I thought this was a strong year for novellas, but not, perhaps, quite as good as last year. I need to caution, however, that I have not yet read some significant novellas. These include Seanan McGuire’s Beneath the Sugar Sky, P. Djeli Clark’s The Black God’s Drums, and Greg Egan’s Phoresis. (Also, a couple of Nebula nominees that were not on my radar: Jonathan Brazee’s Fire Ant, and Kate Heartsfield’s Alice Payne Arrives.) I should also add one other option that I listed last year, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Prime Meridian, which may be officially eligible this year, not last year.
So, here’s my current list of candidates, which, as noted, might expand:
L. X. Beckett, “Freezing Rain, A Chance of Falling” (F&SF, 7-8/18)
Aliette de Bodard, The Tea Master and the Detective (Subterranean)
Greg Egan, “3-adica” (Asimov’s, 9-10/18)
David Gerrold and Ctein, “Bubble and Squeak” (Asimov’s, 5-6/18)
Carolyn Ives Gilman, “Umbernight” (Clarkesworld, 2/18)
Ian McDonald, Time Was (Tor.com Publishing)
Kelly Robson, Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach (Tor.Com Publishing)
Juliette Wade, “The Persistence of Blood” (Clarkesworld, 3/18)
Peter Watts, The Freeze-Frame Revolution (Tachyon)
Martha Wells, Artificial Condition (Tor.Com Publishing)
Of these stories – none of which would disappoint me if they won the Hugo – my four favorites, in no particular order, are:
1. Ian McDonald, Time Was – A lovely timeslip piece, about a man who discovers an interesting letter inside an obscure books of poems, and in his research finds evidence of the poet and his lover turning up again and again at different sites of conflict. The frame is important – the story is effectively not just about the time-slipped lovers but about the way the man who tells the story becomes involved himself. Beautifully written.
2. David Gerrold and Ctein, “Bubble and Squeak” – About a gay couple, hoping to get married, who have their plans interrupted by a tsunami heading to Los Angeles, and who have to find a way to get to higher ground – and, as it turns out, help a bunch of others as well. It’s simply terrifically exciting, involving a plausible mix of heroism, foolishness, brutality, luck, and intelligence, on their part and others, as they struggle to find a way to a safe place, and as various options are closed off over time.
3. Carolyn Ives Gilman, “Umbernight” – Set within a struggling colony on a world subject to periodic bursts of radiation for its primary’s UV-emitting companion. Michiko is perhaps the only colony member interested in exploring their world, so she is forced into leading a dangerous expedition to recover the latest cargo drop from Earth, which will arrive just before the next predicted “umbernight”, when their planet will be awash in dangerous radiation. The expedition is predictably a disaster, especially when umbernight comes a bit early … and the members learn, the hardest way, that their planet changes in quite amazing ways in true umbernight. It’s pretty neat stuff really, set against its protagonist’s justly cynical attitude.
4. Juliette Wade, “The Persistence of Blood” – This is set in a caste-driven society living in underground cities. The Lady Selemei is the wife of an influential member of the governing caste, whose women have tremendous difficulty in childbearing, and also are societally expected to bear many children, as their Race is seen to be in decline. Her loving husband has agreed to that they must abstain from sex, and has even proposed a law to make it legal for women with health issues to “retire” from childbearing (and even, perhaps to use contraceptives!) The story turns on her husband’s sudden death, and her shocking step of assuming her husband’s seat in the Council. It comes to a powerful and moving conclusion.
The current leader for the fifth position on my is Martha Wells’ Artificial Condition, sort of as a proxy for all three Murderbot novellas that came out in 2018 – all fun and thought-provoking, certainly worth reading. Either the Beckett or Robson novellas could be chosen as well. But I have a few more stories to read before the nomination deadline, as I’ve noted.