Thursday, 3 May 2018

Hugo Ballot Discussion: Novelettes

It's actually been several days since I finished reading the Hugo shortlisted novelettes, but I hadn't been in the right headspace to write a considered blog post, hence the delay.

Links in the story title go to my original reviews (not all of which exist). You can see the full Hugo Ballot at the official website. Venue links go to the page where you can read each story online. The discussion follows the shortlist and mini-reviews.

Children of Thorns, Children of Water,” by Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny, July-August 2017)

In this story we follow Thuan and his friend as they attempt to infiltrate one of the Houses of the Fallen in an alternate reality Paris. During the standard examination for entry into the House (as servants), something unusual goes wrong and everyone has to evacuate a wing of the house.

From what I remember, this story has a minor spoiler for House of Shattered Wings, but definitely doesn't require reading the second novel, House of Binding Thorns (I haven't yet). That said, my reading of the story was influenced by my prior knowledge of the world building and I suspect it wouldn't stand alone as a story as well as it does part of a whole. I believe it was intended to promote interest in House of Binding Thorns, which it does reasonably well. I am definitely interested in reading the sequel now that I've been reminded of the world again (if only I wasn't already so far behind on my reading...).

Extracurricular Activities,” by Yoon Ha Lee (, February 15, 2017)

Set in the same universe as Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem, this story follows Jedao while he is still young. He goes on an undercover mission to extract a friend from academy. I really enjoyed this story. It was funny with serious moments. A good read for both readers of the novels and new comers to the world.

The Secret Life of Bots,” by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, September 2017)

A delightful story about an ageing maintenance bot on an ageing spaceship that has been pulled out of a scrap yard for a last desperate mission. This story strikes a perfect balance between informing the reader of the human-centred happenings and the struggles faced by the bots.

A Series of Steaks,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld, January 2017)

An excellent story about 3D printing forgeries of beef. It was a delightful read that made me giggle and also marvel at the level of details included. If the author wasn’t already on my list of short story writers I like, this story would have put her there.

“Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time,” by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny, May/June 2017)

A drunk trans guy gets illegally bitten and turned by a vampire. In a society that has flying cars and socially integrated vampires, but still treats trans people similarly to ours, Finley bumps up against problems unique trans vampires (who aren’t legally supposed to exist). A really good, thoughtful story.

“Wind Will Rove,” by Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s, September/October 2017)

I didn’t hate this story but it’s hard to articulate why I didn’t particularly like it. It’s competently written and all that, it’s more the subject matter that didn’t do it for me, I think. On the surface, a story about a generation ship mid-flight and a musical historian/school teacher should be interesting. And indeed, the opening was more appealing, talking about the myth of her grandmother playing her fiddle during a spacewalk (completely nonsensical, but that fact was acknowledged). But a lot of the story focussed on a large string-centric folk music playing group, which didn’t do it for me. (Once upon a time, the string section was the bane of my existence, so I’m not pretending objectivity or anything on that point.) As an exploration of how a generation ship society might cope — years down the track — with having once lost all their cultural databases, I didn’t feel it went far enough. Partly this could be explained by how closely the story followed the protagonist, but I still feel there were more interesting issues to explore than just those the author focussed on. So it’s not a bad story, but I didn’t love it.


This is a very strong category and I find my favourite stories very difficult to rank. The four middle stories (in the order listed above) all absolutely delighted me and I don't know how to choose! The other two didn't grab me as much, which is not to say that they aren't good stories, just that they aren't my favourites in this batch. I actually nominated both "Extracurricular Activities" and "The Secret Life of Bots" but if I had read "A Series of Steaks" before nominations closed, I would have added it to my ballot.

"Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time" is probably the most interesting take on vampires interacting with elements of modern or future society that I've read. "Extracurricular Activities" was a very accessible introduction to the world of Ninefox Gambit — more so than the actual first novel — and followed a very charismatic character that I will always be happy to read more about. Then it comes to a showdown between a story about an ageing and sentient maintenance robot and a story about 3D printing fraudulent beef. The stories are so different it's hard to compare them and I absolutely loved both of them. Good thing we have preferential voting in the Hugos (yay, democracy)... but it's still too hard to choose.

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