In the Hugo Nominees for Best Novella, I find myself voting for the same author, but this time not by default. As before, my tentative ranking and one-line comments are below, with spoilery commentary behind the cut.
- Robert Reed, “A Billion Eves” (online at Asimov’s): a good concept well-executed.
- Robert Charles Wilson, “Julian: A Christmas Story” (online as 500KB PDF): a good concept for a prologue well-executed.
- William Shunn, “Inclination” (online at Asimov’s): neither this nor the next were surprising, but this one is slightly better in the ancillary details.
- Paul Melko, “The Walls of the Universe” (online at Asimov’s): see above.
- Michael Swanwick, “Lord Weary’s Empire” (online at Asimov’s): an evocative beginning, an incomprehensible middle, and a terrible end.
Reed’s “A Billion Eves” is set in a future where humans have colonized thousands of alternate-universe Earths, starting with a young man who kidnaps a bunch of sorority girls. That inauspicious (to say the least) beginning sets the tone for the resulting societies in ways that are explored in the rest of the novella. Unlike Glasshouse, the social commentary is convincingly organic to the story, though perhaps a touch strong at points. The first section is a bit risky, as it starts with a fairly tight focus on the protagonist and isn’t immediately interesting, but things pick up quickly, and I like the ending.
Wilson’s “Julian: A Christmas Story” starts thusly:
This is a story about Julian Comstock, better known as Julian the Agnostic or (after his uncle) Julian Conqueror. But it is not about his conquests, such as they were, or his betrayals, or about the War in Labrador, or Julian’s quarrels with the Church of the Dominion. I witnessed many of those events—and will no doubt write about them, ultimately—but this narrative concerns Julian when he was young, and I was young, and neither of us was famous.
It’s a very good opening in the sense that it lets you know what to expect: a first-person retrospective prologue set in a future religious dystopia. I liked the voice and found the story it told unobjectionable. But though I can’t define the line between a prologue and an open-ended story, I feel this falls on the “prologue” side.
Shunn’s “Inclination” is, as Chad said, “about the Space Amish, more or less.” It’s not very surprising: there’s a young person, who lives in a fundamentalist society, who finds out that things are more complicated than his society says. I didn’t find anything actively wrong about it, but I just wasn’t that engaged. Right now I’m slightly inclined to give it the nod over the next novella because the pace is slightly faster and the background worldbuilding is a little more interesting.
Melko’s “The Walls of the Universe” has a nice central idea, about a mechanism that lets a person move between parallel universes, and works out some of the details well. But it’s rather slow-moving, and so I spent a lot of time waiting for a punchline that turned out to be rather obvious.
Swanwick’s “Lord Weary’s Empire” is excerpted from Dragons of Babel, his “Tower of Babel that’s also New York City” book that he talked about frequently at Readercon this year (in panels on “Fantasy as Inner Landscape” and “Reconciling Fantasy and Progress”). It has some compellingly-weird stuff in the beginning, but gets less comprehensible as it goes, until it finally ends—warning! spoilers—with “but it was all just a dream.” I suppose it’s theoretically possible that the incomprehensible stuff contains a good reason for pulling that shit, but it’s a really small possibility. (Or that something later to come in Dragons of Babel will, but if that’s the case then Swanwick had no business publishing it as a standalone story.)