“Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel”, Peter S. Beagle (Strange Roads)
“If Angels Fight”, Richard Bowes (F&SF 2/08)
“The Overseer”, Albert Cowdrey (F&SF 3/08)
Odd and the Frost Giants, Neil Gaiman (Bloomsbury; HarperCollins)
“Good Boy”, Nisi Shawl (Filter House)
Now it is time to look at the Novella nominees for the World Fantasy Award.
My thoughts on “If Angels Fight”: The story consists of the search for Mark Bannon, a long dead scion of a major political family...a man who the narrator has been able to find over the years, even though Mark really is dead. That would be impossible to explain. My main problem, though, is that every step of the search results in long digressions about that new person meeting Mark. It becomes tedious because there is no core story, just digressions. For me, the digressions don't work.
My thoughts on “Good Boy”: Regarding “Good Boy”…honestly, I don’t know. It’s a blending of tribal spiritual practices, computers, biology. It deals with medicine’s inability to cure a malady in a time and setting where futuristic medicine is quite powerful, and that older traditions may be able to cure the malady. It’s about mothers and daughters. It was good, but unremarkable. From reading Filter House, that is also the overall impression I have with Shawl’s fiction, which also suggests that as accomplished as Nisi Shawl is as a writer, her stories so far just do not work for me. No harm. No foul.
“Odd and the Frost Giants”: Originally published in the UK for World Book Day, “Odd and the Frost Giants” is a weaker entry from Neil Gaiman, especially in a year that we have the inevitable comparison of a YA novella to The Graveyard Book (or even just to the previously published “The Witch’s Headstone”). Most stories would come up wanting in such a comparison. “Odd and the Frost Giants” may be aimed at a slightly younger audience than The Graveyard Book is and that may explain some of the over-simplistic storytelling here. Odd is a young boy who doesn’t quite fit in, is not well liked by his step father (as is the case in many a story of this sort), and prefers to spend time by himself out in the woods. When he frees a bear’s paw Odd finds himself among exiled Norse gods and in an adventure he could scarcely have imagined. It’s an adventure that would change him forever. On one hand, “Odd and the Frost Giants” is a solid story for younger readers that can also be appreciated by older readers. On the other hand, it’s not *that* good. It’s a perfectly decent story and parents should feel at ease giving this to their kids to read. It’s a good story and age appropriate. It’s just not award-level work. Not this award.
I rank this above “If Angels Fight” and “Good Boy” simply because of an enjoyment factor that so significantly trumps those two stories that I can’t drop this one down farther.
My thoughts on “The Overseer”: “The Overseer” did not grip me from the start, but the deeper we got into the history of Lerner and the betrayals and the nastiness, the more engaged I became. Every notable character in this story, save two of them, is a fairly despicable human being. They aren’t good people, but watching the haunting and the paranoia unfold is a pleasure for this story.
My thoughts on “Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel”: There is nothing flash here, but we are left with something quite wonderful in the end. A story of grace and power and beauty, a story that ends just when it needed to and leaves the reader satisfied.
This was a disappointing category with only one true standout. If I had anything to say about it, which I do not, this award would go to Peter Beagle's story. I don't know if it will because "Good Boy" will likely offer a strong challenge. Hopefully the award will go to Beagle.