May 19, 2015

The Hugo Project: "The Journeyman: In the Stone House"

(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of posts reviewing as many of the 2015 Hugo nominees as I have time for before the July 31 deadline, and explaining why I will or will not vote for them.)

I'm beginning to think it might be a good thing I haven't read Analog in recent years. Judging from its stories on the Hugo ballot, the quality has fallen way off. Now, you would expect this kind of thing from Castalia House (since everything I've read from that publisher is just awful), but I was still under the impression that Analog is supposed to be something a standard-bearer, the magazine of aliens and hard science and honest-to-goodness sensawunda.

Well, judging from this story, Analog is full of wonder, all right. The wonder of outright ridiculousness.

(Although, to be fair, this could be the fault of the people nominating for the Impacted Canines, since so far, with some rare exceptions, their judgment has proved to be spectacularly bad. Still, I always thought Analog had better editors than this.)

This story opens with a quote from Louis L'amour: "The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail." That right there sets the tone for the entire story: an uneasy melding of Western and science fiction tropes, full of cliches and idiotic names and grating dialect and horrendous dialogue, culminating in a sword-fight that's just...dreck. Long-drawn-out, incredibly unsuspenseful, and absolutely pointless.

I mean, fifteen minutes of a Firefly episode is better than this.

Let's test-drive a few character names: Sammi o' th' Eagles (Sherman Alexie would snarl and spit at this, especially since this character sounded uncomfortably like a dumbed-down Tonto), Teodorq sunna Nagarajan the Ironhand, our so-called hero; Figa Anya Goregovona Herpstonesdoor (also known as "the princess," "Princess Anya," or, to Teodorq, simply "babe"), and Wisdom Sharee Mikahali Fulenenberk.

Dear Lord. Tolkien is thrashing in his grave.

Now: an excerpt of the story's wonderful dialogue.

“Well, Bowman and his crew are fixing to move out west. He’s been building carts and wagons and stealing all the horses he can lay hold of. If’n you don’t push him, he’ll be gone before the Sperm shoots out.”

The Wisdom paused, startled, his marking feather half-raised. “The . . . Sperm?”

“Stupid plainsman means Consort. Enters Sun when in heat. Later Sun give birth.”

The old man’s eyes brightened. “Ah, you mean the Red Sun!” He scratched the paper briskly with his feather.

“You spilled that readily enough,” said the princess. “I mean about Bowman’s plans, not your sperm.”

“Hey, babe, it’s bad cess to the Timberlake folk west of the stony river that Bowman’s gonna muscle in on ’em, but it ain’t no skin off my nose.”

“And what is meant by ‘babe’?”

“In the sprock, it is a term of respect for important women.”

I think we hit the trifecta there: sexism, terrible jokes, and all-around cringe-worthiness. I suppose there's an outside chance this could be some sort of Joss Whedon satire, but any way you look at it, it's just bad.

Sorry, folks. There's no way in hell I'm going to the Stone House, and as far as I'm concerned, the Rocket will blast right by it.

May 18, 2015

The Hugo Project: "Championship B'Tok"

(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series reviewing as many of the 2015 Hugo nominees as I can before the July 31 deadline, and explaining why I will or will not vote for them.)

This is the second story from Analog I've read (or rather, in this case, tried to read) and I'm surprised by the lack of quality. I started bouncing off this five pages in; the mild interest generated by the character in the first teeny-tiny "chapter" soon dissipated when he and his little cliffhanger completely disappeared, and were never mentioned again. That felt like a cheat, to say the least, and I skimmed through the rest of the story. I remember reading somewhere (can't find the link now) that this is a novel excerpt, and the ending justifies that notion; it's choppy and abrupt and resolves nothing, and certainly didn't encourage me to read the entire book. Not that I would read this anyway. I didn't relate to it at all, and have no interest in pursuing the characters further.

Not good enough to remember, not bad enough to fisk. This is not a recipe for a Hugo award.

May 16, 2015

The Hugo Project: "Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium"

(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of posts reviewing the 2015 Hugo nominees, or as many of them as I have time for before the voting deadline, and explaining why I will or will not vote for them.)

I'm now beginning the Best Novelette category, and this story surprised me. It's a professional-grade story, even better than Kary English's "Totaled," and certainly worthy of a rocket. Of course, the irony is that the editor of the magazine (Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show) in which it appeared, Edmund R. Schubert, has withdrawn from the awards and officially requested that voters not consider him for Best Short Form Editor.

Which, of course, creates a conundrum, because this is a helluva story. It's a meditation on colonization, and death, and the human response to subjugation by an alien species, the fascinating Peshari. (They have six legs and four genders, and a horror of being buried, derived from a traumatizing incident in the species' past. The protagonist, Phil Keller, who is dying of cancer, reads this information in the reports on the Peshari landing on Alluvium [the human colony], and comes up with a way to defeat them, using the "pseudo-lizards' " own psychology against them. It's rather ingenious.) This story is not long, but it packs a lot of information, dropped in quite naturally without infodumps. It also has a nice flow, and quiet and thoughtful characterization.

I'll have to read the rest of the stories in the category to see how this one stacks up, but it seems like I'll have a decision to make. Do I go ahead and vote for this story, even though its editor has withdrawn, due to the slate-gaming antics of the Vituperative Impacted Puppies? (If you don't know what that means, don't worry about it--you're probably better off.) I know many people are voting against all slate entries on general principle. I'm voting against nearly all of the slate entries I've read so far, just because they're of almost uniformly rotten quality.

But there are exceptions to everything, and this is a big one.

Well. We shall see. But do read this. It's really good.

May 13, 2015

The Hugo Project: "Flow"

(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series discussing as many of the 2015 Hugo nominations as I can, and why I will or will not vote for them.)

As soon as I started reading this, I thought: "Hot damn! A competently written story!" I had almost forgotten such a thing existed.

Unfortunately, that's about all I can say for it. I'm a bit surprised Analog published this; it doesn't seem like their kind of thing, although I will admit it's been a few years since I've been a regular reader. I'm sure it will appeal to some people, but to me it was so relentlessly dull and mediocre I couldn't get into it. The characters didn't interest me at all (and the nearly complete lack of women didn't help). Nothing much seemed to happen, and in the very last paragraph, when Rist lowered himself to the Bottom Lands, I decided I didn't care if his biter-web broke and he plummeted all the way to the bottom. (Mercifully, the story ended there.)

(This is the last of the Novella nominees available for free. I did look up a Kindle sample of Tom Kratman's "Big Boys Don't Cry" on Amazon and read it all the way through, but within the first couple of pages it became clear that this was just more Castalia House-published, Theodore Beale-edited, badly written weapons porn. Just no, people.)

(It also cemented my conviction that my vote for Best Short Form/Long Form editor, whatever it may be, will not go to Theodore Beale/Vox Day under any circumstances. If an editor is supposed to be judged by his/her output...well, as far as I'm concerned, Mr. Beale's output should be flushed down the toilet. It consists of stuff that a decent editor would have never let see the light of day, and neither it nor he is worthy of a Hugo.)

Now. How will I vote in this category?

It's quite simple. That handsome gentleman, that lovely lady, the Honorable Noah Ward, takes this one in a runaway.

I don't feel the least bit guilty about this, either. In my view, nothing in this category is Hugo-worthy, and most of it is downright stupid. So just remember this for next year, kids: If you want votes, nominate better stories!

Now: On to the novelettes (for real this time).

May 10, 2015

The Hugo Project: "Pale Realms of Shade"

(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of posts about the 2015 Hugo nominees, explaining why I will or will not vote for them.)

Holy shit. I swear, John C. Wright is going to be the death of me.

I think this is the worst of his three nominated novellas, and that's a damned low bar to clear. I forced myself to slog through it, mainly because I couldn't believe how bad it was. It couldn't make up its mind what it wanted to be; is it a noir detective story, or a ghost story, or a faery story, or a dead-man-seeking-absolution story, or was it, at the very end, a religious allegory of this same dead man being hustled off to the gathering of the first Christians at Pentecost (Wright is obsessed with Pentecost, for some reason) to have his sins forgiven?

It's all of these. It's also a freaking mess, and makes no sense whatsoever. I know this is fantasy, but every story should have its own internal rules and stick to them. Wright discards his rules left and right, or doesn't bother to set them up in the first place.

It's also just badly written, with juvenile mistakes. To wit:

I looked around again, this time with my eyes closed. I could feel the beat of life inside him, like heat from an unseen campfire. I finally understood what drove vampires crazy: Being able to feel being alive, but not being able to truly be alive. Drinking the living blood and feeling it inside you, just for a moment. Almost like the real thing. Undead onanism.

And with those final two words, the reader's suspension of belief crashes and burns. Undead onanism? There aren't enough heads and desks in the entire goddamned world for that. It's the most ridiculous metaphor I've ever heard. The definition of onanism, according to Merriam-Webster: 1. Masturbation; 2. Coitus interruptus; and 3. Self-gratification. What in the hell do any of those have do with vampires and drinking blood?

Onward we go, more's the pity.

It might have been a cluttered museum closed for repair, or maybe an abandoned antique shop. Here were masks on the wall of long-nosed creatures with spiked chins, or bat-eared creatures with curving fangs, or albino foxes smiling sweetly; next to the masks were braided whips on hooks with bits of bone and metal woven into the lash; next were staples in the walls from which dangled chains with manacles and gyves. 

A wall niche held a blue-faced idol of a many-armed goddess. One leg was raised in a dance-step, each of her hands was holding a bloody weapon or severed head, while a necklace of skulls was draped across the outrageous metal balloons of her breasts. She was stepping on a kowtowing dwarf. 

On one shelf were knives with serrated brass-knuckles built into the guards; other shelves held Coptic jars, or bottles filled with pickled meats or eyes or organs; in the back corner loomed an iron maiden, gently smiling, complete with channels in the base for the blood to run into a water bowl for the cat.

And this royal purple puffery, which is lacking only the slime and tentacles of Nyarlathotep, runs on and on and on for the next freaking page! Dude! Has anybody ever told you that LESS IS MORE?

The characters also have, shall we say, unique methods of speech.

"Your will is of no matter," he smiled, keeping his lips together. 

Doesn't this flout Dialogue Writing 101? How, pray tell, can someone smile words, especially through pressed lips?

Also, Heaven forbid that John C. Wright ever write an actual sex scene. This is bad enough.

"He will be as you are now. Is that so bad? And do you know, ah, do you know why he is here? He forgot his hat. In the room, in the dark, when he clutched her beautiful and sweating hot body in his arms, when they rutted like swine in heat, grunting, and he poured his sperm into her in a vast, hot, stiff explosion, a joy lost now to you forever. He took no pills. He remembers. And with your death, he is free to enjoy her and use her and spew his seed into her as he might spit into a spittoon on the floor, until the amusement of plundering you of yours is weariness to him. Is this not cause enough to kill? It is justice. The scale is unbalanced. Strike! Strike the flint against the steel! And you shall be whole!"

You know, Mr. Wright, there's this little contest called the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. That's where this crapola belongs. Not on the Hugo ballot.

Here came images from the mythic memory of mankind. But in one and one place only, they were different. The images of a mythical and timeless events were linked by rays of light like a tree to specific events that happened at specific places in the mortal world. It was like a road or a path or a tunnel reaching from the deep parts of eternity, far too far for me to reach, up to the mortal time. It was a pathway or pillar spanning the whole deep of the sea from the surface to the bottomlessness depths.

That isn't even a comprehensible paragraph, never mind its use of words that have never existed in any dictionary.

The story ends with a poem by William Cullen Bryant, "Thanatopsis," from which the title is taken.

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan that moves, 
To the pale realms of shade, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death, 
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night, 
Scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave, 
Like one that wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams. 

Now there's a piece of writing. And every single line of it is better than this bovine excrement.

The Hugo Project: "Ancillary Sword"

(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of posts reviewing the 2015 Hugo nominees, and explaining why I will or will not vote for them.)

Ancillary Sword is the sequel to Ancillary Justice, which last year swept just about every award in the science fiction community, including the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel. I gave it a five-star review, and I felt all those accolades were totally deserved. Now we have the sequel, and the obvious question is: Is it as good as the first?

The short answer: Yes, in a completely different way.

I'm sure the author realized she would never have the big splashy entrance of Ancillary Justice again. That was a true lightning-in-a-bottle situation, and it's to her credit that she takes an entirely different tack with this book. Sword is tight and focused, looking inward to the characters rather than outward. The pace is slower and more deliberate, giving you time to work through the ramifications of everything established in Justice. This is not to say it's boring, not at all; if anything, this story would reward subsequent reads even more than Justice, I think.

There are two main threads here: 1) exploring the character of Breq Mianaai, the last surviving segment of the troop carrier Justice of Toren, now permanently downloaded into an ancillary body; and 2) exploring the fascinating, horrifying, quirky, ruthless Radchaai society. In this book, you can see Breq changing, beginning to open up; the flat tone of Justice, while perfect for that book, makes way here for a character who is struggling to come to terms with her situation and build a new life. This is summed up very well in the book's final paragraph, which is a wonderful capper to everything that has come before:

It wasn't the same. It wasn't what I wanted, not really, wasn't what I knew I would always reach for. But it would have to be enough.

Breq is still a nonhuman character, still thinks and acts differently than everyone else in the book (except the other ancillaries). But you can see, in this book, the beginnings of a new person, a fascinating meld of human and A.I. I am eagerly looking forward to the next book to see what this new person makes of herself.

Radchaai society, unfortunately, is not something to look forward to. It's fascinating, all right, but it's the fascination of a train wreck. On the one hand, you have a ruthless star empire, led by the three-thousand-year-old (and recently fractured into two, or perhaps more, opposing personalities) Anaander Mianaai, which "annexes"--read: "conquers"--every star system it comes across, and controls its citizens' lives right down to assigning them the work they will do and where they will live, and inserting implants that will allow the monitoring of every move they make. (The only check on Anaander Mianaai's expansion is the alien Presgar, which are so technologically advanced and so badass they force a treaty on the Radch sight unseen.) On the other hand, this same society is obsessed with gloves, and tea, and centuries-old tea sets (which actually play a fairly prominent part in the plot). This society is as fractured and fragmented as its leader, which is only to be expected, I suppose. Nevertheless, it's extremely interesting to watch its subtleties and nuances, and how Breq maneuvers her way through them.

We're being set up for something here, to be sure. I hope it involves the Presgar, as that's the only way I can presently see for Anaander Mianaai to be taken down. I suspect the third book is going to be as slam-bang and action-oriented as Justice. Nevertheless, we as readers deserved a bit of reflection and quiet time, and Ancillary Sword delivers that, in spades.

(An aside re: the Hugos. I would have read and reviewed this book anyway, as I loved its predecessor. It's quite interesting, however, that this book was nominated for Best Novel despite its absence on the Vapid Canines' slate. This, to me, speaks both to the strength of Ann Leckie's fans and its superiority as a written work. Certainly, everything else I've read of the Canines thus far is...not good, to say the least. This book is certainly deserving of a Hugo, and the others simply are not.)

May 5, 2015

The Hugo Project: "The Plural of Helen of Troy"

(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of me reading as many nominees on the 2015 Hugo ballot as I can, and explaining why I will or will not vote for them.)

I think I'm discovering the secret of John C. Wright. His competence as a writer, such as it is, is limited to very short fiction. To put it bluntly, the longer he rambles on, the worse he gets. As this story aptly proves.

Honestly, I tried to read all of this pretentious, long-winded, convoluted mess. I really did. The first two-thirds of the story held the fascination of a train wreck, with its nonsensical plot and horrid dialogue, and I cackled out loud at several points just from the sheer ridiculousness of the tale. After that, however, what minimal interest I had quickly dissipated, and I kept flicking the pages of my e-reader, just trying to find the end of the damned thing. Reading all those extra words would have rotted my brain, I think.

If this is a "good" time travel story, than the Flying Spaghetti Monster please protect me from all time travel stories from this day forward. As well as I can understand the plot (which isn't well at all, considering the plot is bloody stupid), the hero is a cliched Roaring Twenties detective who calls women "dame" and lives in Metachronopolis, the City Beyond Time, where the Towers of Time hold all the alternate universes and fictional characters never die. He is hired by Jack Kennedy (!) to protect Helen of Troy, who is really Marilyn Monroe (!!!), from a future version of himself. (The so-called "plot" is a lot more complicated than that, unfortunately, and none of it makes any sense.)

*HEADDESK*HEADDESK*HEADDESK*

Need I elaborate how mind-numbingly unintelligent this is? I shouldn't have to, should I? Instead, let me cut and paste a few samples of the stellar quality of the writing.

I'd had a pretty good life, I guess. I had no complaints.

Strike that. My life stank like an incontinent skunk pie sandwich with no mustard, if one of the slices was the crusty heel no one likes to eat, and I had loads of complaints. 

*GROAN* Pass me the brain bleach, please.

My gun leaped into my hand from the holster, projected an aiming beam, then launched a missile made of white-hot plasma instead of old-fashioned metal. The gun emitted a magnetic force field shaped like a tube to guide the missile to the target, then designed and built an invisible set of braces and baffles out of nucleonic energy-tension to suppress the explosion within a five-foot radius. Then the gun focused a time distortion hole on the spot to sweep the wreckage of the door panels and part of the wall sideways out of the continuum, into the non-being between timestreams, as the missile plasma ruptured and made a miniature version of a sun. 

*BOGGLES* What the hell does that even mean? That's some Grade-A technobabble right there, mixed in with properly crusty weapons porn.

I hope you can follow this Celtic knot of cause and effect here. If I hadn't grabbed the machine that can dodge any grab, the machine would not have stood still and let itself get harpooned with the harpoon, because then my grab would  have missed. And it permitted me to grab it, it could not do otherwise, because with my arms around it, it could hit me, and if it had dodged, it could not.

And if wishes were horses, I'd be riding the Kentucky Derby winner, and Mr. Wright wouldn't be writing such crappy stories.

"Down, boy," I muttered. And my gun magnetically walked down my chest into my holster, folded itself up, and slid inside for a nap.

That gun is by far the best and most sensible character here.

I'll never get this hour of my life back, but at least I can warn others. This shite does not deserve to be on the Hugo ballot.



May 3, 2015

The Hugo Project: "One Bright Star to Guide Them"

(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of posts to review as many of the 2015 Hugo nominees as I can, and explain why I will or will not be voting for them.)

As I explained previously, I've run into John C. Wright's prose before, and didn't much care for it. "One Bright Star to Guide Them" is the first of his three (!) nominations for Best Novelette. The "Hugo Finalists" link on SF Signal leads to a DRM-free download from Castalia House, containing all of Wright's nominated stories.

All I can say about this particular story is that it's a damn good thing the download is free, or I would be demanding my money back...and I might do that anyway.

Holy shit, this is bad.

How bad, you ask? So bad I couldn't finish it. I did manage to slog through "Parliament," but I'll be damned if I'm going to waste my time on this pretentious, derivative rip-off of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, replete with Endless Exclamation Points and Nigh-Endless, Meaningless Capitalized Nouns and Verbs That Are Supposed To Mean Something. I finally gave up upon reaching this paragraph of deathless prose, six pages in:

Tommy spoke with quiet urgency: "Tybalt told me the Winter King's men have entered this world. They have Atlendor's tarn-cape, and mortal eyes cannot see them. Tybalt brought me to the Wellspring of Wisdom in a cavern below the roots of an ash tree, where a hundred knights in armor of gold were sleeping on stone biers. He made me bathe my eyes in the spring; it burned and stung, and for a day, I thought I was blind. But when my blindness passed, I could see the fairy-creatures." 

HE MADE ME BATHE MY EYES IN THE SPRING?

Come on, Mr. Wright. How, exactly, did your plucky hero manage this feat? Did he pry his eyeballs out of their sockets, wash them in the spring, and stick them back in? Talk about jolting me out of the story (although, truthfully, by that point I was looking for an excuse to smash the e-book with a cyberhammer). After reading that paragraph, I decided, screw this. This story is not worth it.

For those who cry, waaah, I need to be fair and finish the story: Sorry, kids. With this much stuff on the ballot, I am reading as far as my interest is held and no further. It's the writer's job to make his/her story a good read; it's not my job to force myself to plow through something I absolutely do not like. (Mr. Wright should actually be grateful that, with this story at least, I didn't stop reading when I finished his byline.)

Nope nope nope. As George R.R. Martin famously said, "Some stories and writers aren't fit to polish a Hugo, much less win one." This definitely falls into that category.

April 30, 2015

The Hugo Project: "Totaled"

(Note: this is the newest in a series of posts wherein I review as many of the 2015 Hugo nominees as I can, and explain why I will or will not vote for them.)

Hot damn. I finally stumbled upon a decent story.

Actually, this story is pretty good, even if its premise is downright terrifying.

The personal total wasn’t a new concept. It started back in the Teens when the Treaders put their first candidate in office. Healthcare costs were insane. Insurance was almost impossible to get. The Treaders said taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for medical care someone else couldn’t afford, so they instituted a review board for totals.

The uneducated, the elderly, the poor—they could be totaled at less than a year’s wages. My doctorate put my total at lifetime earnings plus a multiplier for patents. My policy was supposed to be enough to cover anything. I thought I was safe.

The research rider came with an annuity. I did it for the boys. I had a good salary, but things were still tight after the divorce. If I died or got totaled, the rider said ANA could have any tissues they wanted, and the annuity would go to Dale and Zachary.

Tissues, of course, meant brains.

This bit of backstory establishes "Totaled" as an alternate history, since due to the impact of the Affordable Care Act, this scenario simply could not take place. The "Treaders" are obviously those who fly the "Don't Tread on Me" flag, and there are not enough of them to vote such a vile idea into law. I think--I would hope--that the American people would not stand for such a thing in any case, as this would be the real "death panel," (and smacking of National Socialism, to say the least) as opposed to the nonexistent one some people bandy about.

But that's not the point of the story; no matter how clumsy and contrived the concept, this story is about the human cost thereof. This is the story of Margaret Hauri, and her temporary afterlife as a disembodied brain (shades of the old horror movie "Donovan's Brain," although Maggie doesn't turn psychotic) used for research. Maggie is still aware and conscious in her tank, and works out a method of communication with her lab partner, Randy Moreno, which involves lighting up different areas of the brain to answer "yes" or "no" questions. In the limited time Maggie has left before her brain's irreversible decay, she and Randy try to finish her research, the development of a working molecular bionet.

They succeed. The tension in this short story is notable, as is Maggie's voice--dedicated to her work, a loving mother to her boys. Towards the end of the story, as her brain begins to fail, the author does a marvelous job of conveying this via the repeated use of the communicative phrases she employs to light up different areas of her brain, coming faster and closer together, disrupting the linear narrative. Randy asks if she wants to end it, and upon receiving her affirmative answer, he turns off her support. The last scene is a three-sentence flashback to the beginning of the story, with the setting of Maggie cooking waffles for her boys, frozen in time.

Holy crap. This story had a weight, resonance, and emotional impact all the others lacked. (It also wasn't stupid, boring and senseless, which helped.) I must admit here that my standard for this year's Hugo nominations is a story the Vapid Canines rejected--Rachel Swirsky's "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love." I loved that story, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. It was a wonderful piece of prose, tightly constructed, leading to a one-two gut punch that lingers in my mind to this day. When I started reading this year's nominated stories, I made up my mind that unless a nominee produced an experience reminiscent of "Dinosaur," I wouldn't consider it for the rocket.

"Totaled" is the only story to have done so.

Now, I will freely admit that I haven't yet read "A Single Samurai," by Steven Diamond. This story isn't available online, and since the collection it came from doesn't strike me as being something I would really like, I'm not going to buy it. I'll check and see if the library has it. In the meantime, this is my ranking and placement of this year's Hugo short story nominations, with the caveat that I may change it when the voting packet comes out (assuming "Samurai" is included) and if "Samurai" knocks my socks off.

1. "Totaled," by Kary English
2. No Award (since none of the other nominees, in my estimation, are Hugo-worthy)

Next, I think I shall move on to Best Novelette, as all those seem to be available online.

April 28, 2015

The Hugo Project: "The Parliament of Beasts and Birds"

(Note: this is the third in my ongoing series to review as many of the 2015 Hugo nominees as I can, and explain why I will or will not vote for them.)

Out of all the short fiction nominees this year, I have run into John C. Wright's style before, and did not view it favorably, to say the least. This was an excerpt of his forthcoming novel on Tor.com, and if there ever was a sample to turn a prospective reader off the entire book, it was that one. Overwritten, purple prose, laden with pretentiousness and shot through with 'as-you-know-Bobs'. I actually left a comment asking if this was a parody, because I couldn't believe what I was reading.

Needless to say, I tiptoed into this story slowly and hesitantly. (Once again, linked through Do Not Link, as it's published on Theodore Beale's site and I won't bump up his search rankings.) It began, not in media res and with dialogue as I usually prefer, but with a long-drawn out description and setting. It soon becomes clear that this isn't a science-fiction story, but rather a religious allegory, a rip-off of Aesop, and a ham-fisted Biblical retelling. The Christian imagery (Wright, from what I understand, was once an atheist and is now a born-again Catholic) is well-nigh suffocating, including a story subtitle of "The Feast of Pentecost." The animals gather to discuss the fall of Man, suddenly realize they can talk, argue about choosing a ruler, and are uplifted (at least some of them) to sort of hybrid man-animals to take Man's place--by archangels, no less--and, gaining a bit of Man's hubris, run gleefully off into that dead city to repeat the same cycle all over again!

The writing, at least, is competent, and distinctly less purple than the novel excerpt--only a mild shade of lavender, well suited to the story it is trying to tell. The story itself, however...bah. It's a twisted, convoluted, senseless, unholy mess. It certainly doesn't have the moral one might expect in a fable, or if it did, it was buried so heavily beneath the Biblical references I couldn't find it. It carries no emotional weight, has nothing but the most rudimentary characterization, and as far as I can tell, it has no point.

Near the end, we get this.

Fox said, “I hate to admit it, but I do not understand what all these things mean.”

You damn betcha, Fox. I don't know what it means, and I'm not the least bit interested in finding out. I'm not the least bit interested in giving it a Hugo, either.