Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Reviewing the 2019 Hugo Nominees: Best Novella

Hugo Award voting just opened at the start of May and continues through the end of July.  For those of you new to the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre, the Hugo Award is one of the most prominent awards for works in the genre, with the Award being given based upon voting by those who have paid for at least a Supporting Membership in this year's WorldCon.  As I did the last two years, I'm going to be posting reviews/my-picks for the award in the various categories I feel qualified in, but feel free to chime in with your own thoughts in the comments.

Other Hugo Award Looks:
My Picks for Best Novel: See HERE.

In this post, I'll be going over the nominees for Best Novella.  Novellas are defined by the Hugos as works between 17,500 words and 40,000 words (roughly between 80-160 pages, depending upon how big your page count is).  Five of the six nominees are from's line of novellas, and as has often been the case lately, there's a LOT of quality here.  We're clearly in a (new) golden age for SciFi or Fantasy novellas, and that shows with these nominees, to say nothing of the works that DIDN'T make the ballot.

After the Jump, my thoughts on each individual nominee and my link to my full review of each:

7.  Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson ( publishing)

My Review can be found HERE.

Thoughts: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is the one nominated Novella which just didn't work for me.  The novella is filled to the brim with ideas, but ends the story before it actually manages to combine these ideas into something interesting.  The result is something that is less than its component parts, and was begging for a novel length instead of novella length.  If I sound vague here it's just a sign how little impact everything in this story really made upon me - having read it so long ago, I find myself with little recollection of what happened (reading my own review helped a little bit) or of even caring enough to reread to see what really was the conclusion.


5.  Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire ( publishing)

My Review can be found HERE.

Thoughts:  Beneath the Sugar Sky is the only novella on this nomination list that I hadn't read prior to the list of nominees being released.  The reason for that is simple: while this is the third in a series that had already earned two Hugo nominations and the actual award in 2017, it's been the rare Seanan McGuire series which I didn't particularly love.  Beneath the Sugar Sky changed that for me - it might be the most traditional portal fantasy of the series, but it's the first in the series to combine its interesting characters with a plot I didn't see coming a mile away (to be fair, that was only the problem in the second novella because the plot was an extrapolation of events described in the first novella).

This series is still probably one of my least favorite things McGuire has written (not counting her works under her "Mira Grant" pseudonym since I'm not really a fan of horror), and while this book is fun and inclusive of characters from marginalized groups, it isn't really much more than that, so it comes up at fifth on my ballot.

4.  Artificial Condition by Martha Wells ( publishing)

My Review can be found HERE.

Thoughts: The sequel to last year's winner for the award (All Systems Red) is actually one of three novellas in this series, The Murderbot Diaries, that was released last year.  I actually included a different one of the three (the last one, Exit Strategy) on my nominating ballot, but I've enjoyed the whole series, so I don't mind this novella making it in instead.  Artificial Condition includes perhaps the series' only other really great character besides its protagonist (Murderbot).  I speak of course of Asshole Research Transport (ART).  Ostensibly the story here - Murderbot returns to the site from which it gets its own name in order to figure out what really happened and finds a few humans who Murderbot feels the need to protect from their own stupidity - is honestly the least interesting of the series (and the plots of each novella have never been particularly the important part of these novellas).

But whereas the other three novellas are mainly about seeing Murderbot - the antisocial, introverted, part-biological part-machine construct - develop as situations proceed to come up which prevents it from continuing to pretend to be just an ordinary SecUnit, ART provides a second interesting character (coincidentally another AI) for Murderbot to play off of.  I kind of missed ART in the next two novellas in the series, so it shouldn't have surprised me to see this novella of the three getting the nod.  Still, while ART and Murderbot together makeup a great pairing and definitely a nomination-worthy novella, the story is a bit less original than All Systems Red and just isn't as interesting as the other three novellas I have above it.  Which is not much of a knock on this novella, honestly, but more a compliment of the other works.

3.  The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean Press / JABberwocky Literary Agency)

My Review can be found HERE.

Thoughts:  This year's Nebula winner is essentially nominated twice, with this also being part of de Bodard's "Xuya" series which is nominated as well for Best Series this year.  And well, it's really good, even if it's really short for a novella.  This is not the only SciFi gender-flipped Sherlock Holmes story I read last year and, as with any Holmes/Watson-esque story, what makes it work is the relationship between our Holmes and Watson characters - in this case, the drugged detective Long Chau (Holmes) and the traumatized mind-ship The Shadow's Child (Watson).  Which is not to say that this scifi world, in which customized blends of drugs are key to people being able to function in certain circumstances (a fact which our Holmes analogue abuses), is not also really well done - it definitely is.  So yeah, this would be a worthy winner, if not my choice above the final two novellas on my list.

2.  Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor ( publishing)

My Review can be found HERE.

Thoughts: Binti won this award two years ago.  Last year, Binti: Home was nominated but didn't win, and now the series finale is also up for the award.  Oddly, I didn't particularly love the second Binti novella, even though I thought the first one was a well deserved winner for the award (and my own personal pick).

But while I don't think Binti: TNM is as good as the original, it's still definitely worthy of the award and my #2 choice.  The story makes an interesting choice NOT to wrap up many plot threads, and instead focus on Binti's own journey of self-discovery and how it manages to wrap up that plot arc is done deftly and brilliantly in its own way.  Alas, it isn't as fresh as my actual pick for the award, which is.....

1.  The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark ( publishing)

My Review can be found HERE.

Thoughts: The Black God's Drums is absolutely fantastic.  Featuring a steampunk alternate version of New Orleans around the time of the Civil War (in a time where very different events have resulted in the Confederates still being a real power), it features WOC and Queer characters, seemingly magical weapons, African gods, etc.  It's not a long novella, just a few pages longer than Tea Master, but it manages to fit in a tremendous main character, a 13 year old black girl who goes by "Creeper" as well as a strong secondary character in the Captain.

And unlike Lucky Peach above, it pulls all of its crazy ideas together into an original and really fun/interesting story, to go along with its really good set of characters.  It's fresh and creative while also being really good and different, which is really what I'm hoping to see in an award winner.  It seems wrong for me to spend less words on this than on some of the above works, but it's really because the above works tend to be based upon other things or be sequels that I want to reference: this is none of that.  And honestly, I don't want to spoil its greatness for others, since it really is worth your time.

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