Tuesday, May 26, 2009

2009 Hugo Nominees - The Novelettes

Before going on to the novelettes I wanted to include the Hugo nominated professional artists in my look at the nominees. As I did when I went through the past winners I won't review the art; I don't have an eye for it. All of the pictures were created in 2008 since that is the period that they're nominated for. Finally all of the images are taken from the artists' own websites so you'll notice their watermarks on most of the images. Since I'm behind by one nominee there's two paintings today. First, from Dan Dos Santos:

And from Bob Eggleton:

If the theme of the short story category was "monkeys" the theme here is "old horror pastiche". As before the links will take you to the text of the story. This is also the first time in looking at nominees where I didn't actively dislike any of the nominees in the category. A couple of the stories approach the borderline and none cross it.

“Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel - I've already reviewed this story as the 2008 Nebula winner. For those who d0n't want to look back: I enjoyed it as a cute mash-up of Frankenstein and Pride and Prejudice. I can't call it brilliant work though if you like that kind of literary game then you'll enjoy it.

“The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner - The first thing that any reader is going to notice about this novelette is the quirky voice. It's all short, declaritive sentences with almost no description. Once you get into the story about a boy who finds a ray-gun and learns about love and responsibility from that voice helps keep things from being too personal. Gardner takes the story in a few directions I didn't expect right up to the ending which has its own strange twist. One thing I appreciated was just how naturally the story progresses; it might have a ray-gun as the driving factor but all of the reactions are reasonable. Gardner does a wonderful job in capturing the changing attitudes of the boy as he matures and that carries the story well.

“The Gambler” by Paolo Bacigalupi - In the newsroom of the near future a Laotian reporter concentrates on important stories that don't attract interest. He is threatened with being fired if he cannot get more readers and one of his coworkers helps him hook up with a starlet that can raise his profile. The newsroom of tomorrow is an interesting theme to work with and I felt that Bacigalupi just didn't quite get the concepts down. Reading the story it felt like he knew the buzzwords and problems facing media organizations but not how everything connects together. Consequently he has a news cycle and reactions that are measured in seconds; the media is certainly going to be cycling faster in the future but there is a limit of human response. Getting beyond that it becomes just another story of a crusading journalist versus the people who just want fluff. Personally I would have rather read the story about the people working to fill those incredibly fast news cycles.

“Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear - I was expecting more of a Lovecraft pastiche from this story than what it is. Instead Bear's story feels more like a response to Lovecraft's attitudes regarding race (those attitudes were solidly planted in the mid-nineteenth century despite the fact that Lovecraft wrote in the early-twentieth). In "Shoggoths in Bloom" the threat of a second world war is in the air as an African-American college professor attempts the first significant examination of the shoggoths in the wild. The giant, acidic, tentacle-sprouting monstrocities ooze onto shore in the late autumn where they flower for a brief time before returning to the ocean depths. While examining them the professor deals with the casual racism of New England, his own automatic responses to innocent remarks, and concerns for what is happening in Nazi Germany. The first two thirds of the story are interesting but the last portion where all of the answers are handed over on a deus ex machina left a bitter taste in my mouth. The ethical delema that replaced the questions wasn't interesting enough to make up for the shift.

“Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” by Mike Resnick - Resnick has done it to me again; he wrote a story where I'm not sure what to make of the ending. If the man wrote endings that were any more ambiguous they'd trail off into random text. This time around two very old men reminisce about a a magic shop where they first met as children nearly eighty years before. On a lark the two of them look for the shop and find it with the same proprietor who introduced them still running it. The proprietor now agrees to show them some new things. Unfortunately for this story the ending comes down to a confrontation between some weak homilies and vaguely sinister supernatural forces. That made it much less involving for me than some of Resnick's other stories. Still it's a solid piece of work despite the fact that strange shops of wonders and reclaimed youth have been overused.

My ballot for the novelette category would look like:

“The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner
“Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel
“Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” by Mike Resnick
“Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear
“The Gambler” by Paolo Bacigalupi
No Award