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Monday, July 28, 2014

Hugo recommendations: Best Novella

Equoid by Charles Stross. I am a fan of the Laundry novels. After Accelerando, they are Stross's best work. Equoid is a Laundry novella, so I went into it with high expectations, having recently read and enjoyed The Rhesus Chart. Unfortunately, Equoid is absolutely void of the humor and light-hearted feel of the novels in the series, its attempt to subvert the "virgin tames unicorn" trope reads more like tentacle rape slash child abuse porn (talk about sending the very wrong message in light of the recent MZB/Kramer revelations), and Stross's attempt to recreate HP Lovecraft's style in a series of letters falls more than a little flat. As the reviewer at Tor.com noted: "it’s the sort of confounded feeling I get when I’m sure that a writer was trying to gross me out on purpose with some problematic imagery and succeeded, yet I’m not sure that the depths gone to were necessary in the story." As if monsters raping young girls isn't enough, there is also a government project entitled EMOCUM. Get it? Stross has written fiction that merited awards in the past. He may well do so in the future. This isn't it. This is something he'll want to disown someday.

The Chaplain's Legacy by Brad Torgersen. I read this when it was published as part of Torgersen's collection Lights in the Deep, and while it wasn't my favorite of the stories in that collection, it's not at all difficult to see why Torgersen keeps getting nominated for awards; more than any SF/F writer today, he sits astride the fence that separates Blue SF/F from Pink SF/F. The novella is a tale of alien enemies forced to join together in cooperation by circumstance; somehow Torgersen manages to seamlessly blend Pink tropes such as female military commanders with Blue tropes such as devout religious characters, combining them with a dash of Golden Age optimism. Stylistically, he writes well, and if the we-can-all-get-along theme seems a bit vanilla, it can also be taken as rather brilliant metacommentary on the current SF/F divide. I mean, religious people on one side, insect army on the other? Anyway, it's the best of the bunch.

The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells. A surprisingly sensitive take on an epically brutal monster from a game-tie in series. This was, in some ways, my favorite of the five nominees; Wells portrays a man unhinged by loss in an adroit manner, so much so that the reader is momentarily confused at times as to what is story-reality versus story-delusion. Stylistically, Wells is competent, but he's not at the same level as the other four writers (if one counts Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages as one writer) and worse, his take on human sexuality is the same "I'm not worthy" gammatude of Joe Abercrombie. His nominally badass slaughtering machine, who doesn't shirk at butchering large quantities of men, women, and children, would faint at the very thought of ever raping a woman. The psychological inconsistency is jarring. It's a good story and a worthy nominee, but I'd put it at number two.

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente. The title is good. The story isn't. It's a haphazard, incoherent attempt to force-fit the Snow White story into the Wild West, complete with a weird attempt to also bring in Indian folklore. Continent-spanning cultural appropriation doesn't even begin to describe this admittedly creative attempt to find a new way to portray more kick-ass women. Yawn. That being said, it is identifiable as fantasy. Credit where credit is due.

Wakulla Springs by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages. This pair are easily the best writers of the lot from a stylistic perspective. Unfortunately, as with several works in other categories, this novella isn't science fiction or fantasy. It's much more concerned with historical racism in the American South, (with repeated reminders that black folk weren't permitted to swim in certain places or stay in certain hotels, and this made the black individual feelbad) than with any science fictional or speculative elements. There are the occasional nods to magical realism, such as Cheeta the chimp who may or may not be talking, but this novella simply isn't of the genre.

My vote for Best Novella, and my suggestion to others, is The Chaplain's Legacy by Brad Torgersen. My vote will go as follows:

  1. The Chaplain's Legacy
  2. The Butcher of Khardov
  3. No Award
  4. Six-Gun Snow White
I recommend leaving the other two novellas off the ballot.

OTHER HUGO AWARD RECOMMENDATIONS

Best Novel
Best Novelette
Best Short Story
Best Editor 
Retro 1939 

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16 Comments:

Anonymous Mr. Rational July 28, 2014 10:34 AM  

I'm unclear on the "No Award" strategizing.  What's the point in putting anything below it, instead of leaving it off the ballot?

Anonymous GreyS July 28, 2014 12:13 PM  

Brad Torgerson irritatingly calls that pink dreck "literary SF". Only gives them more reason for preening and self-absorption.

Anonymous Doug Wardell July 28, 2014 12:41 PM  

Your recommendations, as they all have so far, concur with my own.

The first half of Six-Gun Snow White was ok but the back half didn't work at all.

Wakulla Springs was boring but good though it was not remotely genre fiction.

Equoid was my first exposure to Stross. I'll need to read something else on your recommendation as I wasn't impressed here. It was like some weird pedaphile-horror-hentai in story form. I'm not a horror guy, so I can't comment on the Lovecraft letters.

The Butcher of Khardov was good overall. I didn't care for the non-chronological telling though. If you need to flashback, it's forgivable in my opinion, but the way the piece was structured it felt like two thirds of the sections were flashbacks. Also, the conceit of why the story is presented this way is not explained in the text.

I'm always fascinated by respectful analysis of faith and the lack thereof in spec fic, so The Chaplain's Legacy was right in my wheelhouse. That said, I think the worst story in Lights in the Deep is better than any of the non-Sad-Puppies stories in this year's Hugo packet.

Anonymous VD July 28, 2014 12:50 PM  

I'll need to read something else on your recommendation as I wasn't impressed here.

Start with TOAST. It has three excellent stories in it, including A COLDER WAR. Then read ACCELERANDO. After that, the Bob Howard LAUNDRY novels. Most of the rest you can skip, especially MERCHANT PRINCES.

Anonymous Eowyn July 28, 2014 1:07 PM  

Read the reviews for Equoid on Amazon. It's disturbing how many of them call it a "fun romp". Gross.

Anonymous VD July 28, 2014 1:14 PM  

It's disturbing how many of them call it a "fun romp"

You wonder how many of them actually read it, as opposed to reviewed it on the basis of it being a Laundry novella.

Anonymous I Am Irony, Man July 28, 2014 3:05 PM  

GreyS: "literary SF"

Oh, no, I'm afraid he's going to have to stop that, IMMEDIATELY!

We have been reliably informed that if it does not exist on the Official List of Approved SF Genres, it does not exist at all.

Blue skiffy, mighty spiffy,
I will read it in a jiffy.
But Pink holds no appeal to me.

Anonymous aviendha July 28, 2014 3:47 PM  

Wow just finished my Hugo voting. We'll see how big of an impact the ilk have. Next year I even get to go to it.

What no review on the 'sequential art' stories Vox? :)

Anonymous Krul July 28, 2014 4:17 PM  

Going by the title, Six-Gun Snow White is blatant fanfiction. Tor.com has an excerpt of the story. I haven't read it all yet, but already I can tell it's girlish wish-fulfillment fantasy.

This passage stuck out to me for its level of projection:

His true occupation was now the striking of the Crow woman, whose name was Gun That Sings. At first, his imagination wakened only to the possibility of bedding her. He saw no reason this should not be possible and right quick. Silver speaks louder than sin. But when Gun That Sings returned to town with her relations and Mr. H had opportunity to clap eyes on her again, he knew he could not be satisfied except to own her entirely. A man don’t rent a silver mine. He buys it right out.

He attired himself in a fine new suit sent by coach from San Francisco along with jewelry, gowns, and other items indicating his affection, for he was prepared to make her a civilized woman. He would put silk on her body and emerald combs in her hair. He would teach her to read Shakespeare and encourage her to play out the part of wild Titania in his parlor at home, naked save for a belt of violets. He would instruct her in the saying of the Lord’s Prayer and the keeping of the Sabbath; he would deliver to heaven a sterling modest maid. The anticipation of transforming her inspired a pleasure so sharp that Mr. H necessitated an entire afternoon to recover from it.


It's that last sentence that drives it home. Men don't want to "transform" women. The author is giving a purely feminine motivation to a male character.

In charity, though, I'll admit the slight possibility that the author is aware of the disparity and wrote this in a successful attempt to make the character of Mr H look creepy.

Anonymous GreyS July 28, 2014 5:37 PM  

Oh, no, I'm afraid he's going to have to stop that, IMMEDIATELY!.

Yawn. If only it were true. But then, our standards likely differ quite a lot.

Blogger astrodominant July 28, 2014 5:37 PM  

Voted for Stross first. Guess it is because I am such and HP Lovecraft fan and the deviancy somewhat fit in with what was happening.

Brad number two. Good story but no great.

No award after that. Butcher's protagonist was so one dimensional it was a struggle to get through it. Seemed much more contrived instead of being created.Paint by numbers storytelling.

Blogger Anthony July 28, 2014 6:27 PM  

Wakulla Springs was definitely not science fiction or fantasy. It belongs in the New Yorker or something. Despite not being interested in realistic teenage dialog, nor needing to read yet another "how oppressed the blacks were" story, it actually held my interest for a while. (And while I'm not that interested in that period so much, it is realistic to have the black characters constantly worrying about what black people are and aren't allowed to do.) Then I started trying to find the sci-fi or fantasy elements, and failed.

I liked Six-Gun Snow White better than Vox, but the ending! Ms. Valente could ask Neal Stephenson for useful advice on writing endings.

Anonymous VD July 28, 2014 6:36 PM  

Voted for Stross first. Guess it is because I am such and HP Lovecraft fan and the deviancy somewhat fit in with what was happening.

Interesting. I disliked it in part BECAUSE I am an HP Lovecraft fan.

Blogger GK Chesterton July 28, 2014 6:53 PM  

Equoid by Charles Stross: It was good enough that I do want to read more. You are right that there was something off with the style but I couldn't name it. I did like the Lovecraft excursions. If anything the biggest problem was the combining of humor and some of the most disgusting sock puppets I've read about. It did _NOT_ mix well. You can't joke about the raping and killing of children.


The Chaplain's Legacy by Brad Torgersen: Decent style. Good story. Butch captain in the end a bit of a turn off. That being said well crafted. A nice, "sometimes you carry on even if God doesn't seem to listen," story. In fact, in my mind, rather strongly secular. The good guy is only vaguely religious.

The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells: Disagree that psychopathic monster who kills women and children is turned off by rape. I disagree based on the fact that his killing is motivated by protection of women and he feels distinct guilt when he goes rage monkey and kills the women at the bar. This is what Episode One should have been. An actual reason to go crazy killer. That being said the _endless_ jumping hurt it bad. I ended up placing this above Stross mainly because of the humor/horror that Stross used.

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente: Agree, a good title. It even starts off well...and then...plunges into an abyss of loathing against humanity. There is no romance just gore/bestiality. It takes everything good in Snow White: the redemption of the huntsman, the love of the father, the prince, the heroine that is saved by goodness, the romance, the love of the wold; and ruthlessly spits on it. This while qualified is the antithesis of what should earn an award. I'm shocked that you list it at all.

Wakulla Springs by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages: Agree best "pure" work in the set. It wanders in the end and I wish an editor had made them tie things up good. Well developed and interesting characters. Not action packed though which is getting it some negative reviews here. Also, sadly, neither fantasy or SF. Not qualified.

The Chaplain's Legacy
The Butcher of Khardov
Equoid
No Award

Anonymous Eowyn July 28, 2014 11:06 PM  

I would have liked the HPL letters in Equoid, except that he never would have been so graphic about child rape. He was a master of horror - not shock value.

Blogger GK Chesterton July 29, 2014 12:17 PM  

Eowyn,

Lovecraft did write some gruesome things including the devouring of children. However, as I noted, there was no humor there. He wasn't making light of the thing. Where Stross channels Lovecraft he does well then because "his" Lovecraft is likewise appalled by the unicorns. It is his Mary Sue main character that feels like a bit of humor can be injected. This is where things get a wonky. There is such a thing as dark humor, Lord knows I've been in spots where it is needed, but that happens afterwards when you know you have survived and as a coping mechanism w/ add mixture of whiskey.

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