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Wow. I was so annoyed at the quality of the Best Novella nominees that I almost stopped reading. But the Best Novelette nominees have been much better, and I am encouraged. It's much more difficult to rank nominees when you don't despise any of them! Perhaps there is a future for science fiction after all.



The Ray-Gun: A Love Story by James Alan Gardner


It's temping to critique this story from an angry feminist perspective. It is rife with material fit to set off a stratospheric level of rage. But I'm trying to get over myself and read literature from a less narrow perspective. This is a coming-of-age story. Instead of viewing it as misogynist, we could take it, as I believe the author intended, as an homage to The Lord of the Rings. We could view the protagonist as a tragic figure rather than as, well, a jerk. And the story does come to a fine, non-sexist conclusion. The writing is simple and clear, a bit like Hemmingway. I don't particularly enjoy that style in general, but this story is a well-done example of it. This work is enjoyable to read, and it does have some things to say about love, trust, and growing up. I could appreciate it once I looked past the
sexism, but other nominees were quite a bit better.

The Gambler by Paolo Bacigalupi


This was a fascinating story with a simple but important message about the tripe put out by the American news media. Although the author has a distinctly foreign name, and much of the story is about the repressive Laotian regime, the gambling theme strikes me as very American. This writing is generally very good, and although I liked the ending, there was just something about it that seemed as if it could have been just a bit tighter. I felt that most of the disparate elements of the story were well-tied together, but the exception was the actual gambling theme. I didn't feel that it fit well. The story is still definitely worth reading, but I rank other works in this group higher.

Alistair Baffle's Emporium of Wonders by Mike Resnick


I greatly enjoyed Resnick's Best Short Story nominee, so I anticipated I'd like this Best Novelette nominee as well. This story shared with Article of Faith lovable characters and an enrapturing writing style. Unlike Article of Faith, it's very Jewish, and the two main characters are extremely realistic old Jewish men. While you can certainly enjoy the story without knowing much about old Jewish men, a familiarity with their conversational styles will add to your enjoyment. The men, widowed at the time of our story, have been friends since childhood and business partners through adulthood. They exemplify a positive, hopeful view of the world, and a belief in magic and miracles on the one hand, and a negative, cantankerous, hopeless, skeptical and sarcastic view on the other. Being a negative, cantankerous, hopeless, skeptical and sarcastic sort myself, I tend not to like these sorts of tales, as they tend to be critical of my viewpoint. But, as I wrote above, I'm trying to read with a more open mind, and with a recognition that I'd be happier if I could take a more positive and hopeful viewpoint. Also, this story is a bit less simplistic than most thematically similar tales, and it is told from the perspective of the negative person. The ending is more complex than I would have expected, so the work as a whole did not leave me with frustration that usually fills me at any mention of magic. Ultimately, this work is not as thoughtful as Article of Faith, but it is still quite enjoyable.

Pride and Prometheus by John Kessell


This novelette is an homage to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and, I am guessing from the title and from the fact that it is about young women looking to marry, also Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Confessedly, I have never been able to get through more than the first few pages of Ms. Austen's exalted novel (although I have read the original Frankenstein, which speaks volumes of my taste in literature). In what is as far as I know a new twist on Steampunk, this story is written in a flawlessly Victorian style -- I would never have guessed that it had been composed in 2008. The style is, of course, rather long-drawn-out and florid, with elaborate descriptions of household linens and the like. But I was quite enraptured by the story despite the florid style. The lengthy scene descriptions definitely added to the sheer creepiness of Frankenstein's monster; this is a real thriller. But what makes this story more deserving of a Hugo are its grand Victorian themes: sin and forgiveness, choice of life partner, and the still-popular cautionary Taking Science Too Far. While this last one is something of a disappointment to this serious science fiction fan, it is certainly true to Ms. Shelley's tale. I definitely liked this story quite a bit, and I am pleased that it received the recognition of the nomination, but I did like another one even better.

Shoggoths in Bloom by Elizabeth Baer


Wow. This is the sort of story that makes me want to keep reading the Hugo nominees! It has all the fascinating science a good science fiction story should have, plus all of the elements of any other great story: a dramatic setting, well-thought-out characters, a compelling moral dilemma, and a carefully unfolding plot. Normally, I despise lengthy descriptions of setting, but I very much enjoyed Baer's depictions of coastal Maine. Perhaps it's because I am familiar with and love the New England coast, but it could also be that Baer's writing is just that good. The story is a brilliant allegory between African-Americans in the US (during both the slavery and Jim Crowe periods), Jews in Germany in the time leading up to World War II, and Baer's own intriguing creations. And unlike the endings of so many things I've recently read, the ending to this one is quite satisfying. This one gets my vote!



And that concludes my series of Hugo nominee reviews! I've now read the whole package. I enjoyed more of it than I hated, but I did despise several pieces. So I understand what [profile] trinsf is saying about getting involved at the nomination level, so as to avoid having to read the tripe that other people nominate. Assuming I can afford hardcover books, I can try to do that at the novel level. It will be difficult for me to find the time, however, to read all of those short stories, novelettes and novellas, as work is (fortunately) picking up. Also, there is a part of me that thinks, well, if I'm trying to avoid reading drivel, I should be more selective, not less. If I'm reading Hugo nominees, the works will have been vetted beyond the level of magazine editors. In the end, we will just have to see what time permits.
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