Thursday, July 31, 2014

The 2014 Hugos: My Final Novella Ballot

For those keeping score:
  1. The short stories that received the Hugo nod this year were heinous.
  2. The novelettes, however, were better.
And where do the novellas fall? Well -- here, we had more of a mixed bag. My final ballot is as follows:
  1. The Chaplain's Legacy by Brad Torgersen. This novella, in which enemies at war are forced to confront their differences and cooperate for the benefit of all, is easily - EASILY - the best story on the short list in any category, and the reason is simple: It's the only nominated work whose appeal has the potential to be universal. Consider, for example, how Brad tackles his religious themes. Barlow, the male lead, is agnostic; Adanaho, the female lead, is a devout Coptic Christian; and the mantes aliens are atheistic. In the story, they all discuss their beliefs - or lack thereof - but no side is portrayed as somehow less worthy of respect. Brad allows us to sympathize with Barlow's doubt, connect with Adanaho's faith, and understand the mantes' intellectual puzzlement because he portrays all of their thoughts honestly and without distortion. A fair-mindedness that considers all angles and makes no assumptions? In fandom, sadly, this is becoming vanishingly rare. The Chaplain's Legacy also paints a very optimistic picture of the power of cultural congress to settle conflicts and achieve genuine peace (which should appeal to readers of a more liberal sentiment), presents male sexuality as a powerful temptation that can nonetheless be resisted (which should appeal to cultural conservatives), asks questions about the overwhelming dominance of technology in both human and mantes society (ditto), and stars a strong female character who outranks the male lead (which should appeal to feminists). How does Brad straddle all these lines? He does it by focusing on the story first and by thoroughly understanding his human and alien characters at a fundamental level. BRAVO. More like this, please!
  2. The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells. The gap in quality between the first and the second slot is huge on this ballot, but I still appreciate Wells' ability to dive into a monstrous mind and explain how and why it became monstrous -- something you don't normally encounter in a basic game tie-in story. Great literary fantasy? No -- but I enjoyed it far more than the other three novellas on the list.
  3. No Award.
  4. Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente. This one made it onto my ballot on creativity points alone; admittedly, Valente did a damned good job remixing the Snow White story and slotting it into her Gold Rush-era setting. Unfortunately, this novella is as annoyingly and stridently political as "The Waiting Stars." Valente really, really wants you to know that white people impose impossible standards on "people of color" and are thus capital-E Evil, and she hammers the point home every chance she gets. Ugh! Way to ruin a concept with great potential!
Left off of the ballot entirely: Equoid by Charles Stross and Wakulla Springs by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages. The latter novella, set during the Jim Crow era in Florida, is well-written but not sci-fi/fantasy, and the former? Well, I started off liking Stross' style a little and had high hopes -- but then I got to the tentacle rape of an under-aged girl and just -- couldn't continue. Why, Mr. Stross? Why?

And that -- finishes up my Hugo commentary for this week. Next week, after I finish my reviews for Rescue Mode and Stardogs, I'll talk about Larry Correia, Toni Weisskopf, and at least one general trend in this year's short list that I found worrying. Until then, stay tuned!

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