Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Thoughts on 2009 Hugo Award Nominees: Novelettes

Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s Jan 2008)
The Gambler” by Paolo Bacigalupi ( Fast Forward 2)
Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel (F&SF Jan 2008)
The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner (Asimov’s Feb 2008)
Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s Mar 2008)

Thus begins my second post covering the 2009 Hugo Award nominees, focusing this time on the novelettes. As always, the stories will be listed in reverse order of how worthy I think they are of the award. We'll start with John Kessel's "Pride and Prometheus.

“Pride and Prometheus”
Previously stated thoughts
Kessel’s story is well written and there is a strong aspect of intellectual interest to the chronology of the story and working out the little clues as to what is going on. John Kessel works in the inherent horror of the situation perfectly. The main problem here is simply that because I am not a fan of the original source material, I am not the ideal reader for “Pride and Prometheus”. For me, the story only works on the “hey, Kessel’s doing something kind of cool here” level.

A counterpoint to "Pride and Prometheus" would come from a person who I recommended this story to. She is a fan of Jane Austen's work and is very familiar with the characters / setting. She loved the story. I can only appreciate the story on an intellectual level.

“Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders”
Oh, it's been a long time since I've read this story. Probably last year when it was first sort-of-nominated for the Hugo (or Nebula, not really sure) before its eligibility was questioned and then pulled. Compared to Resnick's other nominated story, "Article of Faith", "Alastair Baffle" is a much stronger story. For the simple fact that I was able to appreciate the story on a character / human level, I had to rate this above Kessel's story. I know / suspect that "Pride and Prometheus" is and will be a highly regarded story and it is a stronger technical story. But, this story of two old men, two old friends rediscovering a strange magic shop they first saw as a child is touching. Is it award worthy? Well, moreso than "Article of Faith", and I prefer the story over "Pride and Prometheus", but I certainly wouldn't vote it the Hugo.

“The Gambler”
This was a story which left me a bit cold, but I have to acknowedge it to be far superior to either the Kessel or Resnick stories. I sadly did not blog about it, and trying to piece together coherent thoughts on a story I read two months ago is difficult. So - let me say that the story is part history of a nearish future news blogger (the competition between different newsblog companies is fascinating and feels realistic) and part present-day-story (for the blogger) where Ong passively fights for his less sensationalistic stories and is pushed into the potential for more. It is also an immigrant's story. To be fair, it's been just too long to be able to speak well about story. I remember that I liked it, but didn't like it too much. That's vague, but just go read the story for yourself. You'll be better off that way.

“The Ray-Gun: A Love Story”
Previously stated thoughts (from my Nebula Coverage):
It's almost been too long since I read "The Ray-Gun: A Love Story" to write about it. Here's what I recall: The story delighted me. It's a story that features a ray-gun from outer space (because where else do ray guns come from?), but as much as anything else is about the on-and-off romance between Jack and Kristin and the role of the ray gun in that romance. Yeah, you can get all that from the title. But just imagine that you found a ray gun like this and how it would change your life. James Alan Gardner has written a very good story about a ray gun, but really about people.

“Shoggoths in Bloom”
Previously stated thoughts:
The gradual research and exploration Dr. Harding undertakes to understand the shoggoths is the heart of this story and even without the issue of race and the burgeoning realization through newspapers of what is occuring in Germany, "Shoggoths in Bloom" would be an interesting story. With everything else that Bear has put into the story to show that these characters are not operating in a vacuum devoid of life, "Shoggoths in Bloom" is a rather strong story from Elizabeth Bear.

As a category, I'm a little less impressed with the Novelettes than I expected to be. There's nothing here that makes me wish I could foist a story (or two) on everyone I meet. It's a solid category, and "Shoggoths in Bloom" would certainly deserve to be Bear's second Hugo (both for Asimov's stories, strangely - but that's a different conversation), but this isn't a flashy category.

Would I hesitate for a moment to vote for "Shoggoths in Bloom" over the rest of the novelettes here? Nope.

Previous Thoughts
Short Stories

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