Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Hugo Novelette Reading

Reading the novelette category of the Hugo shortlist is a little bit less simple than reading the novellas because two of the stories are not available for free online (the Stix Hiscock and the Fran Wilde). I'm going to wait until the Hugo packet comes out for the Wilde and I'm not sure that I'll get through/bother with all of the Hiscock when it comes. I'll probably glance at the opening. We'll see.

Luckily the Hugo packet arrived promptly. The stories below are listed in the order I read them.

“The Art of Space Travel”, by Nina Allan (, July 2016)

This story is about a woman who works in a hotel near Heathrow, which happens to be the hotel the group of astronauts going to Mars will stay at before departing. The bulk of the story deals with her feelings surrounding space travel, which is inextricably tied up with her family history, especially her mother. The major emotional journeys for the protagonist, Emily, are her search for her father — whose identity she doesn't know — and her mother's illness, caused by proximity to space travel.

It's not a bad story, but nothing very much happens in it. We get a bit of a sense for a future in which a large mission is being attempted for the second time, but not much else about the future world is revealed. Emily's emotional journey isn't boring, but neither is it thrilling. The most interesting bits, for me, were about what happened to her mother. Mind you, part of the point there is that no one really understands her illness in full, so it's not really a plot thread with a resolution. I enjoyed "The Art of Space Travel", but I didn't love it. I am hoping that I will enjoy some of the other novelettes more.

The Jewel and Her Lapidary, by Fran Wilde (, May 2016)

My first impress of of this novelette was that it had too much world building for a relatively short story. In retrospect, if someone had told me up front that it was a novella, I probably would not have felt that way. This is a story about the fall of a royal family and the gem-based magic they used to keep their people safe and maintain peace. The story opens with a coup and mass murder, which should have been exciting but was bogged down a little with the explanation of how the gems worn by the Jewels and controlled by lapidaries works. I found myself rereading part of the opening, trying to get it straight.

That said, "The Jewel and Her Lapidary" wasn't bad, but it didn't grab me very strongly and it didn't wow me. I did feel affected by the ending, but it took me several days to read this not very long story, a sign of my generally lukewarm interest. I expect that others might feel differently (and obviously enough people loved this story to nominate it), so your mileage may vary.

“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay”, by Alyssa Wong (Uncanny Magazine, May 2016)

This was a gothic western, I think is the best way to describe it. In terms of feel, it reminded me of the Pretty Deadly comics, although the actual story is quite different. "You'll..." is about a darkly magical orphan boy, his best friend, and the crappy situation the both of them live in. And death and the desert.

It's written in second person, but not jarringly so. I am, however, curious as to why the author made that choice — it didn't seem integral to the story like the use of second person does in John Chu's "Selected Afterimages of the Fading" (in Defying Doomsday), for example. Westerns aren't really my thing, but this story didn't bore me or feel like it was dragging, so I expect it will ultimately rank well on my ballot.

“The Tomato Thief”, by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, January 2016)

This is another story set in the American west, which is really very coincidental of my reading order. The protagonist of this one is an old lady, not entirely human or unmagical, who is very keen on her tomato plants. And then someone steals her nice tomatoes and she acquires a mission.

"The Tomato Thief" is much more plainly written than the other Hugo stories I've read so far. I wasn't a huge fan of the style, but it didn't grate or offend me either. The story itself wasn't bad but, as with all the novelettes so far, I didn't love it either. My guess is it will rank in the middle somewhere for me.

“Touring with the Alien”, by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld Magazine, April 2016)

Another disappointing story. It had promise, from the first few sentences, but the main premise is no longer that original (except, why did the aliens only visit the US? This fact is stated but never addressed) and the secondary premise was interesting but not explored in enough depth. A shockingly egregious quarantine violation near the end really annoyed me and wasn't even used to show something interesting about character, like I half-expected.

The story wasn't badly written aside from the lack of depth mentioned above. But it clearly annoyed me too much for me to vote it very highly. Alas. I suspect I was also disappointed that the tour with the alien took place on Earth rather than in space.

Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex, by Stix Hiscock (self-published)

Pass, after some indecision.


A disappointing novelette shortlist, all in all. The short stories were a stronger category. I didn't hate any of these either, and actually I found them all to be of similar quality which does make ranking harder. That said, “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” was my top contender since it was well-written and so forth, even if I didn't love the subject matter. Then it's close between "The Art of Space Travel" and "The Tomato Thief", followed by "The Jewel and Her Lapidary", then "Touring with the Alien". But this category really did feel like much of a muchness.


  1. Hmm, so your overall feeling here is "meh!"

    I have to wonder why enough people liked these to put them on the short list. After all the fuss and carry-on about the Puppies, is there a less well known slate going on? One whose members don't do stupid things like announcing it to the world? I'm remembering the year when the winner of our local "best media fan writer" was someone who hadn't actually written anything that year and, while he did like media SF, never wrote it or about it. I suspect a bunch of his friends nominated him for fun. A nice guy, but he hadn't written anything!
    So, it can be done. Without all the public carry-on of the Puppies.
    It seems a little
    odd that you're still waiting for your Hugo packet this late in the piece.

    1. Well they're all reasonably popular authors, so I don't think there's a conspiracy. Nothing I nominated made the list, but in this category I nominated things that had a chance of making an Australian list, but didn't have enough global/US popularity/presence to make the Hugo list.

      As for the note on the Hugo packet— whoops! I wrote the intro before I got it but of course finished reading and posted after. Fixed. Thanks for spotting.