Sunday, July 10, 2016

The 2016 Hugos: Novelette

The 2016 Hugos: Novelette

By Rich Horton

As I wrote in my first post in this series: I am not planning to reflexively rank Rabid Puppy entries below No Award. I am of course disgusted by the Rabid Puppy antics, and I feel that many worthier stories were kept off the ballot by the Rabid choices. And if a story is bad enough, it will certainly be off my ballot, with No Award the last choice. (That’s always been my approach.) But, this year in particular, many of the nominees supported by the Rabid Puppies were either unaware of that, or aware and quite clearly not happy with that. Also, I don’t want to reduce the meaningfulness of the win for those worthy winners – if they finish first and No Award is second, to my mind it to some extent delegitimizes their wins, through no fault of their own. Better to have been chosen the best with every voting on merit than voted best simply because all the other choices were automatically rejected regardless of quality.

The 2016 Hugo nominees for Best Novelette are:

“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed, Feb 2015)
“Flashpoint: Titan” by CHEAH Kai Wai (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
“Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu (Uncanny Magazine, Jan-Feb 2015)
“Obits” by Stephen King (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Scribner)
“What Price Humanity?” by David VanDyke (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)

I’ll go ahead and show my nomination longlist (I think I ended up nominating the first 5 on this list but really I don’t think there was much separation top to bottom, and I may have switched a couple):

“Twelve and Tag” by Gregory Norman Bossert (Asimov’s)
“Acres of Perhaps” by Will Ludwigsen (Asimov’s)
“The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild” by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld)
“Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathagan” by Ian McDonald (Old Venus)
“Endless Forms Most Beautiful” by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro (Analog)
“The Heart’s Filthy Lesson” by Elizabeth Bear (Old Venus)
“This Evening’s Performance” by Genevieve Valentine (The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk)
“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed)
“Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang (Uncanny)
“My Last Bringback” by John Barnes (Meeting Infinity)
“The Deepwater Bride” by Tamysn Muir (F&SF)

Thus, two stories among my nomination candidates made the ballot, which is actually not unusual.

Oh well, that’s enough about my choices. It does give you a hint as what will come first on my ballot, though! Except that I’m not sure -- I could easily flip the first two spots.

  1. Folding Beijing, by Hao Jingfang (translated by Ken Liu) 
Here’s what I wrote about “Folding Beijing” in the March 2015 Locus: “The conceit here is that Beijing has been literally folded into three separate parts, that each get part of each day. The division is unequal, in a very explicitly class-based fashion, and the story opens in Third Space, with Lao Dao, a waste inspector, as he plans an illegal trip to First Space to deliver a love letter from a man in Second Space to a woman there. The idea itself if fascinating and nicely depicted, and the social differences between the three Spaces are well described and only too believable, and the characters, Lao Dao in particular, are also well done.” So, to my mind a very original concept (perhaps recalling Philip Jose Farmer’s Dayworld to a degree, as well as numerous stories with Dayside/Nightside divisions), used effectively to deal with class differences.

(I should add a note about the translator: Ken Liu of course is a first-rate writer (and a Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Award winner), but his contributions as a translator, in introducing excellent Chinese-language SF to the English-speaking world, are also very praiseworthy. (He also translated last year’s Hugo winning novel, The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu (no relation).)

  1. And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead, by Brooke Bolander 
Here’s what I wrote in the April 2015 Locus: “Rhye is an android of some sort, made to be a killer, and after leaving the army she has been rescued by another android, Rack, a gentle man who is a computer expert. The two seem a traditional team: brains and muscle, as it were, but as the story opens Rack has gotten into trouble. A mobster has killed him for not finding his son quickly enough. Said son's brain had been uploaded, and Rack had followed him there. Now Rack's body is dead, and Rhye is forced to upload after him, to look for the mobster's son with the dangled reward of at least retrieving Rack's brain. This is neat stuff in itself, and the story of Rhye's journey in the virtual world is well-executed, with a perfect twisty ending (perfect in that I saw the right answer in advance, but in a way that seemed earned, not cheap or gimmicky). Best though is the manner of telling: Rhye's voice, profane and vulnerable and very darkly funny. (By the way, Bolander swears in an author profile that she had never heard of the drink “Rack and Rye” before naming her characters – I had assumed the names were on purpose, either way, it works.)”

This is excellent action SF, with a pretty solid SFnal premise behind it.

  1. “Obits”, by Stephen King 
This is about a guy who wants to be a journalist, but at the wrong time, i.e. now, with papers shedding employees (and cash) and online places paying peanuts. He ends up writing a nasty satirical obituary column for a TMZ-like website, for peanuts of course. When he asks for a raise and his boss brushes him off he gets mad and to vent, writes an obituary for her. When she suddenly dies he gets scared, then a bit tempted – what if he tries writing an obituary for someone really evil? Well, you can see where this is going, and it goes there, with no real twists (and, as King makes sure to tell us, no real resolution). This is decent stuff, and King is an engaging writer, for sure, but this isn’t really brilliant. It’s not King at his best, it’s not particularly original – I just don’t see it as Hugo material.

  1. “Flashpoint Titan”, by Cheah Kai Wai 
This is set on board an experimental Japanese warship in the Saturn system. Ships start acting suspiciously, and it becomes clear that a sneak Chinese attack on the American colony on Titan is in the offing. The commander of the new Japanese ship offers to help, but he is constrained both by rules of engagement – until the Chinese are proven to act hostilely, his hands are tied – and also by a need to keep the experimental weapons on board his ship secret. What follows is bog standard mil-SF, and decent enough stuff, but nowhere surprising, nowhere a cut above any other particular story.

  1. “What Price Humanity?”, by David VanDyke 
This opens with a long infodump setting up the situation: the Solar System has been engaged in a long war against the alien Meme (a really bad name choice these days), constantly throwing them back only to face another wave. Must humanity “use inhumane means” to fight this war? Then we switch to the POV of Captain Vincent Markis, in a strange situation which quickly suggests to him a virtual reality setup to keep his brain going while his body is regenerated. The VR setup gets more complex, and soon Markis meets others in it – all fellow veterans. Soon they are doing wargames … Again, it’s easy enough to see where this is going. It’s competent mil-SF – it’s not a bad story – but it doesn’t stand out either.

So – two stories that I’d be happy see win the Hugo, and three stories that, while readable enough, certainly publishable, are not at all distinguished. Not the first time that’s happened, no doubt, but still regrettable.

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