I am really unhappy with the Hugo ballot this year. The novelettes were so bad, I had to delete an f-load of f-bombs from my original notes. Two of the stories I don’t want to finish, one I wish I hadn’t finished, one I finished but have no idea what was going on, and one, only one, carried me to the end of a self-contained, coherent story. I just didn’t like any of the people in it.
In ascending order:
“Eight Miles,” by Sean McMullen
In 1840s London, a ballonist is hired to take a “foxwoman” from the exotic Himalayas extra high in the air. Perhaps the slow pace is aimed to recall a period story, but by the time the story posed the question of what sort of extraterrestrial she was going to turn out to be, I didn’t care. Next.
“The Emperor of Mars,” by Allan M Steele
This one I made it a little further in, mostly because I was trying to get to the point where the story started. The narrator is telling the tale of another man’s breakdown but more than anything it reads like a thinly disguised treatise on how we might colonize Mars. Seems sensible but I feel like I’ve read this book. I got bored long before the subject of the story finds a treasure trove of old Mars fiction. I couldn’t stand the prospect of a long detour down memory lane and gave up.
“That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made,” by Eric James Stone
Breathtakingly bad. From the paragraph-long, Big-Idea-laden, mind-wrenching first sentence to the cardboard villains to the pat arguments to the smug ending, just awful. I feared what was to come the moment I realized it was an Alien Religion story. Still, I forged on in the hopes it would have something interesting to say. No such luck.
The Pitifully Underprepared Missionary with a Pure Heart is bringing Mormonism to a congregation of swales, or solceteceans: giant whale-shaped entities that live in the hearts of stars, triple gendered, ancient beyond the Earth’s existence and powerful enough to create gateways between the stars. But everything that makes them interesting is thrown away in favor of telling us how difficult it is to teach them the Truth of God’s Love.
The first cardboard villain is the Misguided Secular Scientist Who Can’t Understand God. It doesn’t help that her mere female presence constantly forces him to suppress his desires. One of his flock, the Confused Yet Inexplicably Conversant With Scripture Convert, comes to him for counseling because it’s troubled by a recent sexual encounter. This leads us to the main cardboard villain, the biggest swoppiest swale of them all, the Godless Barbarian Tyrant Leviathan. The one part of this story I liked is when the big guy complains, Puny Human, You Try to Suborn My People, The Traitor Must Die. Unfortunately, both the Convert and the Missionary prove that they are willing to die to save each other. Greater love and all that. Leviathan might be older than the human ability to conceive of a god, but he’s never seen Selfless Love before, and his heart is moved to mercy. Oh, for the love of — forget it.
“The Jaguar House in Shadow,” by Alliete de Bodard
I enjoyed this crazy dream of a story. The prose begs to be read aloud. About half of it says, Wouldn’t it be awesome to have Aztec knights and the Mexica Empire in a high tech world? Yes, it is. The story is very strong at depicting their customs and beliefs. The other half is about showing how this came to be. I think. The surface plot is about internal politics between the various houses complete with prison breaks, combat with ritual obsidian knives, drugs, and torment. A lot of fun even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense.
“Plus or Minus,” by James Patrick Kelly
Now this is an actual science fiction story. Mariska is working in a grotty old asteroid junker. This is her way of rebelling against her clone mother, who wants her to go to the stars. The other characters are even more messed up in their own unique individual ways. The captain bullies and sexually harasses her, but when the crisis comes, she is the one he trusts to help him suit up for a spacewalk to attempt repairs. My favorite part comes when she notices that he’s high and calls him out. His answer is essentially, I’m about to kill myself in a really awesome manner for the good of the ship without letting you realize it. Why shouldn’t I get high?
Mariska survives, but rather than feel any sorrow or guilt over the deaths of her crewmates, she’s pissed off that her mother is part of the rescue team. I’ve met Mariska before in “Going Deep”, which is even more about how much she hates her mother. Evidently, there are other stories about her, but I dislike her right back. I’m still waiting for the story in which she grows up and realizes that hating her clone mother is the same as hating herself.