Hugo 2018: Novellas

I will say it again: this category is where the action is. I don’t want to sound disrespectful to the nominees for Best Novel, if anything it is less exciting as a category because of the consistent quality of the work but it is a year of consolidation for Best Novel rather exploring new boundaries (although Six Wakes was a delightful find).

Novella on the other hand is a banner held high for science fiction/fantasy this year. It’s a heady mix of upcoming and established writers, as well as a set of new worlds and potential long-running series to explore in the future. The least good of the six nominees are inventive and novel and push the field further. The very best have clever themes, great plots and characters you want to read more about.

Yes, the novella is emerging as form in part due to its suitability for ebook marketing and digital consumption. Great! Shorter fiction as a way of monetising longer fiction is healthy for a genre – think of the classic sci-fi novels that started off as serialised short fiction. Economics and publishing realities always shape fiction.

To te nominees. I think of them as three groups of two:

  1. Stand out stories: really great stories that definitely impacted on my socks.
  2. Solid sequels: (ok, one is a prequel) well crafted part twos from established writers.
  3. Inventions with the form: quirky, ambitious uses of the novella format to do something challenging.

Obviously the qualities in those groups overlap between the stories. My two top picks are obviously in that number one group: Murderbot and Murder-Sarah really are two of the best things I’ve read this year. The other ranks alternate between two and three.

  1. All Systems Red, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing). At first I assumed Wells’s Murderbot was unassailable but Sarah Pinsker’s army of clones was a challenger. Even so, I’ve got to give it to All Systems Red. At one level a classic SF thriller/mystery with explorers facing danger and betrayal on an alien planet. On another level a deep dive into a unique character. Brilliant.
  2. “And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017). What starts as little more than a fun idea becomes a humane and moving murder mystery in which literally every guest is a suspect and potential next victim. Although Sarah Pinsker may find people hiding sharp, heavy objects from her…
  3. Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing). I enjoyed this more than I expected and it is has been growing on me since I finished it the other day. There are no surprises but it is a masterclass in how to write from an author with complete comand of words.
  4. River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing). This is the first of my rankings that I don’t think entirely work. The story sort of crashes to a halt and it works much better with its sequel to form a novel sized story. Even so, the inventiveness of the idea caught me even from when I first read about Gailey’s concept for it. Love it, with all its flaws.
  5. Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing). Ah the perils of a set of good nominees! I’ve put poor Binti fifth! I felt this was more of a transitional episode than a good story in itself. Well written but not the high point of the series.
  6. The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang (Tor.com Publishing). Sixth in this collection is no shame. A huge original world, a story covering decades, two fascinating characters struggling with power and fate and love and identity – all crammed into a novella. This is a TARDIS of a story, much, much bigger than its gorgeous cover and word count.

Anyway, time is pressing! I’m not sure how many other categories I’ll cover before the deadline! All I have to do is read all* of Best Series starting from scratch tomorrow and I’ll be fine 🙂

*[I’m exaggerating because I’ve read Divine Cities already so its only (a gazillion – 3) books rather than (a gazillion) books.]

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15 thoughts on “Hugo 2018: Novellas”

  1. I think I’d swap 3&4 but otherwise I don’t disagree with you.
    River of Teeth had a decent ending IMO – rather action-orientated but this is a heist story after all (ahem, “operation”).

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    1. I guess so, it just felt like I was just getting into the cast of characters and WALLOP it was over with everybody still up in the air emotionally. I think that’s why I enjoyed the sequel more. I wouldn’t want to predict the final rankings of my 3-6 but I’m betting the top two will be the top two in the ballot.

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      1. Yep, it’s Murderbot followed by Murdersarah for me, no question. I also think Murderbot is a dead cert for the actual win, I’m really not seeing anyone going meh at it, whereas I’m not so sure murdersarah will take second as the concept appears to be a bit more of an acquired taste.

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  2. Swap 4 & 6 and you match my ballot. I wasn’t as impressed with the concept of “River of Teeth”, plus it got marks off for dodgy hydrology.

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  3. All I have to do is read all* of Best Series starting from scratch tomorrow and I’ll be fine

    Heh. Are you going to set a record for staying awake? Depending on how fast you read, it’ll take 24-48 hours (straight) for The Stormlight Archive all by itself.

    I think (hope) that the Divine Cities has it, though. Head and shoulders above the rest, as far as I’m concerned.

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    1. My Best Series ballot goes:
      Divine Cities
      Five Gods
      Lady Trent
      Stormlight Archive
      Raksura
      InCryptid

      Honestly I think any of my top 4 are deserving. I will say that I hope the award doesn’t go to Bujold two years running.

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    2. I seem to be the odd person out regarding Divine Cities, because it doesn’t do anything for me and it’s currently close to the bottom of my ballot, though still above the neverending Stormlight Archives.

      I find the series category somewhat disappointing this year anyway. Five Gods is great, though I’m not sure if I would qualify it as a single series rather than two shorter series set in the same world. Raksura and Incryptid are good, but not great. Lady Trent isn’t my thing, though I can see why others like it. As for Divine Cities – I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it. Stormlight Archive is long and not particularly interesting.

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      1. I’m putting Divine Cities top so I’m afraid you’re still the odd one out 🙂

        I loved Raksura at the start and I think it’s richer and more interesting than Lady Trent, but the story lost it’s way a bit for me towards the end so I think it’s Lady Trent second and Raksura among the completed series.

        Five Gods is my dilemma. If it was just the novel trilogy then I’d rate it very highly. I also really like the Penric series but it’s not a complete story. I don’t want to rate incomplete series above complete ones, but the nomination is effectively for a shared world so is completeness as important?
        I think I’m rating it at the top of the incomplete series, i.e. below all the complete ones.

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      2. Divine Cities is so far above the other series for me that there was never any danger of any of them displacing it at the top of my ballot.

         
        Mark-kitteh: I loved Raksura at the start and I think it’s richer and more interesting than Lady Trent, but the story lost it’s way a bit for me towards the end so I think it’s Lady Trent second and Raksura among the completed series.

        I had similar thoughts about these. I thought that Raksura was consistently good throughout and that Lady Trent was a bit dry — but in the end it really did what a true, good series would do in pulling together elements of all of the previous books in the final volume for an incredibly strong finish. These two will probably be swapping places for me until the voting deadline.

         
        Mark-kitteh: Five Gods is my dilemma. If it was just the novel trilogy then I’d rate it very highly. I also really like the Penric series but it’s not a complete story.

        While I really loved The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls, I thought The Hallowed Hunt was much weaker and could only nominally be considered a “series” with the other two, so by itself I would not rate the trilogy highly as a series. The Penric novellas, on the other hand, are definitely a series of their own, and a strong one, but as you say, not complete.

        However, given that I could not force myself to go any further than the second InCryptid novel because they just weren’t that enjoyable for me, and that The Stormlight Archive is a rambling, unfinished series that is a bit of a slog, Five Gods takes 4th place for me. And given that the two Chalion novels and several of the Penric novellas have been amply rewarded as individual volumes but I don’t think all the works together make a strong, cohesive series, I think that the bottom 3 entries will all go below No Award for me.

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    3. For me the Divine Cities is the best, followed by the Raksura, Lady Trent, Five Gods (although I think-there are two series here, really not one), Incryptid and at the bottom, the Stormlight Archive–mainly because it’s not even close to being *done*.

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  4. I have “Down Among the Sticks and Bones” at number 6, because the series just doesn’t do it for me, and I probably rank “River of Teeth” higher than it deserves, because it simply hits several of my sweet spots, but otherwise my rankings are identical to yours.

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  5. Novella was a great category this year. There wasn’t anything I hated, just things I didn’t think were that good. Plus it’s fun to say “Murderbot, MurderSarahs, Murderhippos”.

    Series: I loved Divine Cities till I didn’t think it stuck the landing, which was a great disappointment after loving so much of it. It fell down a notch. InCryptid does nothin’ for me. I like Five Gods but hey, that and Lois are doing well otherwise (Am still reading each story the day it comes out, mind you). Raksura is very good, but for some reason I didn’t connect emotionally. I loooooove Lady Trent beyond all reason, so that gets my #1. Stormlight… ye gods… that first book is like 1000 pages long and it’s barely an introduction, and the most interesting character gets short shrift. It’s only 1/3 done. It might never be done. It’s generic extruded fantasy product. It goes below NA. Brandon can cry all the way to the bank.

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