The Hugo AwardIn the interest of my own limited spare time, the Novelette category is as far as I’ll go in my survey of this year’s Hugo Award nominees. There are some interesting possibilities among the Novella and Novel contenders, including Cat Valente’s “Six-Gun Snow White,” Brad Torgersen’s “The Chaplain’s Legacy,” and the complete (!) Wheel of Time saga by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.

UPDATE (Jul 15, 2014): Baen Books is offering a copy of “The Chaplain’s Legacy” on NetGalley, and I’ve got it on my e-reader. Review will follow in a few weeks.

Here are the novelettes I’ve read, with my comments. Titles once again link to the full text of each story:

Ted Chiang writes some brilliant stuff, and this story is no exception. It is in some ways an exemplar of the most literal form of science fiction, a story that begins with a plausible technological advance and speculates about its impact on future humanity. Chiang’s protagonist discusses his encounter with a means of recording and indexing a person’s entire life for playback on demand, interspersing that reflection with a parallel tale of the advent of writing in an African culture built on oral tradition. In the process, Chiang treats us to a meditation on the nature of memory and how it defines us, the subtle relationship between truth and factual accuracy, the mixed blessing of literacy, and the potentially devastating drawbacks of equipping mankind with a perfect synthetic memory. The story begins in a very clinical, almost detached manner, but slowly builds a head of emotional steam and cruises to a powerful conclusion.

  • The Waiting Stars,” by Aliette de Bodard, published in The Other Half of the Sky

This story is set in Ms. de Bodard’s Xuya universe, centered on a spacefaring Asian society that travels among the stars in cyborg Mindships. Two women and a Mindship venture to an enemy junkyard to rescue a captured relative—another Mindship, wrecked in battle. Meanwhile, in the enemy’s capital, a Xuya woman orphaned in the war struggles to recover her identity and memory while assimilating as a second-class citizen in an alien society. This is an emotional, absorbing story about powerful ties of blood and family that transcend conscious thought and connect human beings without regard to distance or circumstance. UPDATE: “The Waiting Stars” won this year’s Nebula Award for Best Novelette. It wasn’t competing against any of the other Hugo-nominated novelettes, but this bolsters its status as a strong contender for the Hugo. I’m not changing my prediction, though. :)

A space pioneer weighs the choices she’s made over the years as she confronts the autumn of her life and struggles with a very human and personal tragedy that has followed her to Mars. She’s been offered a chance at one last mission, but will she take it? Can she? Should she? This one had a lot of resonance for me as I’ve watched the corps of astronauts I idolized as a boy grow old and gray and wondered what it might feel like to be in their shoes at that stage of life, after all they’ve experienced.

I wasn’t able to readily access the other two nominees online. I could have paid for a copy, but I’m a cheap sonofagun:

  • “Opera Vita Aeterna,” by Vox Day, published in The Last Witchking
  • “The Exchange Officers,” by Brad Torgersen, published in Analog

There was some controversy this year regarding the presence of Mr. Day’s work, and that of a couple of other candidates, among the nominees, which you can read about here and here if you’re so inclined. I don’t think there were any unethical shenanigans involved, at least any more than have been going on without fanfare for years, but I was a little surprised to learn that something under 200 votes is enough to put a story on the Hugo ballot.

UPDATE: The brouhaha’s now jumped out of the fandom fishbowl and is flopping around on the linoleum of at least one national news forum.

Anyhow, in the Novelette category, I’m torn between Ted Chiang for the head, and Mary Robinette Kowal for the heart, though I enjoyed all three of the stories I read very much. It feels like a “heart” sort of year, so I’ll go with MRK.

If you’ve read any of these stories, and would like to talk about them, feel free to hit the comments.