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Hugo Capsules: Novelettes

Best Novelette

1. “The Journeyman: In the Stone House“, by Michael F. Flynn

There’s nothing quite like a good heroic fantasy, nor do I ever tire of tales set in the shadows of once great civilizations. Perhaps it is an atavistic preference passed down from my Gothic barbarian ancestors (along with a predilection for little fur hats). Whatever the case, the exploits of Teodorq sunna Nagarajan and Sammi o’ th’ Eagles following their encounter with the holographic AI of a downed spacecraft felt like something out of Swords & Sorcery  or in the tradition of “Black Amazon of Mars”. I enjoyed the blending of fantasy and sci-fi, and the odd dialect incorporating contemporary slang spoken by the characters (to whom our expressions would be archaic), which plays into the stories funniest exchange:

“And what is meant by ‘babe’?”

“In the sprock, it is a term of respect for important women.”

 The tale ends on a somewhat inconclusive note, being part of a larger series following Teodorq and Sammi, but it is a satisfying chapter, and I look forward to their further adventures.

2. “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale“, by Rajnar Vajra

It’s rather odd that despite being my least favorite overall of the four good nominees, “The Triple Sun” ended up receiving my number 2 vote (for reasons detailed below). Given my poor scholarship in Golden Age SF, I cannot comment on the accuracy of the tale’s subtitle, but it had a very optimistic, future-is-gonna-be-great, can-do,”work the problem” attitude that I have inferred is the hallmark of Golden Age SF. It was a very fun read, and had the second best SF speculation (to my tastes) after “Earth to Alluvium”.

3. “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium“, by Gary Rinehart

This was an interesting little story about a man fighting a psychological and cultural warfare action against an occupying alien force through his own impending death. Despite my attempts to see one character as a kind of Cato of Utica, a last page twist still left a sour taste in my mouth, and for that reason alone “Earth to Alluvium” was bumped below “The Triple Sun”.

4. “Championship B’tok“, by Edward M. Lerner

“Championship B’tok” read very much like several chapters from a larger work that had been compiled together to be submitted as a novelette; a larger work that I would very much like to read. In many ways, from setting (harder SF) to characters (various humans and aliens pursuing different agendas) to mood (political intrigue), I preferred this story to “The Triple Sun” and “Earth to Alluvium”. I ranked those latter works higher because I was voting for the best novelette, and those works were better as stories containable in a novelette, whereas “B’tok” worked decently well, but has non sequitur first chapter and frustrating cliffhanger ending (unless I am missing some context for this story? I read it as part of the Hugo packet, so if it is part of a continuing serialized story, this was not made clear to me by the Hugo packet edition.).

5. No Award

6. “The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, by Thomas Ole Heuvelt

A speculative fiction tale that is uninterested in speculation about its own premise, unless it’s to take a cheap shot at religion. A bland story about a bland, whiny, pathetic man male human human narrator who abandons a woman to her death so it can save a goldfish so it can fail to win back its former paramour.


Hugo Capsules: Short Stories

Best Short Story

1. “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds“, by John C. Wright

A richly written meditation on the fate of Earth’s beasts and birds after the End of Man; think C.S. Lewis by way of Jack Vance. The characterization, mood, and turn of phrase have a timeless quality about them that makes the tale fit seamlessly into the tradition of Great Western Literature. The theological speculation displays a great depth of thought, and concerns an area of much personal interest to me. On top of all these merits, the ending is one of the most moving, not only among the other Hugo contenders, but amongst my copious reading, I have read. It shows the hand of Milton’s Muse.

2. “Totaled“, by Kary English

The intriguing tale of Margaret Hauri, Ph.D, a neuroscientist who, postmortem, finds herself (well, her brain) the subject of her own previous research project. I was particularly impressed when she discovered how to communicate with her former lab partner, despite being a brain in a jar. Her solution displayed the kind of cool thinking under duress that characterizes so many great sci-fi protagonists, and it was for this scene in particular that I ranked “Totaled” the highest of the works after “Parliament”.

3. “On a Spiritual Plain“, by Lou Antonelli

An interesting piece set on a planet with a strong magnetic field, where the souls, or perhaps merely impressions, of the dead are entrapped as electromagnetic phantoms. Upon rereading, this story dropped slightly in my estimation, as I realized the Methodist base chaplain tasked with helping an agnostic human ghost find release does not at any point express concern for the state of the man’s soul; whether he need repent of his sins before moving on. It does not detract from the story that much, but it makes the chaplain feel almost as agnostic as the shade, and represents a missed opportunity to explore the tale’s theme in more depth.

4. “Turncoat“, by Steve Rzasa

I’m afraid this work suffered unfairly from being one of the last stories I read. It is a fine piece about an AI starship contemplating the humanity of its posthuman commanders, it’s human enemies, and itself, while in the middle of some blisteringly fast, exciting, well-written space combat. It is working in a very similar vein as Big Boys Don’t Cry, and I think my opinion of it was lessened by the fact that it was not as deep a tale as the latter, despite being no where near as long. Upon rereading it now, I found I enjoyed it much more as the short story it was written as, and though I do not believe I would change its ranking if voting again (perhaps I might bump it above “On a Spiritual Plain”), ordering short stories 2-4 was very difficult, as all were very different and very good.

Hugo Capsules: Related Works & Graphic Novels

1. Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth, by John C. Wright

Full disclosure: I was a proofreader for this work.

A wonderful compilation of essays from the archives, recent and old, of sci-fi writer John C. Wright’s personal blog. Ranging in tone from humorous to weighty, yet always thoughtful, Wright addresses such topics as the terribleness of The Hobbit films, how to be a writer, philosophy in the works of sci-fi Greats, strong female characters in sci-fi, and the taxonomy of the stages of moral decay, among others, in an incredibly readable, articulate manner. Any one of these essays could have been nominated alone as a related work; taken together, they speak to Wright’s prolificness of writing and depth and broadness of thought.

2. “The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF“, by Ken Burnside

An excellent sci-fi writer’s resource that explores what military actions, tactics, strategy, and logistics in outer space might look like given the current state of scientific knowledge, particularly the Laws of Thermodynamics. It is a quick but fascinating read, and if it weren’t competing against a whole book’s worth of essays, would definitely be worthy of the Hugo (honestly, I feel that perhaps ‘Best Related Work’ ought to be split into ‘long’ and ‘short’ subcategories).

3. “Why Science is Never Settled“, by Tedd Roberts

A timely, topical essay reminding us that the scientific method is just that, a method, and despite what newspapers and politicians like to say, can never be ‘settled’. Roberts takes us on a swift tour through the history of science, pointing out the many now overturned ideas that were thought to be settled once and for all in their day. “The Hot Equations” edged this out for the number two spot, simply because I felt it was more science fiction related than this essay.

I did not get the chance to read all of Wisdom from My Internet, but while what I read was amusing, the work as a whole did not feel science fiction-related enough for me to include it on my ballot.

Best Graphic Story

1. No Award

Seriously. If this is the kind of felgercarb we get when Puppies don’t nominate good works, no wonder the campaign has become a smashing success. I’m not terribly familiar with the wider range of current U.S. graphic novel offerings, but where the hell was Hellboy in Hell?

Book Review: The Judge of Ages

I had sitting before me, freshly unwrapped from the Amazon box, John C. Wright’s The Judge of Ages, and Jim Butcher’s Skin Game. I cracked open Judge first. Fellow fans of the SFF genre, that alone should speak to the quality of Wright’s past works, and the anticipated quality of this one. It did not disappoint.

Read the rest of this entry

Book Review: The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is not a book to be read at funerals. Within the first chapter or two you will begin cracking up, holding back tears of laughter, and all your relatives will turn to look and see you reading a YA novel when you should be paying attention to the moving eulogy on your Great Uncle Stanley’s love affairs with golf and sharkboxing, the latter of which got us all here in the first place, but at least he died doing what he loved. They will then proceed to passively-aggressively deny you the best desserts at the funeral reception. For similar reasons, you should avoid reading this book at weddings, baptisms, confirmations, bar mitzvahs, ordinations, inauguration ceremonies, and circumcisions. Read the rest of this entry

Metachronopolis Triple Feature!

          Obscure midlist author extraordinaire John C. Wright, who has a talent for mashing together sub-genres I love, has written another tale of Metachronopolis, the City Beyond Time. I am a big fan of Wright’s previous two Metachronopolis yarns, and after reading the preview chapter of Wright’s latest story eagerly anticipate it’s publication. But, it seems, it may take a miracle for Suicide in Metachronopolis to to see the light of print, and so I urge you to respond to Wright’s call for prayers, wishes, good vibes, etc. Take a look at the preview chapter as well; it features one of the Helenne of Troy, a Phillip Marlowe-esque time traveler, and the newest entry into my Scariest Time Travel Monsters hall of fame: the Tin Woodman!
tick, tock, tick, to-*slice*

Because fanart for published works is too mainstream

Also, consider getting a copy of Clockwork Phoenix 1 & 3, which feature other tales of Metachronopolis as part of excellent collections of time travel short stories. Capsule reviews after the jump.
UPDATE: Both works, plus Suicide in Metachronopolis (now “The Plural Helen of Troy”) and several other time travel stories by Wright are now available in the anthology City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis.