Previously on Hugo Choices:
- BEST NOVELLA : Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
- BEST NOVELLA : The Builders by Daniel Polansky (Tor.com)
- BEST NOVELLA : Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold (Spectrum)
- BEST NOVELLA : Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson (Dragonsteel Entertainment)
- BEST NOVELLA : Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds (Tachyon)
I think this is one of the most interesting categories this year. Each one of the nominees is a plausible candidate as a finalist but there isn’t a real stand-out winner. Three out of the five are by well-established writers and two are by newer writers. The least good (IMHO) has some excellent writing and made me want to read more by the same author. The best felt lacking in places and didn’t hit knock-your-socks-off great.
- Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. This is an old-school-style young person goes into space and has an interesting adventure with aliens story. A bit Heinlienish a bit Star-Trekish but with an atypical protagonist. But…it feels like either a short story that got out of hand or a novel that didn’t quite make it. OK that is a cheap criticism to make of a novella but reading it I felt like it needed either more or less. The central character, Binti, adapts too quickly to too many things, many of them deeply traumatic. Mysteries are answered too quickly to be interesting reveals.
- Penric’s Demon. A fantasy tale about demonic possession by a strong writer. It is a story with charm and humour in the repartee between the nobleman Penric and the demon he accidently acquires from a dying priestess. I haven’t read the follow-up story that was released recently and maybe as a pair or series, it would all feel more meaty. As is, it feels more like a chunk of a longer novel rather than a thing complete in itself.
- Slow Bullets. Pretty close in my ranking with Perfect State and these next two may swap positions. I enjoy Alistair Reynolds and this story is very Reynolds: questions about identity (e.g. Chasm City) and a digital culture having to embrace traditional forms of record keeping (e.g. in the background to Century Rain) and alien beings who wipe out competing civilisations (e.g. in the arc of the Revelation Space stories). Lots of good bits but the whole feels episodic and with undeveloped themes.
- Perfect State. Fine. Neat novella sized story about people who live permanently in virtual realities. Entertaining and less ambitious than the three stories above and perhaps the one that fits into novella size without feeling too short or over-padded. Having said that, there is nothing particularly amazing or original here either.
- The Builders. Hmmm. A pastiche of The Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven but with animals, plus some odd structural choices. This feels like a writing exercise or the author trying to answer a challenge or bet. It really doesn’t work and isn’t serious enough to take seriously or funny enough to take humorously, but there are lots of chunks of good writing. “Now a stoat is a cruel animal, perhaps the cruellest in the Gardens. They are brought up to be cruel, they must be cruel—for nature, which is crueller, has dictated that their prey be children and the unborn, the beloved and the weak. And to that end nature has given them paws stealthy and swift, wide eyes to see clearly on a moonless night, and a soul utterly remorseless, without conscience or scruple. But that is nature’s fault, and not the stoat’s; the stoat is what it has been made to be, as are we all.”
The problem looks like that trying to write a straight novella that is a pastiche of the Magnificent Seven is actually not a good idea but despite that Polansky makes a damn good try.
- No Award doesn’t get on the ballot. I’ve read novellas (or at least short novels) that I enjoyed more from 2015 (Slade House, the Gameshouse novellas) but not ones that were clearly substantially better than these nominees.