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Hugo 2014: Novella 24 July 2014

These are my thoughts on the Hugo-nominated novellas. If you're planning to vote, you may wish not to read these notes until you have done so. There will also be spoilers here.

Wakulla Springs, Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages: round the edges of the making of a Tarzan film in the 1930s, a family with a talent for swimming, and… some vaguely fantastic content in the very last paragraph just so that I can't write it off as "not a spec-fic story". But really, it's not a spec-fic story. Much more observation than plot; a little bit of interesting characterisation of some black folks in the run-up to the Civil Rights movement, because nobody's ever written about people in that situation before and two white folks are bound to have something new to say.

The Butcher of Khardov, Dan Wells: a novella that needs a map? Gawdelpus. And it's volume two of a series "Based on the Award-Winning Warmachine® Game", a wargame which was derived from a role-playing setting that in turn has been kind of quiet for the last few years. So I reckoned I knew what to expect here. And guess what, Dan? You provided exactly what I expected. In the grim not-Russia, there is only war. We've got namechecks of the various sorts of steampunk mecha so that the game players will be happy, but mostly what we find is the shuffled-out-of-order story of a huge guy who's the ultimate warrior of this world, wielding a hundred-pound (!) axe, able to take on anyone or any group of people and win, whether he's fighting for a local crime boss or the queen of the empire… but he's terribly tortured by the death of his girlfriend, so, y'know, he's got character, see? Warhammer has a lot to answer for.

Equoid, Charles Stross: Charlie pastiches Lovecraft, The Archers, and school stories, but doesn't really quite catch the voice of any of them. It's enjoyable enough, but I kept thinking that if I picked it up by a corner and shook it it would fall apart; it's all skin and spectacle, no bones. (Re-read, the only one here that is.)

The Chaplain's Legacy, Brad R. Torgersen: humanity's war against the bug aliens seems likely to be about to restart, and the chaplain's assistant who accidentally helped broker the peace last time is brought in to see if he can do it again. Neither side actually wants peace, and our hero, the Senior Alien, and a couple of others get marooned on an uninhabited planet. I liked this story better when it was called Enemy Mine; well, that's not quite fair, but there's a very clear line of descent here, and not much added. Not a terrible story, but eminently forgettable.

Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne M. Valente: fairy tale set in the Wild West. At rather greater length than most retellings, of course, and there's plenty more here; but characters come and go in that abrupt fairy-tale way. The writing is lush, even florid, but digging through it to get to the story (only to be reminded that it's really a story we already know) is perversely unrewarding. I'll admit I did like the dwarves, here part of a community of outlaw women; but they're whipped out of the narrative again just as they're getting interesting. They could have made for a story in themselves. People who like this sort of book will like this book. I don't think I'm one of them; to me the writing felt smug and self-satisfied.

Damn it, I don't want to be profoundly unimpressed with everything on the slate! I didn't set out to find things to tear into! The short stories were dire, but some of the novelettes were decent. Eh, I'll probably vote for Stross, then Torgerson, then Valente; best of a bad field.

The Valente was provided only as a pdf; everyone else managed multiple formats (pdf, epub and mobi at the very least, and only the Wells lacked rtf).

Addendum: the Hugo voting order was Stross, Valente, Duncan/Klages, Torgerson, Wells.


  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:12pm on 24 July 2014

    Equoid is the only one of these I've read, and it was definitely not Stross at his best.

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