Friday, June 3, 2016

Voting for the Hugos: Best Novelette

BEST NOVELETTE (1975 ballots)
  • “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed, Feb2015)
On the Sad Puppies’ list but not on the Rabid Puppies’ slate. A #!$@$ rageful person rages about every !$(*!#$ thing that %^!#%#$ catches her !@#$% attention, mostly while fighting. This is a well-written yet ragey story for chronically angry people. 
  • “Flashpoint: Titan” by CHEAH Kai Wai (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
On the Rabid Puppies’ slate only. China versus Japan in space. Hard sci fi for milSF afficionados.
  • “Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu (Uncanny Magazine, Jan-Feb 2015)
On both the Sad Puppies’ list and the Rabid Puppies’ slate.
In this eerie future-Beijing, the city routinely folds up, putting all its low caste workers into extended sleep so that the classy people can have free reign. Lao Dao is a waste worker who gets involved in a big adventure when he leaves his fold and sojourns among the VIPs. Meanwhile, I’m fascinated by the notion of an entire city folding itself like a big Transformer.
I’m also fascinated by the Chinese version of urban planning, and I’m wondering if other Chinese share this pessimistic view of class stratification taken to absurd extremes, or if this author functions as a raving lefty or a hardcore conservative in his native mileu. 
I’m going to repeat my comment under Binti – I think of myself as a globally oriented sort of person, with friends and co-workers from everywhere, and it is truly a delight to read the work of writers from outside the infuriatingly two-sided American system with its heavyhanded evangelistic underpinnings on both sides.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that getting awesome new translated novels to read is an unintended positive benefit of the US culture war. The Hugos are part of WORLDcon. If all the English-speaking literati are too busy flinging political poop at each other to produce worthy candidates, bring on the foreign storytellers.
  •   “Obits” by Stephen King (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Scribner)
On both the Sad Puppies’ list and the Rabid Puppies’ slate.
Meanwhile, here’s the greatest freaking writer in the whole wide world (just my opinion) with another baseball sailing beyond the stadium walls.
  • “What Price Humanity?” by David VanDyke (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
On the Rabid Puppies’ slate only.

Oh look. Here’s a slate guy, going up to bat against Stephen King (I’m including baseball metaphors because I know SK loves baseball; I personally don’t give a rat’s ass about baseball, which does technically qualify me as evil in the SKverse, I accept this judgment and prefer to move on).

Actually, wait a minute. I’m going to keep talking about Stephen King. I’ve read 98% of Stephen King’s work. He’s been my favorite since I first encountered the paperback edition of Carrie with its creepy sideways girl’s head, and I’ve been buying his books in hardback since the Stand (I get them digitally now that I’m post paper, and I pre-order them so they’ll magically appear and surprise me).

This guy VanDyke can actually pull off a similar rhythm to Stephen King; it propelled me through the story. The part where the gulf stood out had to do with the characters. King can make all kinds of characters interesting – little kids, cleaning ladies, rich writers, poor writers with drinking problems, high school girls, country doctors, retired cops, lesbians with horses, autistic spectrum people, death row convicts, housewives with crushes on Elvis, girls who love baseball – the man loves human beings, including the humble ones, and it shows.

VanDyke has a hero who is solipsistic as all get out. He has a black friend named Token (I think it’s supposed to be a South Park homage) and an ex-girlfriend who overdosed – our hero, who never noticed he was dating an addict, thinks it’s because he failed to be more entertaining than drugs, voicing that sentiment at least a couple times. Normally I would consider this a bad thing in a character, veering toward the unsympathetic.

But. This is one of those person-wakes-up-somewhere-weird-and-has-to-figure-out-where-they-are stories. And because the narrator is a solipsist who apparently feels at some level that other people exist solely to perform for him, his task is especially difficult. He’s even got a double-barreled in-universe explanation for his solipsism, being the son of a powerful politican and a white South African (plus another excuse that comes in toward the end). It’s actually got a little bit of a soulful Archy and Mehitabel vibe, as the hero tries to determine what he is with the help of an intoxicated chanteuse. This is a dark tale about a character that only loves the parts of humanity that directly benefit him, trying to find a way to win. How did he get to be a leader? Chosen because his entitled attitude suggests he’s accustomed to leadership. In a Stephen King story, this guy would be working for Randall Flagg.

Is this story good enough to overcome my bias against slates, and Castalia House, and usage of the word “engram,” and solipsists? Nope. It’s a good story, but my bias is considerable, especially against solipsists.

How I’m voting: Obits. Duh. I’ll throw in a vote for Folding Beijing right behind it, but I think this rocket will go to Stephen King. I’m not going to vote for Mr. VanDyke this time because I suspect I will prefer his future work, and if he starts getting too many awards right now he’ll never have the motivation to write it.  

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