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Hugo 2012 2: Novellas

Countdown by Mira Grant (Orbit)
Review here. It's absolutely true and undeniable that I quite enjoyed Countdown, and thought it was a good story; and indeed it is, in a nihilistic, scientifically precise, world-ending kind of way.  The problem with Countdown is the required knowledge; for a reader not versed in the Newsflesh series, there are chunks of the novella that won't work, and that's a problem that brings this down the ballot a little, although it remains a great piece of work worthy of its place here.

“The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November/December 2011)
Review here. This novella doesn't deserve its place on the ballot, on the other hand.  A cackhanded attempt to tackle issues of genocide and survivor guilt, Gilman's piece really reads rather appallingly; it doesn't quite have the honesty to tackle the Holocaust dead-on, but the degree to which the Vind are obviously the Jews (they're bankers and financiers! they're accused of a secret conspiracy to control everything!) and the use of "Holocide" to describe the genocide, really undoes that.  I can't see what the merit of this one is, honestly, other than some faux-worthiness, perhaps...

“Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov's, June 2011)
Review here. Kowal's story is a fun little piece, an intelligent and well-written AI-based whodunnit/detective story; the clues are a little mixed at times, and the red herrings well laid, but in the end this tends towards working far more often than not, which is more than you can say for many of these kinds of stories.  The one problem is a combination of implausibility in one of the basic elements of the plot, and a slight lack of substance - it's a good and intelligent story, but doesn't really seem to leave much behind after reading...

“The Man Who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson (Asimov's, September/October 2011)
Review here. This is an absolutely beautiful, brilliant and astounding story.  The combination of the mundane and the fantastika, unique amongst this ballot, of bridge-building with the strange and unexplained "mist", is absolutely amazing, and the human relationships and indeed characters altered over the course of the story as our bridgebuilder touches them is awesome to behold; Johnson's grasp of every aspect of her story is incredible, and the whole thing is told in a way that to me is reminiscent of a fairy-tale in its slightly fuzzy edges, almost.  An utterly beautiful, wonderful piece of work.

“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu (Panverse 3)
Review here. This is another great entry onto the ballot, and everything that The Ice Owl wanted to be, I suspect; after all, Liu's story similarly deals with genocide, with survivor's guilt (albeit only ever second-hand or second-generation), and with ideas of history and the past.  The documentary format works rather well, albeit at times a little strangely (presenting it as an audio documentary might've worked better, as oftentimes we're left with no visual sense of what's happening); and characters still shine through quite strongly.  A dark, horrible piece all too close to reality, but Liu's handling of it is sensitive and masterful.

Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld / WSFA)
Review here. Another novella of beautiful prose and interesting ideas, Valente's work suffers slightly from comparison to some of the other pieces on the ballot, but as a character-portrait rather than a story in the traditional sense it is fantastic; the slow building up and creation of the character of Elefsis works incredibly well, and the mythological underpinnings are used very effectively.  As a story it is not only well-told but also an interesting one, but at the same time the language can feel a little mixed; immediately compelling, on reflection a little more mixed of a blessing in some ways. This is, however, a very strong piece.

Overall, this is going to be a four-tiered ballot; choosing between first and second preference, and then between third and fourth preference, is going to be very, very difficult, because it is such a strong and well-selected ballot, as a whole; so well done, Hugo nominators!


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 11th, 2012 03:27 pm (UTC)
This, by far, the best category this year. Which isn't necessarily high praise, but I do feel that there are at least multiple worthy winners. I went for the Kij Johnson, with the Ken Liu second and the Kowal third.

I agree with you completely on 'The Ice Owl'. 'Countdown' is not a novella - it's bonus material for 'Feed', with no actual plot or structure to speak of. It ought to be in the back of that book, not published in its own right. So they were ranked after 'No Award'.

ETA - although the smart bet on a winner would surely be 'Countdown'. Mira Grant has a big following, and I don't think she has a chance of winning the novel category, so there might be some 'consolation prize' voting.

Edited at 2012-07-11 03:29 pm (UTC)
Jul. 11th, 2012 04:00 pm (UTC)
I honestly disagree about Countdown; I don't see that having a novella plugged integrally into a pre-existing world is necessarily a bad thing, since we're also looking at a Novel shortlist where 40% of the nominated works are later parts of series, one the fifth entry (and odds-on favourite to win the category at that)!

I also happen to disagree that it has no plot - indeed, that's one of its strengths, in some ways. It only has no plot if we also believe that The Man Who Ended History is also plotless, and I don't accept that proposition.
Jul. 11th, 2012 04:50 pm (UTC)
Oh, to be clear, I've personally read and loved novellas set in a pre-existing world: some that provide background information, some that provide alternative takes on key events, some that are integral to the series, even. It's possible to do this sort of thing well, even to award-winning standards.

But this particular chunk of text set in an existing world just does not work as a novella in its own right. There's no plot that is integral to the piece itself: nothing is developed or resolved separate to the presentation of the background material. The characters are sketched, at best. Incidents and scenes in the novella relate to each other only through the fact that they're background to the books.

I came at the novella having not read 'Feed' or 'Deadline', so I probably have a different perspective. As someone unfamiliar with the series, I was left dissatisfied and with the feeling that what I'd read wasn't a coherent bit of writing. It just wasn't a story. It was background filler for the series, pasted together.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


reading, books
Daniel Franklin


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