Thursday, April 13, 2017

Hugo Awards: Best Novelette

I finished reading all the novelettes -- except one, but I read enough of the excerpt to know it wasn't my kind of jam -- and here's my report.

“The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon.
Set in the same Southwestern alternate universe as Jackalope Wives, a story I think would have won but for that Puppy slate a couple years ago, this is the story of a grandmother’s quest to stop the wicked creature that has been stealing her ripe tomatoes. Way more adventurous than it sounds, and warm and funny too. 

“Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex” by Stix Hiscock
Could this be the Rabid Puppies’ last slate candidate? I’m not sure, but I do know I don’t want to read it.

“The Art of Space Travel” by Nina Allan
A story about a girl about to contact her astronaut biological father in a parallel universe 2047 which has no DNA databases, leaving her at the whim of her mom’s rapidly evaporating memory. She struggles with her decision, scolds herself for “naff” fantasies about what reunion will be like, wonders if she’ll ruin his happiness. Which is a nice message; I grew up in a parallel situation with an anonymous submariner biological father, although he died before I could email him. This narrator is a lot more ambivalent than I was as she wrestles with the concept of “should I even want to know this basic information most people are born knowing.” 

I’m think it matters, and that wanting to know factual information about your genetic relatives is distinct from your emotional relationship with your family. Plus I tend to disagree with those who believe ignorance is a virtue. This whole matter of leaving it up to fragile human memory is one of the main reasons I’m interested in DNA clubs like 23andMe, and I was a little frustrated by this character living in a world that had space travel but no genetic databases. Anyway, yeah, this is an affecting story and I liked it. 

“Touring with the Alien”, by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld Magazine, April 2016)  
“There’s no such thing as telepathy,” Lionel said dismissively.
The aliens here lack a cerebral cortex, making them wholly subconscious in this pleasing first contact tale about a human who volunteers to translate between the species. It wins based on that ctrl-V’d quote. Plus we have another adoptee story, as the narrator struggles to befriend Lionel, kidnapped as a child to be his alien parent’s symbiote, as they cruise around the south in a tour bus.

“The Jewel and Her Lapidary”, by Fran Wilde
I wear no jewelry. No rings, no nose studs, nothing around my neck. My earlobes are still scarred from when I used to wear earrings; I get infected easily and I wasn’t sufficiently dedicated to the notion of jewelry to pursue it. I’ve had friends that are fascinated with shiny rocks and their accessories, but the whole phenomenon glides right past me, and therefore I bounced right off of this story.

“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay”, by Alyssa Wong
First I’m going to need some coffee … okay.  A story about some women and the way they feel. Takes place in a brothel like the one in Westworld, in a town like the one in the first Dark Tower book (which is a lot like Westworld, come to think of it, right down to the pop songs played on tinkly pianos). There’s an evil preacher representing the patriarchy. And there’s a Symbolic Animal Cruelty moment. Yeah, yeah, it’s only a chicken, and I just ate part of one for dinner, but it didn't do a gruesome emote at me in an attempt to manipulate my emotions. 

I’m generally down with Symbolic Fruit, and Symbolic Colors, and Abstract Foreshadowing, but there’s one technique in the hipster-litfic portfolio that I wish would die in a fire: Symbolic Animal Cruelty. I’ve bounced off of many books (Library at Mount Char springs to mind) due to this trope. 

It's not so much the gross out (I deal with forensic material from time to time), it's just that I immediately start judging the hell out of the writer. I get distracted looking for more aberrant psych signs and wondering if they’re aware other people regard this as disgusting, whether they set fires when they were small, and so on. I mentally peg the writer as a potential future serial killer. You know who else likes Symbolic Animal Cruelty?  Baby Jane Hudson, that's who.
(Not a very good role model.)

Other than my severe dislike of a trope she used, Alyssa Wong is a good writer.

My vote:
“Touring with the Alien”, by Carolyn Ives Gilman
“The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon.
“The Art of Space Travel” by Nina Allan

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