(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of posts 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 final entry in the Best Novelette category, and the only one not on the Impacted Canines' ballots. It gained its spot because a John C. Wright story was disqualified, and this story, in 6th place, was placed on the final ballot. (There's one good thing to come out of that--at least I didn't have to suffer through another John C. Wright abomination.) For all my complaining about the Canid nominees, this does prove one thing: people other than Pupsters can nominate nonsense.
To be blunt, this is crap. Beautifully written crap, to be sure; but still crap.
The first three paragraphs explain the story's premise.
That day, the world turned upside down.
We didn’t know why it happened. Some of us wondered whether it was our fault. Whether we had been praying to the wrong gods, or whether we had said the wrong things. But it wasn’t like that—the world simply turned upside down.
Scientists lucky enough to survive the event said that it wasn’t so much that gravity had disappeared, but that it had flipped over, as if our planet had suddenly lost all of its mass and was surrounded by some colossal object. Religious people, unlucky enough to survive the miracle, said that life was give and take, and that God was now, after so many years of giving, finally taking. But there was no colossal object, and being taken by God is a dubious given.
This is, of course, completely implausible, but no more so than some other common science-fiction tropes, such as faster-than-light travel. It's what the author does with his impossible trope that ruins the story.
Tired of her burden, Mother Earth shook off anything that wasn’t tied firmly down to her surface. In one upwards thrust, it all fell into the atmosphere. Planes, satellites, and space stations disappeared into the vacuum, and even Father Moon was pushed away from us. We saw him dwindle and dwindle, until he landed in his own sad orbit around the sun. He never even said goodbye.
I was lying on the couch, not doing anything really. I wasn’t reading a book or watching TV. If the world had come to an end, I wouldn’t even have noticed.
I was staring at my phone, waiting for you to call.
There, of course, is the problem in a nutshell. Toby, one of the most whiny-ass protagonists I have ever come across, uses this terrible situation, which would have resulted in the deaths of billions of people and the destruction of civilization, to bitch and moan about his ex-girlfriend, Sophie, who broke up with him the day before. He embarks upon an Incredible Upside-Down Journey, bearing Sophie's goldfish Bubbles (IN A BOTTLE OF SEVEN-UP FOR FRAK'S SAKE) and a girl he half-heartedly rescues along the way, Dawnie.
I gather the reader is supposed to sympathize with this character; he's the Broken-Hearted Protagonist, after all. But he soon establishes himself as the typical Nice Guy--in other words, not nice at all.
For the first half hour I resolved to show myself a valuable and sound person and not throw in the towel. I forced my tears back into my eyes and started doing the dishes. But as your lips on the glasses dissolved in the suds, I was constantly being haunted by visions of other men caressing the skin I wanted to caress, kissing the mouth I wanted to kiss, and fucking the girl I had made love to for such long nights.
The end of the world creates two sorts of people: heroes and cowards. When the dangling woman had finally gathered enough courage to glance over her shoulder and saw me clambering from the open window, one end of the lashing rope tied around the couch in the living room and the other end around my waist, she must have thought I belonged to the former. Unaware of something cold that had seized me that same moment, she mumbled, “Thank God.” And not much later, as I reached and I stretched, as I tensed and I leaned, engrossed in efforts to try and get a hold of the goldfish in his bottle on the bottom of the gutter, the woman plummeted down, thinking of a long and fertile life, and neither you nor I would ever know her name.
At the end of the world, it’s every man for himself.
You had taught me that, Sophie.
When Toby finally gets to Sophie's house, instead of helping her with her injuries, and trying to figure out a way to survive in this horrifying new world, he starts to fight with her about the end of their relationship all over again, and expects her to fall at his feet now that he's made it all the way across the Upside-Down to be with her.
I pushed gently away from you so I could look you in the eye. “You called me.”
You let go of me and hoisted yourself up, because you couldn’t handle the situation.
But I clasped your hand and said, “I’ve missed you, Sophie.”
“Stop it.” A tear trickled down your cheek. “I’m so worried about Mom and Dad. I haven’t heard from them. I haven’t seen anyone since it happened, not a single soul. Do you know if help is coming?”
I felt myself growing faint inside. “I came, didn’t I?”
You looked at me for a long time. “I’m sorry about how it all turned out.”
“Yeah. Me too,” I said. “I liked it better when everything was still right-side up. Made it a lot easier to see each other.”
“Well, sorry—” My voice shook, looking for purchase. “—I just don’t know how to deal with it. Everything has changed now, right? Can’t we . . .”
“But couldn’t we—”
I couldn’t hold back my tears. “But I’ll do everything differently.”
“You weren’t the one who had to do things differently.”
“I can’t handle this alone.”
“Sure you can.”
“But I love you.”
“I love you!” I tried to scream, but my love rose in bubbles to the surface and burst apart. Weakened, I wheeled my arms, pounding on the plastic. And behind the label you looked away; you didn’t see that I was drowning. I sank down in a slow spiral, hitting the bottom of the 7-Up bottle with a muffled thump.
My lungs filled up with tears as I whispered, “Please . . .”
And you said, “I need time.”
But I had already gone through the kitchen and didn’t hear you. Hanging from the banister, I lowered myself to the upstairs floor. After everything I had been through, after the countless times I had risked my life to take Bubbles to you, trying in vain to still my love for you with my love for you, and scrambling up from the pounding surf of a dying Earth . . . you need time? How much more time do you think the world will give you, Sophie?
Great Cthulhu, what an ass. And in the middle of a freaking holocaust, to boot. Did he ever think that a few things might be more important than his hurt fee-fees?
After this point in the story, we see Sophie no more; for all we know, Toby has left her to die. He returns to two old ladies in a hanging caravan, where he earlier left the girl, Dawnie, and descends via the hanging rope ladder they have left behind, into the sky, which is actually the new ground of this new Earth. He doesn't know what he'll find, but he's still complaining.
I think I want you to know that you hurt me so incredibly badly, Sophie. Now I’m going down the ladder. Searching for solid ground beneath my feet. It’s not easy. I’m terrified of what I will find down there. But I close my eyes and keep descending. Sometimes the ropes shake and I imagine it’s you following me, somewhere up there in the fog. But maybe it’s just the wind. And I realize I don’t care either way. I am somebody, too.
Again, this is beautifully written. The writer is more than just competent; he's a lovely stylist, far beyond anyone from, say, Castalia House. I would like to try some of his other stories (once I get the taste of this one out of my mouth). That doesn't keep this particular story from being utterly stupid, and unworthy of a Hugo, in my opinion.
So: I have finished this category, and this is how I will vote.
1) "Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium"
2) No Award
Since I don't want any of the other stories to come within shouting distance of winning.
Now that I've downloaded the Hugo voting packet, I'm trying to figure out what category to tackle next. Stay tuned, folks.