July 9, 2019

Hugo Reading 2019: Best Novella

The novella (17,500-40,000 words) has had something of a resurgence in recent years, mainly due to Tor's excellent novella line. (I know the ones I've bought are taking up nearly a full shelf in one of my bookcases.) This time around, five of the six nominees are from Tor; the only exception (Aliette de Bodard's The Tea Master and the Detective) was published by Subterranean, a niche publisher that puts out lovely limited collectible editions. (Which also take up a not-inconsiderable amount of my own shelf space.) For a lot of stories, the novella is the perfect length, and I'm glad to see its growing popularity.

My ballot:

6) "Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach," Kelly Robson

Bah. This started out well, with an interesting main character and an intriguing world, and the ending totally blew it. That ending either should have been chopped out and rethought, or this entire story expanded into something larger (and the conclusion still chopped out and rewritten). This was just a complete pacing and ending fail. So disappointing.

5) "Binti: The Night Masquerade," Nnedi Okorafor

The first book in this trilogy took both the Hugo and Nebula in 2016. I liked the first Binti well enough, but since then the series has undergone a considerable dip in quality, IMHO. This volume was okay up to a point, but then it became pretty much a muddled mess (one plot point in particular stretched my suspension of disbelief to the breaking point). I'm not a fan of infodumps, but in this case a little more explanation of what was happening would have gone a long way.

4) "The Tea Master and the Detective," Aliette de Bodard

This is basically a far-future Holmes/Watson mystery. Watson is a sentient spaceship, a retired troop transport with PTSD, and Holmes is an abrasive, obsessed human woman (with this universe's version of opium issues) out to solve a very personal mystery. The mystery is okay, but the main characters are the primary draw. I would read further stories about them.

3) "Beneath the Sugar Sky," Seanan McGuire

This is the third book in the Wayward Children series, and while my favorite so far has been the second volume, "Down Among the Sticks and Bones," this one wasn't bad. This was more of a straightforward quest story, with the welcome return of a character from the first book (and we also get to see more of her world, the Halls of the Dead) and an interesting new character who is apparently going to be the protagonist of the fourth book.

2) "The Black God's Drums," P. Djeli Clark

Now we get to the top tier of this category, with this steampunk alternate history of New Orleans. In this world, a truce was declared between the Union and Confederate armies after eight years of war, and New Orleans was made a free port. There are airships in this story, and the titular supernatural weapon from Haiti, and an African orisha named Oya that manifests herself through the protagonist, thirteen-year-old Creeper. It's a rich, heady stew, with just enough details in the worldbuilding to draw the reader in without overwhelming.

1) "Artificial Condition," Martha Wells

Murderbot! For fans of All Systems Red, last year's novella winner, that's all you need to say. Our favorite anxiety-ridden, serial-watching, rogue SecUnit is back, trying to solve some of the mysteries of its past. Murderbot's character and voice is the main attraction of these stories, but this book has a close competitor in ART (aka Asshole Research Transport). I personally liked the final volume of the four-novella series, "Exit Strategy," a little better than this one, but for me, this is definitely the class of this category.

Next up: Best Novel

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