2004 Hugo Award Nominees: Novella

Of the 2004 Hugo Award Nominees for Best Novella, there’s only one I strongly dislike, Catherine Asaro’s “Walk in Silence” (online at Analog). You know, I’m just not interested in alien-human romances. Sorry. My notes to myself on this say “really strained attempt at genre clichés”—I believe that I meant that it was a really strained attempt at achieving what, in the end, were simply genre clichés (yes, there’s a genre of human-alien romance), but I can’t say I care enough to re-read and confirm this impression.

Walter Jon Williams’s “The Green Leopard Plague” (online at Asimov’s) is a two-threaded story, one thread about a historical researcher and her ex-lover, restored from backups after his death, and the other about the people she’s researching. I wasn’t particularly crazy about it, principally because one of the characters is very unpleasant—and meant to be, mind, but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it any better. People with less sensitivity to such things should still read this, as there are interesting things going on the worldbuilding.

Moving up my ballot, there’s a Connie Willis Christmas story (apparently she makes a practice of them?), “Just Like the Ones We Used to Know” (online at Asimov’s). The White Christmas to end all White Christmases, and its effects on a large cast of characters. Fluffy, innocuous comfort food.

My two top stories are Vernor Vinge’s “The Cookie Monster” (online at Analog) and Kage Baker’s “The Empress of Mars” (online at Asimov’s). Vinge’s story is a paranoid tale about people who know more than they ought. It’s notable for its multiple references to prior sf: Vinge appears to be riffing off of and rewriting a bunch of other stuff, including himself, explicitly in a reference I don’t recognize, and implicitly with regard to A Deepness in the Sky. It’s a very solid story, with all the skiffy goodness one expects from Vinge.

Right now, I’m leaning towards voting “The Empress of Mars” first, though I haven’t fully made up my mind. It’s a frontier story, and mixes up colorful characters, repeated snatchings of victory from the jaws of defeat, and sfnal musings on what Mars might be good for. It’s livelier and more character-centered than “The Cookie Monster,” so I’m more favorably inclined towards it, but as I said, I’m still pondering this one.

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  1. I wonder occasionally what I’m missing re: Catherine Asaro. The few novels I’ve opened at random have failed to interest me. Some people clearly find her work worthwhile; having won an award doesn’t make something good, but it usually means it isn’t terrible.

    Is there something by her of any length that you (or anyone else reading this comment) would recommend, even half-heartedly?

  2. One thing I found offputting about the Connie Willis story: A character who’s supposed to be knowledgeable about climate/weather says that it doesn’t usually snow in Hawaii.
    On the contrary; some parts of Hawaii get snow regularly, in some years as early as August. These areas are at a rather higher altitude than most of the state, of course.

    If the speaker had been a layman, I wouldn’t have been bothered. But an expert should not be so imprecise.

  3. gthistle: I read one Asaro novel, _Catch the Lightning_, which I thought was during the book log but apparently not. I didn’t like it, either.

    Oh, and I read that novella of hers in _Irresistible Forces_ (which I’ve completely forgotten to log!) which would have been much more interesting with the plot not taken.

    So, no.

    Dan Goodman: good to know, thanks.

  4. Kate, I largely agree with your rankings here, with the exception of “Green Leopard Plague,” which I thought brilliant. It achieves the rare effect of presenting a convincing intellectual breakthrough (regarding post-scarcity economics) that is both a) original and provocative and b) necessary to the story. In this sense, I found it to be the kind of story that can only be told well in science fiction, so it’s my top choice.

    But this was a tough category for me: “Empress” and “Cookie Monster” are both a lot of fun. I was less impressed by Willis’s story; it’s written exceedingly well but it did not work as a story for me, just a set of anecdotes. (This is my problem with Haldeman’s short as well; it wasn’t a story.)

    I think it would be sort of funny if “Emperor of Ice Cream” and “Cookie Monster” both won. It makes me want to go write a children’s story about the Kingdom of Dessert. Uhh… gotta go.

  5. Hey Alexander–

    Yeah, every time I hear the title of Vinge’s story, I start humming songs from _Sesame Street_. It’s a little disconcerting.

    Re: “Green Leopard Plague”–fair enough. I try to admit my biases right up front, after all.

    There’s been some interesting discussion of the story, with the author himself making an appearance, over on rec.arts.sf.written.

    For the Haldeman, because it was so short I was willing to take it as a series of riffs on an idea rather than a narrative; I wouldn’t have given that latitude to a longer piece.

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