Sunday, January 18, 2009

Review - "Inside Job", "Two Hearts", and "Tk'Tk'Tk"

Donato Giancola
2006 Hugo Winner for Best Professional Artist

This is one of those times where I was tempted to stretch my rule of selecting an image by the artist from the nomination period since the following year he painted an image of Tristan and Isolde. I don't know if he intended it to be an illustration of the legend or the opera but either way it was an interesting choice of subjects. Instead here is "Boromir in the White Mountains".

The short fiction this year was pulled from three sources: a short hard cover edition from Subterranean Press, Fantasy: Best of 2006 which took more than two weeks to reach me and caused me to forget about them when I listed all of the sources I used for Hugo winning short fiction, and the last is available on the web. Subterranean Press has printed a lot of collector's editions of novellas including Willis's 2008 winner "All Seated on the Ground" though if you prefer to wait the stories are sure to be collected later.

"Inside Job"
by Connie Willis
2006 Hugo Winner for Best Novella

Skepticism is rarely presented positively in fantasy. I can't think of a single film with supernatural elements where a skeptic is not presented as a belligerent jerk who denies reality only to eventually be devoured by the monster "ironically". I attribute this to the fact that such a large portion of their potential of the world uncritically believes in the supernatural that having a character who demands evidence wouldn't be popular. You see it quite a bit in the written word as well but every so often in fiction such a character is confronted by the supernatural and tries to deal with it reasonably.

That's the situation in Willis's "Inside Job". The editor of a skeptics magazine witnesses a channeller who in the middle of her act suddenly changes personality and insults the audience for believing in channelling. Through the choice of phrasing the editor identifies the new voice as possibly belonging to a famous, dead skeptic and the channeller is trying to hide the interruptions into her act. It could be evidence of life after death or it could be a long con to get a skeptic to raise the channeller's profile.

Willis recognizes the inherent dilemma for a skeptic in a situation where any evidence gathered would be at best circumstantial. Similarly she captures the conflict of wanting to believe and needing proof. The character conflicts are what carry the story forward, not the tale of possession by a dead spirit. I wouldn't call this a spectacular novella but it is another fine piece from Willis.

"Two Hearts"
by Peter S. Beagle
2006 Hugo Winner for Best Novelette
2006 Nebula Winner for Best Novelette

This is a sequel to Beagle's The Last Unicorn and while it may have been given some higher esteem by some voters for that reason I don't think it was the only reason that it won. In "Two Hearts" a young girl makes a journey from her village to see the king. A griffin is hunting and eating children at her home and she wants his help. The king is old and addled, however, but returns to lucidity when someone reminds him of a unicorn he knew long ago. The girl convinces the king to depart alone on one last quest defeat a monster.

The story does manage to stand very well on its own even if you haven't read The Last Unicorn. The last time I read it was in the 1980's so needless to say I'm very fuzzy on the details of the original but I had no problem following it. I'm sure it will resonate more if you are familiar with the book but this is one time where an author returning to a previous effort after decades did not simply wallow in nostalgia.

My only real problem with the story was that it was told from the perspective of a nine year old child and I found her unconvincing as a narrative voice. It switched between a child's worldview and an adult style narrative quite a bit which threw me out of the story. Still it's a good effort and I can't see anyone who likes the book being unsatisfied with the conclusion.

by David D. Levine
2006 Hugo Winner for Best Short Story

A salesman on an alien world must deal with the complications of a radically different culture in this story. He barely understands them and they barely understand him but he is determined to make the sale no matter what hardships fall in his path.

Levine tries to make the aliens very alien and I'm not sure that he was entirely successful in that regard. Having their language transliterates into what looks like vowelless keyboard mashing partially broke my suspension of disbelief there (just a note for authors who do that kind of thing: transliteration means to render in a form that could be pronounced in the other language). For another the "alien" property concepts weren't really that distant from some fringe human beliefs. Still for the story of a foreigner dealing with a strange land it was pretty good.