These weren’t the nominations I was hoping for, but they’re what I got, so I read them carefully, bearing in mind my idea of what a Hugo award means: the year’s best, a must-read, not just among the nominees but among the entire range of the genre. Many people, especially in non-English-speaking countries, use “Hugo award-winner” as a criteria for a reading list. With my vote, I’m saying: “Read this, and I promise you’ll be glad you did.”
I’m sorry to say I can’t recommend these novelettes.
“The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” by Rajnar Vajra
Some wisecracking space cadets solve a problem in communicating with a species on a distant planet. This is an attempted homage to Golden Age science fiction, the sort of thing the Puppies say we disdain these days. But I have a copy of Adventures of Time and Space
in my hand, a Golden Age anthology: Robert A. Heinlein, Lester Del Rey, A.E. Van Vogt, Alfred Bester, Anthony Boucher, Isaac Asimov, L. Sprague de Camp, Frederc Brown.... The Golden Age was true gold, and we still stand in awe. This story is gilt, cute but not beautiful.
“The Day the World Turned Upside down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator
In this absurdist story, gravity suddenly reverses itself on the day after a guy is dumped by his girlfriend. Despite the calamity, he fixates on returning her pet goldfish with hopes she will love him again. The story contains some good ideas, but mostly whining about how much he loved her and how badly he hurts – again and again childishly. I think it might be trying to be funny, but not successfully. It never moves beyond shallow.
“Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” by Gray Rinehart
Humans land on a planet and the Peshari come and take over, slowly becoming more oppressive. Then a man finds an unexpected way to fight back, taking advantage of the Peshari’s own cultural proscriptions. While the basic idea might be sound, the execution felt appropriate to a juvenile problem-solving story: unrealistically simple with none of the raw hatred that oppression generates and that might shock young readers. A desperate situation gets reduced to tranquil intellectual puzzle.
“The Journeyman: In the Stone House” by Michael F. Flynn
Two unalike companions in a post-Apocalypse are on a mission, but they get captured, are forced to join the army and face old rivals, but in the end, not a lot happens. It’s apparently an installment of a longer series of stories, but it stands on its own. Not bad, kind of fun, but can I recommend it as the year’s best, especially to someone new to the genre? No, not original enough and not exciting enough.
“Championship B’tok” by Edward M. Lerner
Aliens commonly known as Snakes or Hunters have established a colony on a moon of Uranus, and they have expansionist goals. A United Planets liaison tries to find out what’s going on in a story with lots of spies and action in a complicated scheme that reminds the liaison of a complex Snake game called B’tok. But this story is part of a longer series, so not everything makes sense and not everything is resolved. It doesn’t stand alone. I can’t recommend it for that reason. It’s not a real novelette.
— Sue Burke