There are six nominees for the 2004 Hugo Award for Best Novelette because of a tie. This is a fairly difficult category for me to rank. There’s one story I liked quite a lot, one story I didn’t like at all, and the rest are kind of ehhh.
The story I didn’t like at all is “Hexagons,” by Robert Reed (online at Asimov’s). My notes to myself on it read, “Oh look. Alternate history with Hitler. Ooooh.” and I really don’t think I can add to that.
The story I liked quite a lot is Jeffrey Ford’s “The Empire of Ice Cream” (online at scifi.com). My notes on this read “texture and depth,” which probably shows that I was influenced by the nature of the story in making the notes—the narrator has synesthesia, and grew up experiencing “the whisper of vinyl, the stench of purple, the spinning blue gyres of the church bell.” When he’s a teenager, though, he tastes coffee ice cream and sees a young woman, which provides the plot of the story. I believe I saw one reviewer comment that it was predictable, and it may have been, but it was an interesting, distinctive, and enjoyable read.
And then there are the four stories in the middle. I may just draw lots to rank them, honestly.
- “Bernardo’s House,” by James Patrick Kelly (online at Asimov’s) has an opening that caught my attention (“The house was lonely.”) Apparently in the future, successful men keep houses as mistresses, or at least one does; the story is about what happens when he stops visiting the house. The other main character is of a type I’m not crazy about and, perhaps as a result, pushed my suspension of disbelief a bit. The house’s POV is reasonably good, but the story didn’t really grab me.
- “Into the Gardens of Sweet Night,” by Jay Lake (downloadable from FictionWise). Fable-like in tone and content, despite its setting in a far-ish future Earth: it’s about a talking (Uplifted-style) dog that’s been kicked out of the titular Gardens over some apples (yes, one of the Gardens is of Eden) and enlists a young man to help him get back. The POV character, the young man, is likeable enough, but the tone kept me at a distance emotionally.
- “Nightfall,” by Charles Stross (online at Asimov’s). The first time I tried to read this, I simply could not get past the first two paragraphs. I was able to parse it on the second attempt, several days later, and I’m not sure why it gave me such trouble—but to a much lesser extent, the whole story felt like work to me. Too dense, too lurking with political subtext, too something.
- “Legions in Time,” by Michael Swanwick (online at Asimov’s). I’m not crazy about time travel stories, as they tend to make my head hurt. This strikes me as a fairly light but inoffensive take on the wars-through-time thing.