Hugo Blogging: “Best” Novelette

This is another category where the ballot is dominated by the overlapping slates that were block-voted in an attempt to promote reactionary (and in the case of at least one of the two slates, explicitly neo-fascist) political views, and as such I would be putting four of the five stories here below “No Award” anyway, as they did not make the ballot legitimately.

However, I shall actually be placing all five below No Award. One of the more depressing aspects of the Sad and Rabid Puppy slates is that the people who put them together are pushing both a political and an aesthetic viewpoint, and the aesthetic viewpoint is just as toxic as the political one. Even were all the stories to have made it on their own merits without block voting, and even had the politics of the authors matched my own, the stories on the Puppy slates are just *bad*.

Some of that badness is a lack of craft — badly-written sentences, with no sense of the potential of language for beauty, of the rhythms of speech, or of the subtle nuances involved in the choice of one word over another. I would actually have some sympathy for this if the ideas in the stories were worth reading — after all, I hardly have the most mellifluous prose style myself, and there are reasons other than beauty of language to read.

But the ideas are, uniformly (bearing in mind I’m only two categories through, so they might yet surprise me) awful.

In the “Best” Novelette category, I’m ranking No Award first, and second I will be ranking The Day the World Turned Upside Down by Thomas Olde Heuvel (translated by Lia Belt). This is the one non-Puppy nomination, and is the kind of poor literary fiction that makes one almost wonder if the Puppies have a point. The protagonist, a tedious narcissist with no redeeming characteristics whatsoever, is moping because his girlfriend left him. Then, for no adequately-explained reason, gravity goes into reverse, with people being flung up to ceilings or into space. The world has turned upside down, just as his girlfriend turned his emotional world upside down. Do you see?
It’s perfectly competently written, for its type (although don’t use it as a guide for the care and feeding of goldfish — but in a world where gravity can go into reverse, goldfish managing to survive in 7-Up is probably not the most unrealistic thing about the story), but it’s a story in which horrible things happen to a horrible person, and I find it very hard to care about those.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium by Gray Rinehart immediately shows that actually, no, the Puppies don’t have a point after all. The plot can be accurately summarised in two sentences, without losing any of its essence: “On a world ruled by evil lizard aliens who have a taboo against intelligent beings going underground, a man who is dying because the lizards won’t let humans have medication decides to get buried to spite them. He gets buried, and this upsets them.”
As with much of the Sad/Rabid Puppy slate, there is a sense here that the author is trying to say something he thinks is profound, but that his assumed audience share so many of his political and religious prejudices that the meaning is completely opaque to those of us who are not conservative North American ex-military middle-aged white men in either the Mormon or Catholic churches, as almost all of the Puppy nominees seem to be.

The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale by Rajnar Vajra reads exactly like a story that could have been published in Astounding in 1945, except that John Campbell probably wouldn’t have approved of the use of the term “African-American”. That is the only sign in the story that the last seventy years have happened, though — and while I have a lot of time for stories that were actually from 1945, we don’t need any Campbell tribute acts.

The Journeyman: in the Stone House by Michael F Flynn I actually couldn’t finish. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world that reads like tenth-hand Robert E Howard, and every third word is a made-up one:

The kospathin leaned on the arm of his big chair and growled something in a back-throated language. The young woman spoke up in the shortgrass plavver.
“My father asks whether or no ye be spies for the kraal of Bowman.”
Teodorq answered in the sprock. “Sorry, babe. We don’t get ya.”

This is what people who don’t read SF think all SF is like. Pitiful. It’s also badly copy-edited, with lines like “They watched a while longer in science.”

And Championship B’tok by Edward Lerner — ah, do you see? The space-chess game is a metaphor for the political machinations. Not only is this leaden and horribly written, but it’s not actually a stand-alone work, but part two of a five-part serialised novel. Should never have even been nominated.

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8 Responses to Hugo Blogging: “Best” Novelette

  1. misssbgmail says:

    Agreed on all fronts. The one good thing about the horrible goldfish story with the narcissist is I got a new goodreads friend out of it, because I found his scathing review of it so hilarious.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Yeah, it does seem to be bringing people who’ve read these things together. “You don’t know what it was like, man! I was THERE! ALL THE WOMEN WERE TROPHIES FOR WHINY MEN! ALL OF THEM!!!”

  2. Christian Taylor says:

    No joke:

    I have literally waited years for the appropriate context to write a character referring to a frightening/impressive/imposing entity as “The Kraal” to spoof bad genre writing.

    And I have now been beaten to it by accident.

  3. gavinburrows says:

    Just to clarify, you actually have read these novelettes and these are genuine reviews? They read so much like parodies its hard to say. The two quotes you give had me laughing out loud!

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Yes, I have read these, and yes they’re genuine reviews. If anything I’m being rather kinder than they deserve, simply because I don’t have time to enumerate *all* their faults in a short blog entry like this.

  4. Jonathan Edelstein says:

    I’m not conservative, Catholic or Mormon (I’ll plead guilty to the other characteristics you listed) but “Earth to Alluvium” spoke to me. It’s a story about resistance to oppression, about learning to get into the oppressors’ heads and use their fears against them, and about folklore and folk memory. The reference to resurrection of the body wasn’t critical to the story: it would have worked almost as well if the dying character were buried for purely tactical reasons (not exactly as well, because that reference meant that the humans were pitting their own folklore against their oppressors’, but almost), It’s going at the top of my ballot.

    On the other hand, you were too kind to most of the others. The “made-up” words in “In the Stone House” mostly aren’t really – kospathin is crypto-Russian and sprock is crypto-German, for instance – but the story still sucked, and most of the others were even worse.

  5. Pingback: Howl’s Moving Castalia 5/24 | File 770

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