Sunday, July 9, 2017

Reviewing the Hugo Award Nominees: Best Novella

Hugo Award voting closes next Saturday, so I'm going to complete my general reviews of the nominees here this week.

The Novella category isn't as strong as the other 3 big categories in my opinion.  The most likely winner based upon prior awards is a novella I didn't particularly think worked so I have it below No Award, and the four Novellas I think would be worthy winners all have flaws and none are blow-you-away type stories.

Reviews and Order of my Ranking after the Jump:

7.  This Census Taker by China Mieville

I took This Census Taker out of the library.  It's not a long work.  I still didn't finish it - I could not get through it, one of the few works I can say that about the last few years.  The Novella spends a lot of time going back and forth between timelines with an unreliable narrator (Maybe?) but
doesn't even give a hint of any particular payoff.  And I'll admit to skipping to the last twenty pages to see if such a payoff ever happened, and I don't think it did.

Being unable to finish a work pretty clearly ranks this below No Award for me.  (I think this was also a Rabid Puppy pick, but unlike the Novelette and Short Story Puppy picks, this is a legit work so I gave it a full accounting unlike those two.  I'd also attempted to read this before the nomination anyhow).

6.  Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

This is probably the favorite to win the award, and this one the Nebula.  I actually reviewed this on twitter HERE ( and posted some spoilery thoughts on this blog (

As those reviews point out, I liked the premise and really liked the buildup of this novella but the resolution just DID not work for me.  Having now read (and greatly enjoyed) McGuire's October Daye series, I'm not surprised I feel this way about this one - even in THAT series, the weakest parts were often where the plots revolved heavily on who-done-it mysteries.  And then the very ending of this one on top of that just didn't work.

I've actually taken out from the library the sequel novella which just came out, and maybe that will be better (again, I thought this world had a lot of promise, so I won't be surprised if it is).  But given my issues with this one, I put it below no award.  Obviously I'm in the minority of this given the awards this has already won.

5.  No Award

4.  A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

My first worthy contender for the award, this is another one I reviewed on my twitter feed (see Here:  Basically this is a gay romance story in a fantasy setting (shared with several other Wilson stories, such as Sorceror of the Wildeeps). Mainly this story focuses on two timelines - one where our main character falls in love with a foreign soldier and goes along with that love and one where he instead follows with tradition and stays behind.  The story could be stronger imo if that second storyline was better developed, but it's an interesting story with kind of a twist at the end, and the romance between our main character and the soldier is well done.

3.  Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold

The second Penric Novella, this is actually one of two Penric Novellas that were eligible for this year's hugo (the other being #3, Penric's Mission).  That other Penric Novella is actually far stronger than this one, and might've gotten my vote, but it's not nominated and this is, so that's a shame.

Anyhow, this second story continues the story of Penric, the minor Noble who  accidentally became the owner of a Demon, and who...oddly enough...befriended that Demon, named it Desdemona (or "Des" for short) and has conversations with it (back in the first story, Penric's Demon). Here, Penric is an established temple sorceror who gets loaned to a soldier/cop on the lookout for another magic-user, a Shaman, who may have committed murder. The story flips between the perspectives of the Shaman, Penric, and the cop.

It's a solid enjoyable story, but well, it isn't particularly special (I thought about putting this below A Taste of Honey) and the perspectives aside from Penric's really don't add much.  It also feels like we missed out on a lot in the time skip between stories alas.

2.  The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

This Novella is a subversion of a Lovecraft Tale (The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath) which I have not read.  The subversion is done in two ways: first the story follows a Woman FROM the dreamlands who seeks someone who may have gone to OUR world as opposed to vice versa and second in that the novella follows a woman instead of a male character.  In essence, as with many Lovecraft subversions (as we'll get to in a minute), it reappropriates Lovecraft's ideas to combat the sexism and racism pervasive through his works.

It's a really nice story with an interesting ending, and definitely Hugo worthy.  But it's just below for me....

1.  The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaVelle

Another Lovecraft Subversion, this time of a story ("THe Horror at Red Hook") known for being especially racist.  The subversion here takes place in that the first half of the Novella follows the Black man who would become known as "Black Tom," one of the villains of the original story, and explains how the racism of the time period and other pressures drove him to being what he became.  This paints the second half of the novella (following apparently the original protagonist of Lovecraft's story) in a new light as we see the effects of this racism from the White "hero"'s perspective, as he sees the effects of one driven to desperation.

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