Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Voting for Hugo Awards: Best Novella

Further to my complaints about getting novel excerpts instead of novels in the voting packet, someone on File 770 pointed out out that The Fifth Season is also included – I didn’t check that one carefully since I already own an e-copy. I own three of the five nominees, and might conceivably buy the other two if I like the excerpts enough.

I’m moving on to the novellae. 

BEST NOVELLA (2416 ballots)
  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
Appears on the Sad Puppy list but not the Rabid Puppy slate. I previously read and reviewed this story about a sacred-earth-carrying, locs-having bright African student in space. 
  • The Builders by Daniel Polansky (Tor.com)
Appears on both the Sad Puppy list and the Rabid Puppy slate. A bunch of talking animals (mouse, salamander, porcupine, etc.) that wear clothes. Plus they’re super-serious, grim, asskicking types.  My stopping point: “Scantily clad females carried trays of liquor to powerful males, threading their way through poker tables and roulette wheels.”  If you thought The Wind In The Willows needed more cocktail waitresses, this may be the story for you.
  • Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold (Spectrum)
Appears on both the Sad Puppy list and the Rabid Puppy slate. An engrossing fantasy tale about a youth that accidentally acquires a powerful demon while tending to a dying sorceress. Contains gender role sensitivity and a distinct lack of action – how did this get on the list/slate?  An entertaining read, mainly due to the depth of the character and world building.
  • Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson (Dragonsteel Entertainment)
Appears on both the Sad Puppy list and the Rabid Puppy slate. I think it’s a love story. In a solipsistic world where everyone is emperor of their own server (custom designed based on their innate personality as it naturally develops), a man and a woman exchange awkward sentimental gestures..
  • Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds (Tachyon)
Appears on both the Sad Puppy list and the Rabid Puppy slate. This is a revenge tale set in a grim and dark world involving a gritty tough spacer lady, Scur. It has some veiled references to people of the book, and to the “slow bullets” comprising identity and culture, which can be dangerous if limits are exceeded. And it has an ending more satisfying than I expected.

My vote: these stories are light years ahead of last year’s novellae. Except for the one about the grim and macho furries – that one made me flash back to 2015.

I have to admit Brandon Sanderson caught me off guard, since I tend to think of him as writing fantasy with excruciatingly well-planned details, and here he is writing something almost postmodern – although the part with the fundamental incompatibility of the sort-of-lovers’ different innate personalities felt sad and real. So did this future where humans are rare and precious and swaddled in multiple layers of bubble wrap.

Lois McMaster Bujold, on the other hand, got me to read a story about demons, and telepathic communication, with more romance than fighting, in a backstory-dense fantasy kingdom. These are all things that I tend to consider warning signs, and yet Ms. Bujold made me interested in them.

Alastair Reynolds, meanwhile, almost turned me off at the beginning with that gratuitous rape-like scene. Then there was a little more explanation about the slow bullets, and the people of the book, and Scur and her world, and a big emotional climax in which Reynolds illustrates exactly why a mere two-dimensional payback scene is just not enough.

It’s much easier to blame the slate for foisting disagreeable authors upon you when you don’t like the authors to begin with. I will note that I find the Puppies much more tolerable as populists than as provocateurs trying to make peoples’ heads asplode (see Related Work).

But what about when the evil wicked slaters try to force feed you good stories? And what if it’s probably the last year any slating will happen given the obsessive attention that the Worldcon organizers have devoted to this matter? Do I really want to shut out good authors who didn’t exactly beg to be slated? And the answer to that is no.

I’m still inclined to vote Binti ahead of the others – because it’s not on a slate, because it’s far removed from US politics and/or culture wars, because I want to signal boost it so they’ll make it into a movie someday.

But I’m always open to hearing a good story. I’ll vote for Bujold, Sanderson, Reynolds and Polansky underneath it, in that order.

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