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Mount Orégano
Sue Burke
July 18th, 2018 
Let me see..
What a fine choice! This year all the Hugo nominees in all the categories seem pretty strong. This includes the novelettes.

The Hugos, of course, are the awards presented at Worldcon — this year in San Jose on Sunday evening, August 19. I’ll be at Worldcon, ready to cheer the winner.

Many of the Hugo nominations were also Nebula nominations, so I’ve repeated what I had to say about them. In order from sixth to first place, these are my votes. If my comments sometimes seem harsh, remember that I’m looking for reasons not to rank them all as number one, and I’m ranking them all above “No Award.” That means that whoever wins, I’ll be satisfied.

6. “Extracurricular Activities,” Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com, 2/15/17)
A special ops agent gets sent on a secret mission to rescue a fellow agent. Our agent is supremely confident, and the story tries to be both tense and humorous. It felt like a caper, and obviously some people liked it more than I did. Apparently it’s part of a larger series, and it might have helped to know that setting. Still, to me the jokes seemed tired and the violence was not funny. I also don’t see what’s cute about sexual harassment just because it’s between two men. #MeToo

5. “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time,” K.M. Szpara (Uncanny 5-6/17)
A man in the process of transitioning from female to male gets turned into a vampire. The difficulties of his human-to-vampire transition become more complex due to his gender transition, and he struggles. There are hot sex scenes. Beyond the transitional complications, which echo the transition from human to vampire, though, there’s not much of a new take on vampirism in this story.

4. “The Secret Life of Bots,” by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, 9/17)
A brave little robot, Bot 9, must exterminate a sort of rat through the bowels of a spaceship. As it happens, the future of humanity depends on the success of Bot 9, which in turn needs the help of other robots to catch the ratbug, and a few protocols are broken in the making of that improvised rescue. This story is very cute. I’m not a big fan of cute, but I will give recognition to a job well done. If you like cute, read this story. You’ll be glad you did.

3. “Children of Thorns,” Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny 7-8/17)
In disguise, a pair of spies from the dragon kingdom under the Seine try to infiltrate the House of the Fallen Angels. The setting is a magically dystopic Paris, and the House is about to have its own magical crisis. It meets Bodard’s usual standards of tight writing, characterization, and plotting, with wonderful details slipped in. My only problem is that it feels like an opening chapter to a novel — a fine opening chapter, but there should be more. For me, that diminishes what is in every other way an excellent work.

2. “Wind Will Rove,” Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s 9-10/17)
On a multi-generational ship, the older generations cling to what they recall from Earth or have learned about it. For the narrator, this means music. Younger generations grow rebellious, eager to create their own music and arts or to forget Earth’s culture and history altogether. These children know they will grow up in a static society on a voyage that seemed romantic to their elders but is confining to them. Despite the skill in storytelling, the focus seemed a bit off to me. I learned a lot about the narrator’s family and music, especially one particular song, but not as much about what is going on in the ship. The need to change and adapt became symbolized by that song, but the story got stuck on the symbol rather than a resolution of the on-board problems.

1. “A Series of Steaks,” Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld 1/17)
This was one of five finalists for Clarkesworld magazine’s Reader’s Poll. My story “Who Won the Battle of Arsia Mons?” was also a finalist. As soon as I read “A Series of Steaks,” I knew I was likely to lose. A woman in China agrees to make counterfeit beefsteaks for a client, then the deal starts to go sour. Three things impressed me: the quiet desperation of the main character, the philosophical musings about the art of forgery, and the thoroughly satisfying ending.

— Sue Burke
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