It has occurred to me that this blog has been leaning a bit too heavily towards discussing the Hugo awards without actually discussing the nominees. Since I think that the puppies actually nominated some really great stuff, I figure its about time I write a bit abut what I personally liked and why. As such I figured I’d start out by reviewing the short fiction, both because I think they are all really good stories and because I can link to all them and hopefully, get these deserving authors some more readers. Now keep in mind not all of these stories will be available to be voted on come July, Annie Bellet withdrew her story “goodnight stars” from consideration, which was replaced by “A single samurai” by Steven diamond, which I can’t find online. Also “Tuesdays with Molakesh the destroyer” wasn’t eligible for nomination this year. I have reviewed all the puppy nominated stories except for Steve Diamond’s “A single samurai” mainly because I can’t find it online and I haven’t read it yet.
Now I will warn you going in that while this is a very well written story, it isn’t exactly a happy one. The story begins with a very intriguing first paragraph which not only manages to suck the reader in, but also establishes the tone and tragic nature of the tale. Told in the first person, it is essentially the tale of a brain in a jar. The narrator immediately comes across as highly intelligent based on the process by which she determines where she is and how she got there and although I don’t know nearly enough about neuroscience to know if the science is correct, the way in which the information is presented paints a portrait of a highly intelligent and remarkably well disciplined mind.
The story itself is both poignant and moving. The narrator is a neuroscientist who was working on an experimental “bionet” which had applications for the treatment and improvement of various mental conditions when she was involved in a car accident that left her near death. Although the extent of the injuries isn’t made clear they were bad enough that she was totaled (hence the name of the story) and removed from life support, much in the same way that a bad enough accident can cause your insurance to consider your car totaled and thus uneconomical to repair. The real irony of the story of course is that after her body was totaled her brain was preserved and given to the same research project she had been working on before the accident, causing her to end up in the same lab and working with the same partner she had before only in much different circumstances. As I said it’s not a happy tale though there are a few moments of brightness and triumph. Overall I found it to be a very moving and powerful story. Don’t simply take my word for it though, go ahead and read it yourself.
Next up we have “Goodnight Stars” by Annie Bellet. Like “Totaled”, Goodnight stars is a very well written story, but again not in any ways a happy one (what is it with these lady writers trying to make me cry? Don’t they know that would be bad for my rep?) It tells the tale of “Lucy” a youngish woman who is on a camping trip with her boyfriend and friends when she hears the news that the moon has been hit by something (and although its never stated explicitly it seems pretty clear it was some sort of asteroid or comet) and has “exploded” as a result. This is of course very bad news, even more so for the narrator because her mother was stationed on the moon working on the “Far side array”. Most of the story takes place on the road to her fathers farm in Montana, as they see both the worst and the best of humanity. Although the events that take place in the story are apocalyptic, the story itself is as much about the emotional journey Lucy takes as it is about the physical journey, and it provides a very human perspective on a earth shaking event. It is also, as I said a very sad story and even the emotional resolution at the end is bittersweet at best. But once again, don’t take my word for it, go read it yourself.
The parliament of beasts and birds by John C Wright is one of the more unique and interesting of the puppy nominated stories. In fact it reads more like a myth or a fable than your typical story and a rather well crafted one at that. In fact I could easily see this being inserted into a copy of Aesop’s fables with no one noticing or finding it out of place. It takes place in an undefined time after Man has disappeared from the world and the beast and birds have gathered to determine what that means and how it has come to pass. During the debate the question of who will rule in Man’s stead is brought up, with many of the animals pressing or arguing their claims. But in the end it is the cat who understands what has happened and what it means, and he points it out to the others.
All in all it is a quite beautiful story, and one that is steeped in catholic imagery and symbolism, and while I am not catholic myself I can certainly appreciate the story both for its beautiful language and for its essentially hopeful themes. But as always, don’t take my word for it, read it yourself.
“On a spiritual plain” by Lou Antonelli is another interesting sort of hybrid tale. It takes place on an alien planet where the unusually high magnetic fields allow the spirits of the dead to take form as “magnetic ghosts”. The story is told from the perspective of a Methodist chaplain on a human base who has the challenge of helping the first human ghost to find his way. Of the stories I’ve reviewed thus far this is the most classically sci-fi, taking place on an alien planet with an alien race, but much like John C Wright’s tale it also has a spiritual element, although one that is a bit more sciency than Mr Wrights fantasy tale. And while I rather liked it I also found myself wishing it had been a bit longer, and that Mr Antonelli had spent a bit more time describing Ymilas and its Ymilan inhabitants. Overall though it was a damn good read, and I highly recommend that you read it yourself.
“Tuesdays with Molakesh the destroyer” by Megan Grey. is one of the weirder nominees, sadly it didn’t meet the eligibility requirements for this years Hugo although if I understand right it will be eligible next year. It tells the tale of a young woman who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a retired demon, the titular Molakesh the Destroyer. It is also one of the shortest entries on this list, but a nonetheless charming story. This is another story I felt was a bit too short, but the ending was cute and not quite what I would have expected. I suggest you go read it yourself.
And Finally we get to my personal favorite of the bunch, “Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa. Of the puppy nominated stories this one is the most traditionally sci-fi in my opinion. It is also hands down my favorite of the bunch. The narrator of the story is a machine intelligence that runs a warship in the service of “The Integration” which is a “post-human” society at war with the “Greater Terran Ascendancy” whom the leaders of the integration consider to be superannuated pre-post-humans. During the story the inhumanity of its own masters drives TX45D62a0-9555-11e3-bfa7-0002a5d5c51b to betray its own side and defect to the Ascendancy. Again this is another tale I really wish had been longer as I found the story telling to be very well done and the language to be beautiful nearly to the point of poetry. Plus I’m always a sucker for “space opera” in all its forms and I think this concept could easily be expanded into one or even several novels. I found myself wishing for multiple volume’s set in this particular universe as I think the central conflict between the Ascendancy and the Integration to be full of potential. Fortunately the story seems to be set in the “Quantum Mortis” universe which the author created in collaboration with Vox Day, (although apparently set in a time period between the two books and another part of space entirely) so its not too tragic. As always assume I am lying in these reviews and go read it yourself.
I found all of these stories to be very well written and each one was well worth the few minutes it took me to read them. All of them are easily “Hugo worthy” and not one of them would dishonor the name of Mr Gernsback if they were to be awarded his namesake award. The sheer variety of these stories also gives lie to the claim that “puppies only want one flavor of sci-fi” that many of the anti-puppies have been slinging. In this short list alone we have two emotional tales that deal with the human consequences of disaster, one on a massive scale and one that is much more personal. We also have one good old fashioned space opera, an outer space spirituality story, a mythic fable with catholic underpinnings, and a rather weird but cool little story about growing up in Minnesota. If there is anything that can be said about these stories as a whole its this; they’re all damned good.