Wednesday, July 2, 2014

My Hugo votes 2014, part 1, novellas

The all nominees in the novella category were pretty competent. None was bad, but neither none of them was unforgettable good and all had a few failings. It wasn't easy to put them in order. The writing in most of them was very good, but it could be argued that all of them weren’t even speculative fiction - I might have put the Wakulla Springs to the first place, if there would have been even slightly more fantastic content. The Six-gun Snow White was slightly too open. The Butcher of Khardov seemed too connected to its’ franchise. So eventually the Stross’es story was the one which ended to the first place by default. None of the stories was so bad that I should have but it under the “no award”.

“The Chaplain’s Legacy”, Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)

Continues an earlier story. The advanced aliens, who have already destroyed several other sentient species, have stopped just before they were going to destroy humanity. They want to study a very strange human phenomenon: religion. Now their leaders start to believe that there is nothing new to be learned from humans and what has been paused for a while should soon be finished… The transformation of the alien queen was “slightly” too convenient and the story continues the old pretty stupid convention that humanity is special in some way. A pretty good and exiting story in spite of religious undertones anyway. Very traditional science fiction compared with most of the other nominees. Perhaps too traditional for award.

Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean Press)
A little more realistic retelling of Snow White fairy tale. This Snow White is a half breed Indian born to a beautiful American-Indian women after a rich prospector falls for her and practically buys her from her parents and tribe. At first orphaned Snow White lives moderately comfortably in a vast mansion and spends her ample free time by learning to shoot and to play cards, but when her step mother arrives, things turn bad. As in the original version she runs away, but there are some slight differences: the snow white in the original fairy tale didn’t support herself by gambling and sharpshooting. The writing style is reminiscent of fairy tales, but the content for most part isn’t. And the ending naturally isn’t clear and unquestionably happy one. A nicely written story, but it felt somewhat overlong. Also, the writing was smooth and enjoyable, but somehow I was left expecting some kind of more meaningful resolution and point for the story.

“Wakulla Springs”, Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages (, 10-2013)
Story (or stories) about Wakulla Springs, a real fresh water area in Florida, which has been used for filming Tarzan movies and Creature of Black Lagoon, among others. The first segment tells about a black girl who works on the kitchen during the shoot of a Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan film. The second segment tells about her son and third about the son’s daughter. The last, a very short one, gives a glimpse to the fourth generation of the family. The story is very well written and interesting. The major failing was the (almost - one or two completely throw away sentences really doesn't count) lack of any speculative content. Normally, that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but when you are reading a Hugo nominee you keep expecting that something fantastic would happen. That partly spoiled the story, it would probably have better without predispositions. In spite of that, this was a good story - but it is not really science fiction or fantasy.

The Butcher of Khardov, Dan Wells (Privateer Press)
This novella is connected to some sort of game which is apparently played by miniature figures, and which happens in some sort of steampunk world. I never had even heard of the game ever before. The story tells a backstory of a giant axe wielding solder, who ruthlessly kills everyone he even suspects being unloyal. The story is presented in nonlinear manner with short episodes of his life. He is presented as psychotic and unbelievably violent man, but there are logical or almost logical reasons for him being such man. As I was unfamiliar with the world and the backstory there were a lot unfamiliar terms, which somewhat hampered reading the story. There was a glossary of the terms which were used, but that was at the END of the story – not much help there.

“Equoid”, Charles Stross (, 09-2013)
A story about a secret British X-files style government organization. An agent is sent to investigate a possible infestation of unicorns. The unicorns are real, but thankfully rare creatures, with some very "interesting" qualities. They are meat eating, extremely vicious and their reproductive cycle is pretty unique and involves their horn (which actually really isn't a horn...). A pretty good story with pretty unique style with Lovecraftian undertones and even with a dash of tentacle porn. The writing is good, at places bit thick (which is part of the plot - the protagonist is reading Lovecraft's letters and complains that their style is contagious). An enjoyable and entertaining and at places pretty amusing story.

My voting order will be:
1. “Equoid”, Charles Stross (, 09-2013)
2. “Wakulla Springs”, Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages (, 10-2013)
3. Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean Press)
4. The Butcher of Khardov, Dan Wells (Privateer Press)
5. “The Chaplain’s Legacy”, Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)


NS Leighton said...

I thought Wakulla Springs was, far and away, the best written of the novellas, with interesting characters.

I must have read it differently from you. I read it as an *homage* to Tarzan (and Edgar Rice Burroughs), an inherently fantastic character, and also as an homage to Universal Studios monster movies of the 50s, which pretty much *defined* science fiction for most average Americans back then.

That these two legendary parts of sf/f were set against such a realistic background made it a superb story, IMHO.

tpi said...

Yes, it is a homage to Tarzan and monster movies, and it has wonderful writing. But that doesn't really make it speculative fiction in my opinion.