I’m slowly working my way through the Hugo Awards packet. Next up are the novelettes, which the Hugos define as anything that has between 7,500 and 17,500 words. Again, I’ll link to any of the stories that can be read online. If they’re not available free online, I’ll link to their publication on Amazon. If you follow that link and buy the book or story, you’ll be supporting my blog – thanks.
“The Archronology of Love” by Caroline M. Yoachim
Published: April, 2019 in Lightspeed Magazine
Genre: science fiction novelette
Setting: far future colony of New Mars
Summary: A team of archeologists who travel back in time arrive at the colony of New Mars to research why the colony has been wiped out. They discover the alien artifacts found on the planet used nanites to assimilate all organic matter in the colony.
Final thoughts: An interesting story that worked on multiple levels. You definitely had to think about what was going on in order to understand the story. First of all, there are interspersed elements of the story in italics that I slowly realized was the aliens talking, and not the narrator. Second, there’s the intriguing elements of archronology – the archeological study of time instead of space. Then, there’s the story of grief as our narrator is heading to the colony where her husband was supposed to meet her, but everyone is dead. Yoachim achieved a nice balance of emotion balanced with the science. A good start to the selections.
Title comes from: The narrator was an archronologist (an archeologist who traveled back in time to study a location) whose lifelove died on the colony she was studying
“Away With the Wolves” by Sarah Gailey
Published: September/October, 2019 issue of Uncanny Magazine
Genre: fantasy novelette
Setting: a medieval technology village
Summary: Suss feels guilty that she usually chooses to live as a wolf instead of as a human with chronic pain. Her best friend helps her come up with a better solution to that dilemma, which involves making a wolf friend.
Final thoughts: Gailey did a great job setting up the moral dilemma of this story. Should Suss stay human, as her mom wanted her to do, and live with chronic pain and exhaustion all the time? Or should Suss stay wolf, where she doesn’t hurt anymore, but she does destroy parts of the village at times? Suss thinks it’s an either or question. She’s been using her wolf form as a haven, but it’s starting to cause problems in the village. She’s ready to give it up and stay a human (and in pain) forever. Luckily, she’s got a good friend that can see there is another solution. She flips the situation around and has Suss integrate herself into village life as a wolf, who occasionally becomes human when it’s important enough. Probably my second favorite of the bunch.
“The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye” by Sarah Pinsker
Published: July/August 2019 issue of Uncanny Magazine
Genre: horror novelette
Setting: a backwoods cabin in West Virginia, present day
Summary: A writer heads to a cabin in the mountains to focus on writing her next novel. She finds a dead body and discovers she harbors a creature inside herself that comes out to lay its eggs whenever she’s out in the woods writing. Good thing she has a great assistant who knows what’s going on and covers everything up.
Final thoughts: This story surprised me on a regular basis. Reading a story nominated for the Hugos means I’m always on the lookout for the fantastical elements of the story. This one took a while to get to the fantastical part, but that made the emotional payout when the creature crawls out of the writer’s mouth so much stronger. It also made me reinterpret everything I had read so far in a new light. Little things, like how the assistant smelled like cumin or why she was afraid of the crawlspace, now made sense. It all fit together beautifully, and made me love the assistant and what she does for her friend even more. High quality story – I think this was my favorite.
Title comes from: It’s a description of how you see the creature
“For He Can Creep” by Siobhan Carroll
Published: July, 2019 at Tor.com
Genre: fantasy novelette
Setting: a lunatic asylum, it felt like the late 1800s
Summary: Jeoffry, the cat, is tempted by the devil to allow Satan to talk to his his master, a poet confined to an insane asylum. Jeoffry has to ask his cat friends for help in defeating Satan once he realizes the devil tricked him.
Final thoughts: This story is made more interesting because it’s told from the point of view of a cat. I was never quite sure if the demons the cat saw were demons or just big mice. It did make several scenes more amusing, like when Satan gives the standard “all this can be yours if you bow down and worship me” and the cat’s response is, “You should be worshiping me.” Or when the cat has to ask for, God forbid, help. Also, my favorite character was the cute little kitten named The Nighthunter Moppet, who would alternate between adorably distracted kitten to fearsome hunter. The cats realize they can’t kill Satan, but they can save the poet. Very fun story.
Title comes from: In order to beat Satan at his own game, Jeoffry had to creep by him and ignore the giant cat fight going on
“Omphalos” by Ted Chiang
Published: 2019 in Exhalation: Stories, a short story collection by Ted Chiang
Genre: historical science fiction
Setting: mid-1800s United States
Summary: Our narrator is a female scientist who lives in a world where all science affirms the Christian God and the Biblical creation story. When an astronomer discovers a star and the galaxy rotating around another planet, everyone has to rethink their conception of being created by God to be the center of the Universe.
Final thoughts: I found this to be a fascinating story, probably because at heart I am a scientist. It’s such an interesting thought experiment – what would the world be like if all of science affirmed the creation story presented in Genesis? How would that change a scientist’s approach to science? What would the science look like? And then, to have your belief of the world being created by God for something special upended by the discovery that the Universe rotates around a different planet. Such implications! How do you go on with your life? I appreciated Chiang’s analysis of our narrator’s inner drive. She’s not going to stop doing science because the external motivation has changed. She still enjoys the science. Now, it’s a free choice instead of something driven by God.
Title comes from: An omphalos is a central point around which everything else revolves. An astronomer in this world realizes that Earth is not the omphalos of their universe, which changes everything.
“Emergency Skin” by N. K. Jemisin – This won the 2020 Hugo award for Best Novelette
Published: 2019 as part of the Forward Collection of Amazon Original Stories
Genre: science fiction novelette
Setting: A future Raleigh, North Carolina
Summary: An explorer is sent back to Tellus to collect critical samples for the survival of the colony. Tellus/Earth was abandoned by the colony when the Founders determined there was no chance to survive on the ecologically ravaged Earth. Once the explorer reaches Earth, they realize the story the Founders have been telling doesn’t match the reality on Earth.
Final thoughts: I feel like this is a great example of an unreliable narrator. We never actually hear from the explorer, just from the AI explaining things inside their head and from people on Earth. It’s soon obvious that the situation on Earth is not what has been described. It seems that a bunch of greedy white supremacists left Earth because they thought it was doomed, and suddenly humanity was able to get it’s act together and work together to fix the global problems. Coincidence? I think not. Gradually the explorer realizes their life would be so much better if they stay on Earth, with all of it’s messy humanity, then go back to the rigidly controlled colony.
Title comes from: The explorer lived inside an environmental suit that controlled all of their needs. One of those needs was the ability to put a skin on the enclosed body in case of emergency.