Here are the five novelettes that are short-listed for the Hugo. Wikipedia gives the novelette word-count range as 7500-17,500. A couple of these read as longer than that.
- “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium”, Gray Rinehart (Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, 05-2014)
- “Championship B’tok”, Edward M. Lerner (Analog, 09-2014)
- “The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014)
- “The Journeyman: In the Stone House”, Michael F. Flynn (Analog, 06-2014)
- “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale”, Rajnar Vajra (Analog, 07/08-2014)
The novelette category was heavily influenced by the splinter group(s). The challenge in this category is similar to the problem I had with the novellas. A couple of these are decent reads, or interesting stories, but are these really the best novelettes published in 2014?
“Championship B’Tok,” by Edward M. Lerner, has an interesting idea. I like the continued metaphor of the game-of-strategy that runs through the work. “Championship B’Tok” does not stand alone. This is probably Part One of a longer work, and it ends on a suspenseful note, but it is not a complete story. Lerner abandoned the two characters I cared about after the first chapter, and I never re-engaged with the various other super-spies and wily merchants. The spy-versus-spy action and time-traveling Interveners were interesting, not compelling. My favorite part of this story is its name with its lovely Vulcan echo (no Vulcans in the story, sorry).
“The Day the World Turned Upside Down,” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, translated by Lia Belt, is an intriguing thought exercise, a surrealistic tour de force filled with vivid imagery. One day after the first-person’s narrator’s girlfriend, Sophia, broke up with him, turning his world upside down, the world literally turns upside down. The narrator rescues Sophia’s goldfish and decides to take it to her. Along the way he encounters an abandoned little girl, an ultra-light pilot, and two women who plan to plait flax into ropes so that they can climb “up” to the ground. The two women bring a folkloric aspect to the piece. Heuvelt compares the broken relationship to the topsy-turvy world in so many words but the imagery is gorgeous. Lia Belt’s translation gets high marks. It was pretty, weird and fascinating… but again, not a story. The character I identified with the most was Bubbles the goldfish, trapped in a 7-Up bottle, an involuntary companion dragged along to each episodic encounter.
“The Journeyman; In the Stone House” also felt like a piece from a larger work. In Michael F. Flynn’s adventure, we meet two nomads, Teodorq and Sammi o’ the Eagles, who are captured by another group of nomads on a vast grassland. Apparently, this is future earth, with various nomadic tribes warring for territory. The captors are called the ironmen. Teodorq wonders if they are the “starmen” that the ghost on the “shuttle” they found before (we learn about this in a flashback) told them about. Teo and Sammi hang out with the ironmen and eventually are drafted into their army. This novelette reminded me forcibly of The Horseclans books Robert Adams wrote so long ago. Think “Horseclans Lite.” The story read like a “buddy movie” with little plot. I could picture Seth Rogen and Zack Galifianakis playing the two main characters. Despite a wonderful hand-to-hand combat sequence in the last third, nothing really happens here.
“Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” by Grey Rinehart, is a complete story with a beginning, a middle and an end. How refreshing! The story takes place on Alluvia, where a human colony has been subjugated by another space-faring race, the lizardish Peshari. Toro Cerna, a human, takes his human friend Phil to a Peshari monument engraver. As the story continues, we see that the human colony is falling on harder times as the Peshari slowly withdraw supplies. Humans have rebelled on several occasions, leading to their deaths. Phil, who is sick, has an idea, one so bizarre that Toro and the other humans can’t quite wrap their minds around it. Toro has to decide if he will help Phil. His final decision, and the result, will result in dramatic changes on the planet.
In “The Triple Sun; A Golden Age Tale,” by Rajnar Vajnar, an engaging narrative voice and the partnership of the three young Exo-planetary Explorer cadets who are the main characters give this tale some life. I enjoyed “The Triple Sun” but thought it was too long for the idea. The mystery of the natives was clever, but it didn’t seem very scientific. At the climax of the story, though, the three young cadets, who haven’t functioned all that well as a team, do pull together. I thought the final denouement suffered from a bit too much cuteness and dragged on.
The two I enjoyed the most are “The Day the World Turned Upside Down,” and “The Triple Sun; A Golden Age Tale.”
I did make an interesting side discovery while reading these. To my complete lack of surprise, the “hard science” stories don’t have very much actual science. “The Triple Sun,” “Championship B’tok” and “Ashes to Ashes… ” all contain extra-terrestrial life forms that are lizard-like, snake-like, or called Snakes. (Reptiles don’t fare well with “hard science fiction” writers.) The Abreathons in “The Triple Sun” are not terribly convincing, and seem a lot like a group of aliens on Doctor Who. Time-travel in “Championsip B’tok” is not much different from magic. Where are the stories like David Walton’s Superposition, or 2013’s Afterparty by Daryl Gregory, where the story springs directly and organically from the science? I really do want to know.