Monday, July 30, 2018

My Hugo award votes 2018 part 4: novellas

Overall, the category was very good this year – so good that all first three or four stories were almost as good, and their order wasn’t very easy to decide. The two last places were easy to decide, but their order wasn’t as clear. Finally, I put River of Teeth in last place as I found it mostly boring and there really wasn’t anything science fictional in it (except the hippos. Yawn). Pinsker's story was a very entertaining who-did-it tale in an interesting setting. I put it in first place for share entertainment value. All Systems Red was also good, but it hadn’t really ended and left things very much hanging. An end even a few pages earlier might have been more satisfying. Seanan McGuire’s story would have worked better as the first of the series, not the second.

Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor ( Publishing)

Continues an earlier story which was nominated and even won. I wasn’t a great fan of that story due to some logical problems and an irritating main character whose attitudes were stuck on the past. This story retroactively repairs some of the worst problems of the earlier one. Binti returns home for some sort of initiation ceremony. She has been changed by aliens and a “medusa,” an alien that she is sort of bonded with who comes with her. Her relatives seem to be even more stuck on the past than she is; they wonder how she could ever catch a good husband, among other things. It turns out that Binti’s family isn’t wholly what she thought, but something else, and even partly alien. A well-written story, but a bit overlong - especially the beginning which was somewhat hard going. The story went too far to fantasy; the tech used was more magic than science.

The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang ( Publishing)

The world is ruled by the Protector who lives above the city. In the city is a semiautonomous monastery. It helped to quell a mutiny sometime before and as thanks, the Protector has promised one of her children for the monastery. The abbot was waiting to get a bright young woman he had befriended, but he gets two newborns. They join the Monastery a few years later as acolytes. A few years later it turns out that one of them is a prophet and her dreams will come true - no matter what is done to prevent them, apparently, often the act of an attempted prevention turns out to make the dream true. The siblings love each other, but the time will come that forces them to separate. The story happens in a very interesting world, where most things work by some sort of crossover of technology and magic. There is a rising faction, machinists, who try to change that and to design things which run without magic, making everyone capable of using them. Also, people decide their sexes when they want to, before that they apparently are androgynous.

Very good characters, moving and interesting plot and a richly designed world. I would love to learn more about the history of it. Apparently, it is a different planet: during one day there are four sun revolutions around the sky.

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells ( Publishing)
A “secunit” (a sort of defense droid made with partly biological parts) works as a “protector” for an exploration team which is studying an alien planet. The sec units have a governor module, which adjusts its behavior and compels to follow human instructions and so on. However, this secunit has hacked its own governor module and can do pretty much what it wants. What it really wants is to watch entertainment shows. But it also does its job at least as well as an unhacked secunit. It is really needed when it turns out that there might be an unknown team on the planet that wants to destroy the other teams. A well told and exciting science fiction story with a very interesting main character.

“And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017)
A woman, Sarah Pinsker, who works as an insurance investigation is invited to SarahCon, a convention for Sarah Pinskers from alternate realities. There are hundreds of them all looking (mostly) the same, some having pretty similar life experiences, and other very different (with earlier divergent points). One of the Sarahs is found dead, and it turns out to be a murder. As everyone looks more or less the same and practically everyone has the same name, it is pretty hard even to figure out who is the victim. As the protagonist is the only Sarah Pinsker with any law enforcement background even slightly, she is the one who tries to find out what has happened, as the convention is located on a remote island with no possibility to summon law enforcement officials. A well written and entertaining story with a nice take on the alternate worlds.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire ( Publishing)
A prologue for the story which was nominated last year and tells the backstory of two of the main characters of that story. A couple who is mostly concerned with fitting into the social circles decides to get a child so that they can tell nice “child-stories” at important social gatherings. They get twins, identical girls. One is brought up by the mother as a “princess”, another by the father as a “tomboy”. Neither is really happy about their roles and are jealous of each other, who each get what the other doesn’t and at least secretly wants to have. As small children they were friends but when their roles become different they grow apart. When they have a birthday, they decide to pay together in spite of everything and find a gateway inside an old trunk. They end up in a world where a vampire rules from his castle and a “mad” scientist is a kind of opposing force for the vampire. One of the girls ends up as an “adopted” daughter for the vampire, another as an apprentice for the scientist.
An excellent fairy-tale like story, in fact, better than the last year’s story. Well written with well-described characters. I believe this story should be read as first as it sets up the events of the earlier story. I wonder why these were published in this order?

River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey ( Publishing)
The story happens in an alternate 19th century America with hippopotamuses living on the Mississippi River. Someone plans a caper (or a mission, as the story corrects several times) which might change the world. A group of people is gathered and they leave for the mission. One is an expert with demolitions, one is a card shark (extremely incompetent one who used bad techniques for cheating and is always caught - if he was meant as comedic relief it didn’t work), one is an expert with knives and so on. A pretty slow moving story where hippos are so plentiful and so ferocious that falling on the water means always an instant death. Practically the story could have worked in some sort of Wild West setting, and the hippos felt like a pasted on detail for the most part. I didn’t really get into it and didn’t really care about the characters.

My voting order is:
1. “And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017)
2. All Systems Red, by Martha Wells ( Publishing)
3. Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire ( Publishing)
4. The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang ( Publishing)
5. Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor ( Publishing)
6. River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey ( Publishing)

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