Review: 2011 Hugo Novelletes

Posted: July 22, 2011 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Anthology, Hugo Awards, Short Fiction
2011 Hugo Novelletes

It’s been a while since I read these novelettes, but I wanted to sit on them for a bit to see which ones stuck with me, which ones disappeared from memory and just see when I came back to it, which ones were the best compared to the others. The question I hear a lot is, “What the heck is a novelette?” Simply put, it’s a work of fiction ranging from 7500 words to around 18,000 words in length. It is that piece of fiction that takes up the space between the short story and the novella.

There were some pretty good pieces of of fiction in this year’s Hugo nominated batch of novelettes. So here we go:

“Eight Miles” by Sean McMullen — The basic premise of this story follows a balloonist living in Victorian times who is hired by an eccentric scientist to fashion a balloon that will take him up eight miles into the air. The scientist is in possession of a strange creature that becomes lucid and coherent only in thinner atmospheres. What started out (in my mind at least) as a steampunkish fantasy tale actually turns into a weird first encounter story set a hundred years ago. That turnaround really drew me in and made me smile. I loved realizing that I was reading a different story than I had thought and that discovery made the story great. It was weird, it was different and it surprised me.

“Plus or Minus” by James Patrick Kelly — A bunch of young kids are on a space ship heading home. Something goes wrong with the space ship and they need to figure out how to survive the long trip. Great premise. The characters were well thought out and interesting. The situation was great. Overall it was a great story. I just wish it wasn’t so open to “Why didn’t they just __________?” I won’t fill in the blank, but in the end I thought there were several more obvious solutions than the one that happened. Other than that, it was a lot of fun.

“That Leviathan Whom Thou Hast Made” by Eric James Stone — Wow! What can I say but Wow! I actually read this story on a recommendation from a friend a few weeks before Hugo nominations were due and I was blown away by this story. I was happy to see it on the Hugo ballot when it was released.This is a great story guys. It’s the story of a man living on a space station near a star who has a theological dilemma involving one of the members of his church. The problem is that member of the church is an alien life form (and not just a Star Trek alien, who are mostly human with weird bumps on their head—this is a weird and strange and almost impossible to comprehend type of creature). The story goes through the man’s attempt to solve the theological debate and answer some difficult questions. The great thing about this story is its take on religion in the future. Most SF that I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot) portray religion in SF as either gone–because in the future we’ve totally proven that religious is bogus for some reason–or else they portray religious folk as imbeciles and zealots who just don’t know better. Not this story. Here we see real religion in my opinion, full of people looking for truth and doing the best they can. They don’t have all the answers and are willing to take some things on faith. They are flawed but trying. I loved the implications of religion in an alien context. I loved the struggles and the questions. This is a great story. I nominated it and after everything else, I think it’s still my favorite, and there’s a reason why Eric James Stone won a freaking Nebula.

EBR ranks the 2011 Hugo novelletes.

“The Emperor of Mars” by Allen Steele — This was a story that right from the get-go really sucked me in. There’s a guy talking to you about going crazy in space. (Side note, the whole going crazy in space theme hasn’t been used near enough for me in books movies whatever. It’s just cool.) The guy then proceeds to tell of a specific incident that happened on Mars when one of the workers goes completely bananas. It was fun, it was cool, it was intriguing, and then it just kind of fizzled out in the end. If it had built to something really big and cool I would have loved it. The ending was OK, but I was expecting more. Still a “good” story, I was just hoping for “great”.

“The Jaguar House, in Shadow” by Aliette de Bodard — This is the story of a break-in to a temple complex in a future where (for some reason) everything has been modeled with Aztec names and sensibilities in mind. There are flashbacks to the past to kind of reveal why the break-in is happening in the first place and then a resolution where the villains’ motives are explained. It didn’t really stick with me. The names and Aztec stuff, for me at least, instead of being really cool and adding depth to the story, just muddled it up and made it confusing. Sorry. Didn’t do it for me

In the end I’m going to go with:
1. “That Leviathan Whom Thou Hast Made” (Steve informed me this was his pick as well)
2. “Eight Miles”
3. “The Emperor of Mars”
4. “Plus or Minus”
5. “The Jaguar House, in Shadow”

So which ones are you all voting for? Enjoy.


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