Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Novelettes: three from the 2014 Hugo ballot

Having received the Hugo voter packet, I started reading some of the shorlisted fiction. I'm not sure if I'll end up reviewing everything, but for now I've decided to share my thoughts on three of the shortlisted novelettes. All are really excellent stories that do not make ranking them easy.

“The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal 

(maryrobinettekowal.com / Tor.com, 09-2013)

A lovely story. Set in a alternate version of the 80s, on Mars, it was not quite what I expected. The bulk of the story takes place 30 years after the titular character was on the first mission to Mars. She is mostly retired but still dreams of the stars. Her husband is terminally ill and a large part of the story deals with their life choices from her point of view. Most notably, their decision not to have children because of her career. It's nice to see a story dealing with these issues; women "sacrificing" family life for their careers is not often a focus and rarely a positive one, especially when compared with male characters making the same choices. A really great story.

“The Waiting Stars” by Aliette de Bodard 

(The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam)

Another excellent story. It follows two threads of story: salvagers trying to revive a family ship that was relegated to a ship graveyard during a war, and a group of girls who were “rescued” during the way and brought up the Galactic way. At first it was not obvious how the two threads were related — apart from both parties being Dai Viet. Once it was revealed what the connection was, I experienced a “wow” moment as everything slotted together and the thrust of the story changed. What I had been reading as a sort of war-induced Stolen Generation type of story turned into something both completely different and chillingly not.

(Picture used only for this free, non-commercial edition, under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License)
Cover credits: violscraper on Flickr

“The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” by Ted Chiang 

(Subterranean, Fall 2013)

I enjoyed this story even though it was a story in a very different sense of the word. It’s told as a piece of futuristic narrative journalism, putting me in mind of #longreads type of journalistic pieces, juxtaposed with a story of the Tiv tribe in Western Africa. Jijingi of the Tiv spends time with a European missionary learning how to write. On the one hand, we have the future journalist writing about the social and personal effects of a new technology can can search ubiquitously recorded personal video logs, and on the other we have Jijingi coming to terms with the concept of writing and learning about its uses and faults as a memory aid. What starts off as an exploration of types of memory (internalised and externalised, organic and technologically assisted), turns into a discussion of the nature of truth, as the title suggests. Honestly the only slight disappointment (and I do mean slight) with this story was that the story of Jijingi was inserted by the journalist, rather than placed next to the journalist’s story by the writer (if that makes sense). I think it’s because it made the journalist seem a little too self-aware in the end. But it was still a good, thoughtful story.

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