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.