Hugo Choices 11: Novelettes in handy bite sized pieces

Previously on Hugo Choices:

Current Hugo State of Play

Hugo Choices 1: Best Novel

Hugo Choices 2: Best Related Work – The Story of Moira Greyland

Hugo Choices 3: Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form

Hugo Choices 4: Best Short Story

Hugo Choices 5: Best Fanzine

Hugo Choices 6: Best Fan Writer

Hugo Choices 7: Best Editor – Long Form

Hugo Choices 8: Best Semiprozine

Hugo Choices 9: Best Graphic Story

Hugo Choices 10: Best Fan Artist


A category damaged by rabid-activity but not broken. Essentially a shortlist of two-and-half reasonable entries.

1. Folding Beijing: a story of a lower class go-between in a future Beijing where the social divides are so vast that the city literally folds itself into different cities at an appointed hour. The central conceit is more magic-realism than anything else and the story requires the reader to just go along with the absurdity of it. If you can, then this is a rewarding tale of social-division with a hefty dose of allegory.

2. And You Shall Know Her By the Trail of Dead is foulmouthed pulp-pastiche cyberpunk with an extra helping of punk. Violent and well paced, it feels shorter than it actually is. I think a novel with the same pace, tone and language would get tiring but as a novelette, this is probably the right dosage.

But I could swap those two around. Both decent entries.

3. Obits: Hack journalists discovers that his tacky obituaries come true when written in advance. More horror than SF/F and obviously competently put together by Steven King. However, it is otherwise unremarkable. I considered putting this below No Award but decided to give it the benefit of the doubt.

4. No Award. Definitely worth looking at comparison works for this category. Nebula nominated Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds by Rose Lemberg is freely available at Beneath Ceaseless Skies (although oddly not in their Hugo Packet entry) and Nebula winner Our Lady of the Open Road by Sarah Pinsker is available at her website. There also three other novelettes in the Hugo Packet entry for Asimov’s Science Fiction (in Best Editor Short Form). All arguably better than Obits.

Two self-disqualifying entries from Why Isn’t This Walrus? Volume X.
What Price Humanity: Another war + virtuality story with a surprise twist that isn’t very surprising.
Flashpoint Titan: More space war, huh, what is it good for?

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18 responses to “Hugo Choices 11: Novelettes in handy bite sized pieces”

  1. I’d personally swap 1 & 2 but both are reasonable choices depending on taste. I did like Folding Beijing but thought it got a bit tell-not-show in the middle. I like the retro-cyberpunk of Trail but it’s not going to be to everyone’s taste. What I particularly liked was that (as you note) it has some real pace to the story.


  2. Folding Beijing left me feeling kind of hollow at the protagonist’s dull acceptance of the system he and his daughter live in. There’s no anger, there’s no outrage… it’s so massively engineered, there’s no point in doing anything but scurrying around the edges.


  3. I think Beijing might be the better story because of how effectively it drives its cogs-in-the-machine metaphor home, but it’s a depressing theme and not quite to my taste. It’s like a battle of “favorite” vs “best” for me, so I wouldn’t mind if either won, but I enjoyed Trail so much that I can’t not vote for it.


  4. My favorite novelette last year was Ann Leckie’s “Another Word for World”. In my opinion, Beijing held a fair bit of promise but by comparison falls way short of that, as does Trail. So right now I feel as though I’m in a position of No Awarding everything, or of voting for stories that I really don’t see as being Hugo quality. :-/


  5. I’m usually a non-fiction person, but lately wanting to grow and stretch a little so I read these two stories on a long flight yesterday hoping to think about and contribute a little to the conversation. I don’t know if I am just not experienced enough in the genre to know what is good or mediocre, but these two seemed undewhelming to me.

    I usually like swagger and trails of dead ( 🙂 ), but that story just seemed to me like an extended excuse to use creatively foul language. That might say more about me and my hang ups though. Maybe one way to tell if a story is good is if it makes one thing about one’s reactions and the issues underlying them? Still, I couldn’t focus on the characters because the language got in the way. I wonder if the author is a fan of the band of the nearly-same name.

    I found the Folding Beijing story to be Ok, but kind of tame and nothing that has not been observed before. Its social criticism may be more subversive in a Chinese context, though, where Ai Weiwei and others still get arrested for pointing out corruption and hierarchy where none is supposed to exist. Although the story is obviously a critique of class and caste — even labour hierarchies with a sort of folding//turnover/shift system where worst jobs are third shift — I thought I also saw something in there about disillusionment with growing up and the narrowing of options and one settles into a life path. Having recently spent time with teenagers for whom style is paramount, I smiled at the description; “forty–eight, single, and long past the age when he still took care of his appearance”. The Qin Tian character is also very young in his swoony and desperate approach to an unrealistic love. The adult characters all looked back their younger days with a sense of loss. Maybe we would do well to get back in touch with that part of our younger selves who tried for big loves or grand adventures or just didn’t settle for folding up our nice clothes to keep them clean and ready for another dutiful public day. None of the main adults seem to want to be where they are doing what they are doing. Ken Liu’s translation of the phrase “She was his dream at night, and also the light he saw when he trembled in his own hand” is lovely in its subtlety.


      • The world setup in Folding Beijing made me think of the morphing that happened every night in Dark City — which was cool, and a really nice premise. I thought the story was really promising, but as you say, it didn’t have quite enough to put it over the top for me.


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