Hands up, anyone who knows the difference between a novelette and a novella. Anyone? Okay, a novelette is a work of fiction that clocks in at anywhere from 7500 – 17500 words; basically it longer than a short-story but shorter than a novella. Everyone take notes because there’ll be a test later.
This year the Hugo novelette division features six very strong entries (well, five, and one that wins for humor at least), covering the range from Partly Sci-Fi to Mostly Fantasy to whatever category you want to attach to Stix Hiscock’s story. Click the jump for a brief review of the Hugo 2017 nominees for Best Novelette.
“The Art of Space Travel” – Nina Allen
I even have a file now, stuff I’ve found online and printed off. If you think that’s creepy, just try having an unknown dad who might have died in an exploding rocket and see how you get on. See how long it takes before you start a file on him.
The history of Earth in Nina Allen’s story includes two huge events: a Mars mission disaster thirty years ago that killed everyone aboard, and a new Mars mission set for a week from now, one from which no one will ever return.
This story…is not about those two expeditions. This is about Emily, an employee in the hotel where two of the astronauts will be spending their last night on Earth. Emily dreams of other worlds, and worries about the gradual decline in her mother’s health and memory, but otherwise she’s just stuck in a comfortable rut as a housekeeper. At least until she finds out she may have a surprising connection to the first Mars expedition. It’s a bittersweet story, a little wistful, a little hopeful. It has less to do with the science of space-travel than it does with the beautifully mundane experience of just being human.
“Alien Stripper Boned from Behind by the T-Rex” – Stix Hiscock
Yes yes, all right, let’s get the giggles out of the way with. The following is a quick and completely un-nuanced summary of the situation. There’s a certain group that has two conflicting agendas: a) the Hugo Awards have been overrun by political correctness and diversity and feminism, and awards should go to deserving manly male authors who write in the style of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and b) the Hugo Awards are a meaningless joke, and to prove it they’ll game the system and nominate something completely out of left field that they didn’t even read, ha-ha, aren’t we funny?
Stix Hiscock’s nomination is obviously a result of that second agenda. It’s straight-up inter-species porn, but keeping that in mind it’s not actually a bad story. Sure, it’s packed with romance-lit cliches; the main character breathlessly narrating a description of her own sexual desirability and then falling in love with a hunky stranger at a strip bar are just two examples. But there are moments of humor in between the over-the-top sex, and it’s clear that the author was fully aware of the ridiculousness of a steamy hook-up between an Apex Predator and a green-skinned three-breasted alien stripper who shoots lasers out of her nipples.
So what the heck, it’s only a dollar on amazon, and I’d love it if the author could make enough money to attend the award ceremony in Helsinki so she (yes, she, Hiscock is a woman) could politely thank the above group for furthering the cause of diversity in sci-fi/fantasy literature. ‘Cause that shit would be hilarious.
“The Jewel and Her Lapidary” – Fran Wilde
Fran Wilde’s entry is epic. In just a few pages she’s created an entire world, with its own physics and magic and a system of government based on Jewels (members of royalty) and their Lapidaries (bonded servants who can control the gemstones that the ruling family uses to hang onto their reign.) There’s almost too much information here; the many different types of gemstones and the jewelry that’s made out of them, the history of the planet, the political maneuvering that leads to a single princess and her lifelong servant being the only survivors of a bloody palace coup, it all feels like this should be stretched out into an entire novel instead of crammed into a single novelette. Definitely a good read, but I found myself hoping that this is just the seed of a future book.
“Touring with the Alien” – Carolyn Ives Gilman
Carolyn Ives Gilman’s entry is exactly what it says in the title, although that doesn’t fully describe everything that happens when a part-time government operative accepts a job to show the sights to a visitor from another world. There’s a little bit of horror in this one, but it’s the understated kind of horror of traveling with an alien you can’t see, can’t communicate with except through its human translator, and can’t pretend to understand because the aliens who’ve shown up in Earth’s skies insist that they don’t actually want anything.
Similar to “The Art of Space Travel” in that the science fiction elements are a way to explore humankind, specifically our obsession with consciousness and whether knowing what we’re doing and why we’re doing it actually makes things better or worse. It also takes the trope of the alien being who can’t understand human emotions, and looks at it just slightly sideways.
“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” – Alyssa Wong
This is an odd one, and for more than just the elements of Strange Western (with a generous portion of Native American magic). Like Fran Wilde’s story, this one feels like a segment of a much larger book. There’s the sense that the reader has been dropped into the middle of something already in progress. There’s a happy ending (sort of), and a few of our questions are answered (maybe), but there’s too much going on in this tale of zombies, wild desert magic, vengeful desert gods, and an orphan shape-changer who dreams of freeing his dearest friend from a whorehouse to wrap up in just one story.
“The Tomato Thief” – Ursula Vernon
If you’ve read this column before you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Ursula Vernon (also known as T. Kingfisher), so take it with a grain of salt when I say that while all of the other entries are good, this is the one I think needs to win the Hugo.
Set in the same world as her story “Jackalope Wives”, it has everything in it that I love about Vernon’s writing. Whimsical descriptions and dialog that sparks and crackles? Check. A mad passion for gardening? You bet. An existing story or mythology that has Vernon’s touch of “I wonder what if?” added? I’ll just say this: Train Gods.
There’s also a beautiful desert landscape and a collection of endearing and/or fascinating characters: a shape-changing mockingbird under a curse of some kind, a mysterious enchanter who’s keeping the mockingbird prisoner, a coyote who’s delightful and infuriating in all the ways that Coyote usually is. And of course there’s Grandma Harken, a cantankerous gardener who knows enough about magic and enchantment to have the sense to leave it all alone as much as possible. She’s perfectly content to live all by herself on the edge of town with no neighbors to bother her, and there’s only one thing that could make her go against every instinct and march into an adventure: fresh tomatoes.
The world was hard and fierce, but it also contained tomato sandwiches, and if that didn’t make it a world worth living in, your standards were unreasonably high.