I was going to start with a comparison with last year’s novelettes but weirdly, I don’t think I read last year’s novelettes. I don’t have any reviews of them and I just had a cryptic comment about them in one post. Why did I skip the novelettes? We will never know. It will be a lingering mystery that future historians will squabble over with ever increasing levels of complexity in their explanations. I have no idea, so I must have wiped my own memory to hide the truth.
As for this year’s Hugo collection of novelettes, the membership have out done themselves. It is an impressive and substantial anthology in itself.
- “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again” by Zen Cho (B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, 29 November 2018) – review
- “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” by Tina Connolly (Tor.com, 11 July 2018) – review.
- “Nine Last Days on Planet Earth” by Daryl Gregory (Tor.com, 19 September 2018) – review
- “The Only Harmless Great Thing” by Brooke Bolander (Tor.com publishing) (excerpt) – review.
- “The Thing About Ghost Stories” by Naomi Kritzer (Uncanny Magazine 25, November-December 2018) – review
- “When We Were Starless” by Simone Heller (Clarkesworld 145, October 2018) – review
The downside of this crop of short-stories with extra heft, is that they are a pain to rank. Collectively, they carry a common theme of regret, decline and remembrance. Time (and deep time) is a recurring theme.
The most ambitious of the set remains The Only Harmless Great Thing, Brooke Bolander’s passionate story about exploitation, death and the way stories are both warnings and mourning. It’s also the most flawed of the set, which isn’t saying much because they are all very well constructed stories.
The least flawed, but perhaps least ambitious, is Tina Connolly’s The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections. The Ruritanian setting is conventional but the story of pastries baked with emotions tied to times and memories is both clever and effective.
I could mount an argument for any ordering really. So I’ll put aside the Hugo voting until I submit my ballot. I’d be delighted by any of these winning.
Instead, here is a different question. If these novelettes were an anthology, what would the anthology be called and what order would the stories appear in?
I’d suggest that “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” is an apt title for the whole set. Connolly’s story lays out an idea of different courses that evoke memories and emotions attached to them. That theme carries through the other novelettes but is stated clearly. From there a sequence of chapters becomes clearer:
- “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” by Tina Connolly. Chapter 1 in which the theme of the collection is stated and the structure of the anthology (a banquet with a series of courses) is outlined. Naturally, for an appetizer we start in the past.
- “Nine Last Days on Planet Earth” by Daryl Gregory. Chapter 2 takes us to a time nearer the present, with a salad of growing up amid a slow alien invasion.
- “When We Were Starless” by Simone Heller. Naturally, the next course after the present is palate cleanser of the future. Exotic and oddly shaped, with pleasing notes of hope amid decline.
- “The Only Harmless Great Thing” by Brooke Bolander. A meaty main course that blends the deep past, the twentieth century and the future. Anger and mourning and the power of stories.
- “The Thing About Ghost Stories” by Naomi Kritzer. After the strong flavours of the previous course, a blend of the uncanny with a sense of loss and closure.
- “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again” by Zen Cho. Finally something a bit sweeter to finish the banquet. Love, magic and final fulfilment. Past, present and future join together.