Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Hugo Nomination Thoughts, Short Fiction: Novellas

Hugo Nomination Thoughts, Short Fiction

It’s that time again, right?

Here’s my thoughts on my Hugo ballot for short fiction. In another post I’ll discuss – less comprehensively – the other categories. As usual, I’m better informed about short fiction than anything else.

I should mention going in that there have been some significant changes to the Hugos. There is a new Hugo Category, for Best Series. (I don’t like the idea much, but I’ll play along.) There is a new non-Hugo, for Best Young Adult Book. There are changes to the voting process: now there will be 6 nominees instead of 5 (though each nominator still just votes for 5), and the 5% rule (that each story on the final ballot must appear on 5% of the nominating ballots) has been eliminated. And the EPH process for counting the final votes has been approved. I won’t try to explain that – there are much clearer explanations than I could offer readily available.

One more note to begin with – though I participate with a lot of enjoyment in Hugo nomination and voting every year, I am philosophically convinced that there is no such thing as the “best” story – “best” piece of art, period. This doesn’t mean I don’t think some art is better than other art – I absolutely do think that. But I think that at the top, there is no way to draw fine distinctions, to insist on rankings. Different stories do different things, all worthwhile. I can readily change my own mind about which stories I prefer – it might depend on how important to me that “thing” they do is (and of course most stories do multiple different things!) – it might depend on my mood that day – it might depend on something new I’ve read that makes me think differently about a certain subject. Bottom line is, in the lists below, I’ll suggest somewhere between 5 and 8 or so stories that might be on my final ballot. Those will be in no particular order. And the other stories I list will all really be about as good – and I might change my mind before my ballot goes in.

The other obvious point to make is that the great bulk of these stories are those that I included in my yearly anthology. There are a few that didn’t make it, for reasons of length, contractual situation, balance, or even that I might have missed a story by the deadline for the book.

“The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe”, by Kij Johnson (Tor.com Books)
“The Vanishing Kind”, by Lavie Tidhar (F&SF, July/August)
“Lazy Dog Out”, by Suzanne Palmer (Asimov’s, April/May)
“Maggots”, by Nina Allan (Five Stories High)
Penric’s Mission, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Spectrum Literary Agency)
Technologies of the Self, by Haris A. Durani (Brain Mill Books)
The Jewel and Her Lapidary, by Fran Wilde (Tor.com Books)

In this category, there are only two stories included in my book – that’s always the way, with novellas – they take up so much space that I can only fit a couple per year. The top five stories listed will almost certainly be on my Hugo nomination ballot. That said, there are a few significant novellas I have not yet read, so there is some room for change.  But to quickly cover my putative nominees:
“The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe” is a truly lovely story, taking its inspiration and setting from H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”, but more importantly, written as well as the work of the writer Lovecraft was under the influence of when he wrote his story: Lord Dunsany. The title character is a professor at a women’s college who must chase after a student who has foolishly run away with a man from our world.

“The Vanishing Kind” is dark noir set in an alternate England, under the sway of a Nazi government, having lost World War II. A German screenwriter comes to London partly in pursuit of an actress who had briefly been his lover, only to find her involved in some very scary things – drugs, sex-trafficking, murder – not to mention hidden Jews.

“Lazy Dog Out” is traditional SF adventure, and lots of fun, about a space tug pilot on a moon of a colony planet, who gets stuck in the middle of a nasty plot involving framing some unfortunates for the murder of some visiting aliens.

“Maggots” is a long story about a young man from the North of England who becomes convinced that his Aunt, after a mysterious disappearance and reappearance, has been replaced by something alien. This ends up messing up his relationship with his girlfriend, and he ends up in London, tracking down hints of other people who’ve had similar experiences as his – which leads him to a spooky house where he encounters something really scary, as well as learning a lot about his Aunt that he hadn’t known.

And finally, Penric’s Mission is my favorite so far of Bujold’s three self-published novellas set in her World of the Five Gods. Penric is a young man who in the first story became the host to a demon (that he calls “Desdemona”), which makes him a sorcerer. In this story he travels to another country to try to recruit a popular General for the Duke he’s working for, and ends up enmeshed in local politics, with the General blinded, and Penric trying to help, and falling for the General’s widowed sister in the process. Fun stuff, with some interesting magic.


  1. As JJ pointed out on File770, "The Jewel and Her Lapidary" is a novelette. Tor mistakenly called it a novella, but they've since corrected it.

    "Penric's Mission" is 45,300 words, which makes it just 300 words too long to be eligible. WSFS rules (Section 3.3.2) set the max length of a novella at 40,000 words, but there's an allowance of 20% or 5,000 words, whichever is less (Section 3.2.8) so the absolute longest eligible work would have 45,000 words.

    1. Thanks ... I wasn't at all sure of the exact length of Penric's Mission (my Kindle doesn't give word counts), and, yes, I went with the original designation for The Jewel and her Lapidary...

      I was going to mention that I thought it would still make sense for a story like "Penric's Mission" to be considered a novella for awards purposes but I see you made the same point in the File 770 comments.

  2. Frankly, I think the category lengths should be revisited, although given the long history of awards at the current lengths, I can see how that would be controversial. However, raising the novella ceiling to 50,000 words seems reasonable to me.