Most years we read all the Hugo-nominated short stories and novelettes in our book club, as generally all (or nearly all) of them are available free online. This year, that is not the case. :( (yes, I blame Vox Day). So we were unable to read them as a group. However I still read them myself for voting reasons, and my impressions are below.
This is the last of the Hugo works I’ll be reviewing. If you have a Hugo membership and you haven’t voted yet, you should do so very soon, there’s less than two weeks left! And they warn that their serves often get hammered on the last day.
“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed, Feb 2015)
I don’t really understand the love for this piece. It’s cyberpunk, and I grew up in cyberpunk. It is my home genre, I love everything about it. But “You Shall Know Her” doesn’t do anything new. This story has been covered a dozen times, from Ghost In The Shell to the starter adventure given in the CyberPunk 2020 Rulebook!
Nor does it fit quite right. It feels a little off, like someone trying to emulate a style that doesn’t come naturally to them, and they can’t exactly pull it off. It goes over the top in an attempt to imitate a form, and ends up feeling like a good B-movie. Those can be tons of fun, but they aren’t really award winning.
“Flashpoint: Titan” by CHEAH Kai Wai (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
This is a perfect example of “making the action scenes boring”, and it’s nothing but actions scenes. We see a bunch of stuff blowing up, but we don’t care who wins, because we were never given a reason to. There aren’t any characters or stakes we care about. And even the fights are yawn-inducing, because it’s a bunch of technobabble that doesn’t mean anything without a world built up around it to give it context.
“Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu (Uncanny Magazine, Jan-Feb 2015)
In this story, the Chinese government found a way to double (or triple?) the population density of Beijing by folding it up. This lets a lot more people live there, but in exchange they have to sleep a lot more. Instead of losing 1/3rd of your life to sleep, you have to lose (depending on how rich you are) either 1/2, 2/3rds, or 5/6ths. However this is apparently still a good deal, because millions of people jump at the chance, and compete for the opportunity.
This story also got a lot of positive attention, and I’m even MORE confused as to why. It’s an interesting premise, but it certainly isn’t ground-breaking. It’s message is dirt-simple: being poor sucks. Um, ok. Can you say something more about that? Or just make us feel it?
Because, worst of all, this story is poorly written. I’m just gonna come right out and say it. I don’t care if it’s a translation issue or a cultural variance or something. By every standard that I apply to prose, this is just plain bad writing. It is flat and emotionless. It tells rather than shows. It paints in broad, flat sweeps, rather than poignant details. The sentence structure is clunky. The POV jumps around at random, sometimes even within paragraphs. Even if this was an AMAZING new concept with message that made you go “Ohhhhhh… shit!!!” those would still be extreme sins. They’d have to be truly fantastic to make up for prose this crappy. But it doesn’t have any of those. It’s just plain “meh” in all respects, and crappy in writing. Heck, this is on the same level as last year’s “On A Spiritual Plain”. I have no idea how this made it on any award lists.
“Obits” by Stephen King (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Scribner)
Steven King takes the premise of Death Note, but doesn’t do anything with it. I suspect this is one of those nominations given out because when the author published his truly fantastic genre-defining work(s), he was somehow overlooked, and this is to make up for that. Fair enough, I guess? I see those sorts of nominations every now and then. Still, it feels like a disservice to whoever should have been in this slot instead.
It did get me to wondering how old this idea is. Obviously Death Note is the work that took the idea to its fullest/best exploration. But the concept of “being able to anonymously kill anyone in the world, instantly and unstoppably, without being a trace” has got to go a looooong way back, right? I bet there’s ancient myths using this idea.
“What Price Humanity?” by David VanDyke (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
This one was actually pretty decent! It has the same basic premise as Vinge’s “The Cookie Monster,” but applied to a military setting.
As far as re-using mindwiped soldiers goes, this was done better in “The Immaculate Conception of Private Ritter,” but that’s a high bar to clear, not everyone can be Seth Dickinson. It did pretty well for itself.
All in all, I enjoyed myself. It did seem to try to force some angst in the end in a way that was completely unwarranted (“Isn’t it terrible that these people get to relive the most awesome two weeks of their lives endlessly, all just so they can save the human race?”). But, eh, I can let that slide.
In the end, I don’t think a single one of the Novelettes is actually award-worthy. VanDyke came closest, and I can see him making the grade fairly some day! :)
Best Short Story
“Asymmetrical Warfare” by S. R. Algernon (Nature, Mar 2015)
Cute, and fun! Not award-material, but it’s clever. :)
“Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld, January 2015)
Also cute, and also fun! This story has some neat ideas, and explores them in a fun way! I don’t really know comedy, so I don’t know if it’s good. But the writing is well done, and it’s certainly the best of this year’s lot. In a normal year this would probably be near the bottom of my list, and I am saddened that I can’t see the stories it would have legitimately competed against. That being said, at least there’s something worth voting for in Short Story this year!
“If You Were an Award, My Love” by Juan Tabo and S. Harris (voxday.blogspot.com, Jun 2015)
This is not a short story, it’s a shit someone took on the internet, which Vox has splattered on the Hugo list to show his disdain. Disdain of the same award he’s trying so hard to win. Oh Vox.
“Seven Kill Tiger” by Charles Shao (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
Hm. There’s… not really much story here? It’s basically “all humans are horrible, awful people, and we’d be better without them.” It’s literally just barbarity upon genocide upon cowardice. This is the sort of gloomfic that normally stays in high school notebooks. I really like grimdark, but this wasn’t even grimdark. It would do very nicely as the prologue of a post-apocalyptic novel, but it doesn’t work as a story in itself. The only good part is when it quotes a 400 year old poem, and you’re really better off just reading that poem instead.
Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle (Amazon Digital Services)
I loved it. See my previous comments here. :)