Jonathan Crowe

My Correct Views on Everything

2011 Hugos: Novelettes

Three of the Hugo finalists for best novelette (7,500 to 17,500 words) were also on the Nebula final ballot: The Jaguar House, in Shadow by Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s Science Fiction, July 2010); Plus or Minus by James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s, December 2010); and That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made by Eric James Stone (Analog, September 2010), which took the Nebula.

My opinion of each of these stories improved on second reading for some reason. “The Jaguar House, in Shadow” is set in de Bodard’s alternate Xuya timeline, with a present-day Aztec empire; while it very much feels like a small piece of a bigger story, that bigger story sounds interesting and I want to read more. Also, extrapolating a modern Aztec empire from historical antecedents represents mad skills. In “Plus or Minus,” in which an accident aboard a spaceship endangers its crew, Kelly steers away from “Cold Equations” territory, but also avoids the problem-solving happy ending; this is a tragic story, but — as you might expect from Kelly — a human one. “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” is a weird agglommeration of Christian faith and intelligent plasma beings who live at the centres of stars, set inside the Sun. Because it comes from a perspective of strong Mormon faith, it probably speaks past much of the SF audience, but even as an atheist I see a lot of merit in this story.

To that list add two new nominees: Eight Miles by Sean McMullen (Analog, September 2010) and The Emperor of Mars by Allen Steele (Asimov’s, June 2010). (All five nominees, in other words, came from the digest magazines — three from Asimov’s, two from Analog.)

Steele’s “Emperor of Mars” is the story of a “Mars monkey” — a general labourer on a tour of duty on a Martian colony — who goes a little funny in the head and buries himself in classic science fiction about Mars. It’s a human-scale story whose virtues, I think, stem from the juxtaposition of a Martian colony with nostalgia for a Barsoom-style science-fictional Mars. In McMullen’s “Eight Miles,” a fascinating nineteenth-century tale of first contact and ballooning (Finally! I’m so tired of zeppelins, aren’t you?), an English lord contracts with a balloonist to take a strange furry woman to higher altitudes to which, he believes, she is native.

These are all solid stories with no clear standouts. Though I think “Eight Miles” was my favourite of the five, I suspect that everyone will rank these stories differently.

For another look at the nominees, see Elitist Book Reviews and Tor.com.