RogerBW's Blog

Hugo 2015: Novelette 15 June 2015

There's only one non-slate novelette on the ballot this year, so that's what I'm reviewing here: The Day The World Turned Upside Down, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt.

If I were a believer in the "true SF" vs "arty stories" divide, I might use this as ammunition. Narrator's girlfriend breaks up with him, and shortly afterwards the world quite literally turns upside down: people and cars and so on fall away into the bottomless pit that used to be the sky. Yes, it's a metaphor (and in the Hugo packet version there's even an author's afterword to explain it, just in case that hadn't point been stamped into you by a fifty-ton drop-hammer during the story itself).

But I'm glad to say it isn't pure metaphor. There's some examination of what falls away immediately and what is rooted firmly enough to hang on. (But houses universally stay, which is a bit unconvincing, and it later turns out that there are lots of exceptions anyway. Personally I was wondering what was keeping the air in place.) There are some interesting bits dealing with the perils of getting from one building to another, swinging from railings and so on. But mostly what we have is the narrator's attempt to save the life of his ex-girlfriend's goldfish, then return the fish to her. And, spoiler, when he gets there she doesn't fall back in love with him, shock horror. At least it's a shock and horror to the narrator, who was already the least sympathetic character in the whole piece, behaving like a teenager who thinks nobody has ever had a breakup before and his pain is original and special and uniquely interesting. It isn't.

If I were rating this against last year's novelettes, I'd put it after The Waiting Stars and The Lady Astronaut of Mars, roughly even with The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling and The Exchange Officers, and above Opera Vita Aeterna. As things stand, I'll probably put it after No Award; it's tolerable Message Fantasy, but certainly not Hugo-grade writing.

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