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Hugo 2018: Novelettes 24 July 2018

These are my thoughts on the Hugo-nominated novelettes. I'm not voting this year, but if you are, you may wish not to read these notes until you have read the stories.

Children of Thorns, Children of Water, by Aliette de Bodard: there's magic here, and de Bodard's usual Vietnamese culture and feeling, but this time we're in a ruined Paris (apparently). I believe this is connected to the novel series Dominion of the Fallen; in isolation, it has some interesting things to say but the worldbuilding is very sketchy, and at times it feels like someone imitating de Bodard's usual tropes without hooking them together. Available from Uncanny.

Extracurricular Activities, by Yoon Ha Lee: we're back in the days when Shuos Jedao was alive, and going on a covert rescue mission. This is a prequel to Lee's Machineries of Empire novels, and I suspect that like Children of Thorns it would suffer badly without that context; on its own, it's an agreeable adventure story, but there's nothing of the perversity of calendrical orthodoxy, and little of the brokenness of society, that defines the novels. The power it has for readers of the novels is in that contrast, in all the things it doesn't say but we know are brewing in the background. If I were voting I'd feel I had to rate it as a stand-alone, and thus low; but as a non-voting fan of the novels this is probably my favourite of this year's novelettes. Available from tor.com.

The Secret Life of Bots, by Suzanne Palmer: a spaceship is un-mothballed for one last hopeless mission, and one maintenance bot saves the day. Very light, and nothing revolutionary about it (one could arguably trace this sort of story back to Murray Leinster's The Wabbler from 1942, and certainly through Drake and Niven's Mom and the Kids from 1990) but good fun nonetheless. Available from Clarkesworld.

A Series of Steaks, by Vina Jie-Min Prasad: real meat is horribly expensive, so there's a market in forging it with bioassemblers, and Helena Li Yuanhui is one of those forgers. This is an oddly disconnected story: we learn about the world, and about the client who won't take no for an answer, and Helena takes on an assistant who becomes a friend, and there's a solution to the problem posed by the client, but these feel almost like separate stories rather than blending together. And for some reason Helena never feels threatened even when she's, well, threatened, which comes over as a little odd. Still highly enjoyable, though. Available from Clarkesworld.

Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time, by K.M. Szpara: a trans man is bitten by a vampire, and things get complicated. This feels to me a lot like a Message Story, with our hero's trans-ness being rather more important than any individual personality he might have; that's fine if your primary desire is to read stories about trans people, but if you're not automatically interested in that then there's not much else to grab you. Available from Uncanny.

Wind Will Rove, by Sarah Pinsker: on a generation ship that's suffered a suspiciously plot-convenient database wipe, a musician speculates on the tension between preserving the old and creating something new. At the same time, there's a consideration of the ethics of forcing people to be born and die on board the ship: only the first generation volunteered, after all. There are some lovely ideas here, but the writing rubbed me wrong; I couldn't feel any particular sympathy for anyone involved. Available from Asimov's as PDF.

Since I'm not voting I don't have to rank these, which given my mixed feelings on Extracurricular Activities is a good thing. On the other hand I may start taking an occasional look at Clarkesworld.

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