolves" wears its heart on the sleeve.

The Archronology of Love: Yoachim was a previous Hugo Award finalist in 2018 for her short story "Carnival Nine" and while that has no bearing on "The Archronology of Love", I enjoyed and appreciated "The Archronology of Love" more than Yoachim's earlier story. As can be guessed by the title, this is a love story - though a doomed love story. To a point, the love story happened before the story and this is just the desperate search to find the last moments of a dead love - but that love is so infused in the story that it works.

The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye: This is the second time I've read "The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye" and it holds up to multiple readings, which isn't much of a surprise given the mastery Sarah Pinsker has shown over the past eight years (has it only been eight years?). There is perhaps less tension in the re-read, but Pinsker's storytelling and reveals are top notch. I mentioned earlier that this story was on my nominating ballot and I am pleased that it holds up so well in comparison to a ballot full of excellence.

Emergency Skin: Some fiction is intensely tied to the moment and "Emergency Skin" is absolutely a reaction to the now. It is ultimately a hopeful story, though it begins with a mission to a presumably ruined Earth to mine the planet for a desperately needed resource to help prolong the lives of those who are now living in some distant utopia. These are the people who were able to escape. Little by little Jemisin reveals the truth about who left, how they left, and and what then happened when the wealthiest and greediest oligarchs left a dying Earth. This is a reminder of just how good a storyteller N.K. Jemisin is. It is also a statement of the hope that can be brought by ultimately positive science fiction.

Omphalos: An omphalos is "a central point, a hub, or focal point", which is a useful thing to know going into the story lest you go through the opening of the story wondering about how Ted Chiang was going to play off of the idea of Omelas as N.K. Jemisin did with "The Ones Who Stay and Fight". He doesn't. "Omphalos"isn't that story.

I dig the anthropology of the story, the examination of this human society and the backgrounding of history and religion and science and how it is intrinsically tied up into a created universe and how, in such a universe, faith can be the most fragile thing of all.  When Ted Chiang is at the top of his game there is nobody better. "Omphalos" is top shelf Chiang.

My Vote
1. Omphalos
2. Emergency Skin
3. The Blue in the Corner of Your Eye
4. The Archronology of Love
5. Away With the Wolves
6. For He Can Creep

POSTED BY:  Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 4x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him.