Some Hugo Reviews

I figure if I waited until I got my nominee packet, I’d never have enough time to finish my Hugo reading. I’ve tried to start with the short stories and intend to work my way up through the novelettes to novels to maybe the novels if I have time. I’ve also read at least one SP slate story that didn’t make the cut and the Annie Bellet story that was withdrawn. I’ll try to share my thoughts briefly on each of these.

Short stories

On a Spiritual Plain – The best thing I can say about this is that it’s a better Hainish story than the Telling was. It explored the novelty of its subject matter more than it did the profundity. I would’ve liked to see a deeper look at the philosophical and theological implications of a christian chaplain having to deal with shepherding ghosts on an alien world, but overall it was a good story.

Tuesdays with Molakesh the Destroyer – This was a mildly amusing piece, but felt like something one would either read in middle school or write in high school. If I were a highschool creative writing teacher, I’d definitely give this one an A+, but it doesn’t rise to the level of best of the best. I’m not heartbroken that this was not on the final ballot.

Goodnight Stars – I’m rescinding my “Really Good” assessment on this one. I’ll admit that it benefited from my low expectations of the field and that it was the second piece I read from this year’s slate. It’s not that it’s bad; it just feels like a juvenile effort; what would be a really good piece in a creative writing class isn’t necessarily Hugo caliber.

Parliament of Beasts and Birds – So far, this is the best thing I’ve read from this season and certainly worthy of its nomination. It’s not an easy read, and it’s something you’ll probably want to read more than once, because you’re bound to find new things in each time you do. It’s in a class above everything else I’ve read these last few weeks, and we should be so lucky if all Hugo nominees were written at this level. Note that this is my assessment after having expressed reservations about the number of nominations Wright received this year and stating that if I simply could not stomach him, I’d concede that No Award was on the table if neither he nor anything else in a category he was in impressed me; I now know that will not be the case.

Turncoat – The intro to this reminds me of one of my D&D players who always describes what his character is wearing and carrying in exacting detail and everyone else just sort of groans and rolls their eyes, waiting for him to finish. There’s a lot of navel gazing in this one, and I found it a chore to read. The blunt and matter of fact way in which all of the action is described is supposed to illustrate the disconnected disinterest of the narrator (the narrator is supposed to be an AI controlled space warship but comes across as a boring dude that I am bored with) but it ends up leaving me disconnected and uninterested in what’s happening. After a page or two I just started to skim; anything interesting or exciting that happens in this story is dulled and muted by the flatness of the prose. Powerful inhuman thinking computers make for good story subjects but bad story-tellers.

Totaled – This had an interesting idea behind it, but never really went down any of the roads that it opened up. The story could’ve focused on the research being done and the ethical ramifications of keeping a brain in a jar, played up a possible love triangle between the researcher, the assistant and the brain in a jar, or even played out the existential horror of being a brain in a jar. All three of these were teased at, but the story ended up simply being “Well, I’m a brain in a jar, that sucks, now I’m dying.” Fin.

The Day the World Turned Upside Down – I actually could not finish this story. I could’ve overlooked its unsound scientific premise if the main character had not been terrible. I could’ve overlooked a terrible main character had its science been not so unsound. But between a goldfish that blinks and can survive in flat 7-up, gravity as a magical metaphor for being a crappy emo dude instead of a scientific law, and hang-gliding pedophiles (if gravity reversed, there would be no convection currents to ride around on looking for children to rape, right?), I could not bring myself to fishing this mess.

I’m still trying to find “A Single Samurai” somewhere online to read. Once I have, I can make my for-sure verdict on the Short Story category at least. Unless Samurai blows me away, I’ll be voting for Wright’s Parliament of Beasts & Birds, which is definitely on its own rung. I’m measuring the short fiction against stuff like Dunsany, Lovecraft & Chambers, and Wright’s piece is the only one that’s come close so far.

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