Sunday, July 3, 2011

Hugo Awards 2011 - Novelette Nominees

Here are the nominees for the 2011 Hugo Award for best Novelette. The Hugos define a Novelette as a story that is between 7,500 and 17,500 words.

Eight Miles
by Sean McMullen Analog - September 2010

Eight Miles is a charming steampunk tale of aerial derring do. The story finds Harold Parkes, a down on his luck inventor and balloonist, taking on a wealthy benefactor with a strange female companion, Angelica, who was found wandering in the Himalayas. He contracts Harold to take him to an altitude of eight miles, a staggering height, nearly double the current record.
Needless to say, Harold and his benefactor and the strange companion take to the air and wondrous things happen. If this became the first section of a novel I would not be shocked and I would be eager to read more.

This is a solid story and I understand why it was nominated. Score one for the steampunks, although this tale takes place early in the steampunk era, in 1840.

The Emperor of Mars
by Allen M. Steele
Asimov's - June 2010

The unforgiving landscape of a Mars colony in 2048 is the setting of Allen Steele's The Emperor of Mars, but the story itself is a love letter to the classic SF about the red planet itself. Told through the eyes of the colony administrator, Steele tells the tale of a contract laborer named Jeff Halbert. 
Before leaving Earth, Jeff signed Form 36-B: The Family Emergency Notification Consent Form. That proved to be his mental undoing. Shortly into his contracted term of service, Jeff lost his entire family and pregnant fiance in a tragic accident. By the time he could get back they would have been dead for nearly two years.

Jeff retreats into his own mind and takes quite an adventure. He takes the base with him as he tries to cope with his loss. He becomes obsessed with the classic tales of Mars and weaves himself into them, finding himself the title character, the Emperor of Mars.

As I said, the story is a love letter to Burroughs, Wells, Stanley Weinbaum, Otis Albert Kline, A.E. Van Vogt, and others. Now, I'm going off to google "Visions of Mars."

The Jaguar House in Shadow
by Aliette de Bodard
Asimov's - July 2010

The domain of Mexaca in the near future is the setting for this story of betrayal and intrigue. Of all the novelettes so far, this feels the most like a piece of a much greater story. Perhaps that is due to the rich world that I imagine beyond this tiny piece.

Setting is everything to this story. Without the rich background of Mexican history and mythology, the plot here is simple—a soldier betraying their side for a bigger good. But the details and the language and the pure sense of place raise this story up.

At first, this seemed like it would be a fantasy based in an Aztec inspired world, but the nanotech and micro cameras said otherwise. A woman returns to a fortress she had left behind in order to rescue one left behind.

This is a real contender for the best Novelette.

That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made
by Eric James Stone
Analog - September 2010

This morality tale takes place in a fascinating setting, a base inside the interior of the sun. It seems that the jump points between the stars are located within the stars. We follow Harry Milan, newly appointed branch president of the Mormon church. He speaks for the first time to a congregation that includes aliens. The other worlders are the cleverly named solcetaceans, giant creatures called swales that float free through the energy of the sun. They can also travel between the star and have three genders.

One of the swales, Neuter Kimball, tells Harry that it had been forced to have non-reproductive sex against its will. This admission takes Harry down a path of humility and  into the power and ancient culture of the swales that do not consider this behavior rape.

The moral dilemma presented is interesting and plays out in a quite satisfactory manner, leaving both Harry and the eldest solcetaceans having undergone unsuspected growth.

This is a very good story with good ideas and refreshing moral groundwork. I have read few other SF stories with such an overtly religious setting, characters and moral questions, and this one is quite good,  even through the eyes of a sceptic.

Plus or Minus
by James Patrick Kelly
Asimov's - December 2010

The setting of James Patrick Kelly's "Plus or Minus" reminds me a bit of the Nostromo from Alien - a grubby ship with blue collar workers just trying to get through their shifts.

The story follows Mariska Volochkova, a lowly crewperson on the ironically named Shining Legend, a ship that hauled ice from asteroids to the moon. Mariska's mother had cloned herself and modified the genes to allow her "daughter" to travel to the stars on a hibernation ship.

Unfortunately, things go horribly wrong and the crew faces desperate choices.

I really liked this story. It is going to be a hard choice between "Plus or Minus" and "The Jaguar House in Shadow."

I am really enjoying reading these stories and am really glad I decided to participate in the Hugos this year.


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