Friday, June 19, 2015

Thoughts on the Hugo Award Nominees: Novella

Friday, June 19, 2015
Big Boys Don’t Cry by Tom Kratman (Castalia House)
Flow by Arlan Andrews, Sr. (Analog, Nov 2014)
One Bright Star to Guide Them by John C. Wright (Castalia House)
Pale Realms of Shade by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
The Plural of Helen of Troy by John C. Wright (City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, Castalia House)

Sometime after I finish reading all of the nominees and after I do my last category write-up, I have a mind to write an article talking about what I think of this whole Hugo mess. I wrote several articles very early on, but since it has been an ongoing thing, I have different thoughts. But, those thoughts are not quite as germane to any individual category or any individual work and do not apply to taking the Hugo ballot seriously as it currently stands.  So here we are.

"Pale Realms of Shade" went in a very different direction than I had initially expected, what with the ghost of a murdered detective coming back to haunt and all. But, that is one of the more interesting aspects of reading stories because they were nominated for an award and not with the context of their original publication. Most stories don't necessarily require additional context, but "Pale Realms of Shade" was published in Wright's The Book of Feasts & Seasons, which is a story collection built around the religious calendar of the Catholic faith (if I have this correct). Knowing that context, readers who purchase the collection won't be surprised when the story takes a hard turn towards Heaven and Hell and a spiritual battle for a man's soul. 

But, where Wright's nominated short story "The Parliament of Beasts and Birds" (also from this same collection) felt extraordinarily heavy handed, with "Pale Realms of Shade" he did a beautiful job with the religious aspects of the story (which, ultimately, is the story and it is quite well told).

The big surprise in this category, at least for me, was Tom Kratman's Big Boys Don't Cry. I had expected a very aggressive narrative designed to offend those of a more liberal persuasion, but what I got was a surprisingly graceful story of a dying sentient tank. That may sound weird, but given advancement in artificial intelligence and this being a science fiction story, it works. It works remarkably well, especially the deeper Kratman brings the story into Magnolia's history.  Yes, there are also some clumsier jabs at how military tactics have been handled by those not committed to the mission or by those who don't fully understand what it takes to win, and politicians get the sharp end of the stick in that regard (rightly so, in some cases).

If all of Arlan Andrews' "Flow" was as successful as the second half of the story, I might have been able to move it up another space on my ballot, but unfortunately the beginning of the story was something of a chore to push through. The primitive ice world (a partially frozen post apocalyptic Earth) was tough to take, less because of the writing and more because of what I was wanted / was getting from the story. I'll willingly take the hit that part of this is on me, but I often bounce off of fiction dealing with significantly more primitive Earth cultures unless the writing / storytelling can just grab a hold of me and make me care about the characters and / or the setting. "Flow" didn't...until it did, midway through as Rist began to discover more of the world and realized that what his people taught may not be the way things actually work. I'm now curious to find "Thaw", a previous story in this setting, and move on to "Fall", the next in the setting.  I'd like to see where Andrews is taking this. 

My Vote
1. "Pale Realms of Shade"
2. Big Boys Don't Cry
3. "Flow"
4. "The Plural of Helen of Troy"
5. No Award
6. One Bright Star to Guide Them

Standard 2015 Hugo Disclaimer:
In a typical year, I just jump right into whichever category I'm writing about and let my thoughts sort out the whole mess. This is not a typical year, so I'd like to start by talking a little bit about how I'm going to work through the various Hugo Award categories and how I am going to vote. Simply put, I am going to read everything. If I feel the work is strong enough to merit a ranked vote, I will vote for it in whatever order feels most appropriate. If I feel the work is not strong enough to merit ranking it above No Award, I will not do so.  But at no point am I making a blanket statement about Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies or that I've heard Thomas Heuvelt may have been campaigning for a nomination or anything else that I am not aware of.  The ballot is what the ballot is and I will treat it as such.

I am also working with the same methodology as I have in the past, which is to say that there are frequently works and writers on the ballot that I simply and strongly disagree with. In most cases, I have still ranked those works above No Award. I don't believe I have always done this, and I know if I had participated last year, one novel would have been below No Award because I bounced so hard off of the first book in that series that I really can't understand how the second also managed a nomination - and that writer is a Hugo favorite. Most stories compare to works that have previously been on the ballot, so those works that meet my low-bar criteria will secure my vote.


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Carl V. Anderson said...

The Kratman story sounds interesting. Makes me think back to reading Bolo a few years ago, by Keith Laumer. I tend to enjoy robot/android stories, and sentient machines kind of fall in that same category for me. They tend to hit buttons that have excited me since I was a kid and first discovered science fiction.

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