Thursday, June 14, 2012

My Hugo votes 2012, part 2: Novellas

The overall quality in the novella category was pretty good. The writing of most stories was pretty god, but there some problems with the plot on some of them. The three best stories and the two bottom ones were fairly easy to choose, but their order was a harder thing to decide. The “Countdown” was far better than the novels in the “Newsflesh” series. It’s hard to say how it would have worked had I not read the novels.
Kij Johnson’s story had excellent writing. The speculative fiction aspects were mostly window dressing, but it was an enjoyable story nevertheless. Ken Liu’s story was somewhat too loose. These stories could go both ways, but at least now I would put Johnson’s story at higher place. “Kiss Me Twice” was a very clear choice for the middle place, as was “The Ice Owl” for the last place – above “no award” though.

“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu
A novella which written in form of a transcript of a documentary, which tell the story of a Japanese prison camp, unit 731, where the Japanese doctors performed cruel medical experiments on prisoners. A scientist has discovered a way to see the past. However, that can happen only as a personal experience, and it is also a destructive process – one time and location can be visited only once. The scientist has invited some surviving family members to take part on the experiment and see for themselves what happened. That has caused friction between China and Japan which is almost escalating to at least commercial war. The story is excellent and thought provoking. It could have been tighter. I believe that the “actual documentary” from which the story purports to be made would have actuality lasted several hours – all those interviews and testimonials take several pages each. The writing is nice, and the subject matter is moving. Despite some holes in logic one of the better candidates.

The Man Who Bridged the Mist • novella by Kij Johnson
Areas of “mist” separate different parts of the world. Mist is at least partly toxic and it is something between liquid and gas. It is possible to cross on special boats, but that is often very hazardous. There are also strange and dangerous things living inside the mist. An engineer comes to build a bridge over a strait filled with mist, which will be the longest bridge ever to cross an area of mist. The story tells mainly about of the life man building the bridge, about his work and love and how he changed during the years. A rather long story, which is at places more than a little longwinded. Few actual events happen during the story. The setting was pretty interesting, but we didn’t learn anything about what the mist is or about any other details of the world. There was no reason at all why the story couldn’t have been told as a straight drama and the fantasy aspects are extremely superfluous. If you want to tell that story, why set the story in a fantasyland? Writing as such was excellent, though. Also, after some time has passes from reading this story it is starting to feel better and better in my memory.

“Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal
A detective story in a future where AIs are becoming common. The police uses an AI to help officers in their duties. It can instantly access databases during interviews; it can make a composite sketch of the suspect on the fly during the interrogation and so. A detective is studying a murder when the AI suddenly informs him that an armed attack is going on the police station, and soon after that the AI goes off line. The attackers have stolen the central unit of the AI ( which apparently is protected with extremely poor security). Later, when they finally get the backup running there seems to be something wrong with it. A pretty smoothly going detective story with good writing. However, the story lacks uniqueness which would really raise it above other stories.

Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente
A story of an advanced artificial intelligence.
The story is written in beautiful language, but is extremely hard to get. There is no dialogue, and it is told in glimpses to different phases of the "life” and development of the AI with interludes consisting of metaphorical fairy tale adaptations. Little happens and the story is a typical example of style over substance.

Countdown by Mira Grant
A novella which explains who happened before Mira Grant’s zombie trilogy. Gives a logical explanation on how the different viral strands escaped and combined, and describes the very start of the zombie epidemic. An excellent story which was exiting and horrifying. Her novels have been pretty good and readable, but this story was clearly better than her novels and would probably have worked pretty well even without any knowledge of the books.

“The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman
A young girl who has travelled from place to with her somehow disturbed mother hasn’t been able to find her place. It is especially hard as the travel between stars has removed her in time from everything she has ever known. The school on the planet is destroyed, and she finds a private tutor who has a collection of rare and exotic items. The ice owl is one of them, another is a special painting made from the wings of the butterflies which can be seen differently depending of the viewing angle. The story took its time to start, and then it was over. The artifacts were the most interesting and imaginative part of the story, but they served only as a partly allegorical backdrop to the story. The story itself was a fairly simple tale of how certain things happen again and again in the history of humanity. It wasn’t too coherent and the plot seemed very fragmentary.

My voting order will be:

1. “Countdown” by Mira Grant
2. “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson
3. “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu
4. “Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal
5. Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente
6. “The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman

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