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Brief 2015 Hugo Award Finalist Reviews - RonO's Ramblings

Aug. 22nd, 2015 10:30 pm Brief 2015 Hugo Award Finalist Reviews

Note: This post was drafted back when I was actually reading through the various Hugo Award Finalists (and then voting on a category by category basis). It was hidden until after the awards were announced (or should have been announced - I'm counting on the ceremony to start on time and run less than two-and-a-half hours) as I'm part of the 2015 Hugo Awards subcommittee, and I don't want anyone to accuse me of stacking the deck. Because of being delay posted on my blog (www.ron-oakes.us), it didn't automatically cross-post to LiveJournal

I'll present the categories in the order I read (or otherwise finish consuming) them; and the works in the order I voted for them.

Best Short Story

"Totaled"

At first, I was having a hard time liking this story. But, as it went on there was a good balance between ideas and action which makes it stand out in this category.

"Turncoat"

Again, at first I wasn't liking this story. It does drag the action out a bit - and it is almost entirely action, with just a few bits of history and a not quite out of context Bible quote. Having a short story drag its action is a bit of an accomplishment, but not a good one.

No Award

"A Single Samurai"

This story was all action and background. Now, that isn't necessary a bad thing, but in this case it resulted in a pretty boring story. Even if I didn't read a lot of short stories in 2014, if I'm this bored, it isn't a Hugo worthy work.

Asside: when I was regularly playing paper and pencil RPGs, I'd often find long, drawn out, combat boring, so I think that my standards aren't the same as others as to what makes a story boring.

"On a Spiritual Plain"

This story is short, and has one pretty good idea. But, the execution still results in a story that is almost all idea and little action. And the action that is there is pretty mundane.

"The Parliament of Beasts and Birds"

The part of me that likes when Christian ideas cross with science fiction really wanted to like this one - even if Wright's screeds about a TV Show predisposed me to dislike his stories. But it was just talking, and more talking, and even more talking. And the dialog, or I probably should say "Parliament," was all philosophy and at the end theology. Its last sin (a pretty ironic term in this case) was that from the beginning I pretty much knew where it was going to end.

Best Novelette

"The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale"

At first this story was kind of slow, but it was short enough that the initial slow action wasn't a big drawback. However, I did, mostly, solve the mystery well before the narrator. The fact that it is ranking first, tells me that this is a pretty weak field.

"The Day the World Turned Upside Down"

An interesting idea, and well executed. I think my main issue was dealing with the suspension of disbelief over the interesting idea. The juxtaposition of the narrator having his world both figuratively turned upside down by the loss of a long-time girlfriend, and then literally being turned upside down is its biggest strength.

I'll note that this story was translated from, I believe, Dutch. Yet the setting didn't feel either particularly European nor particularly American. I don't know how much of that is from the original, and how much is how the translator dealt with some of the descriptions.

No Award

"Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium"

Not a bad story, but I don't think it is Hugo worthy. The idea is interesting, but the execution ends up kind of dull.

"Championship B'tok"

This isn't a Novelette, this is an outline of the first part of a large series. After spending much of its time skimming over world building and character development, it just ends. It leaves character threads hanging, the main action hanging, and just about everything else hanging.

This one also gets special mention for being yet another case of abusing apostrophes to make a language alien.

"The Journeyman: In the Stone House"

This has a similar problem to the last one. Except being the beginning of an incomplete story, it is the middle of an incomplete story. Now, the prior story exists, which might help explaining some of what is going on.

But as a stand alone piece, all of the aspects of the story are left lacking. The worldbuilding is rushed through or implied (I'm guessing that this is a case of a world that has fallen back to being psuedo-medevil), and the main characters are more caricatures - broad outlines. The secondary characters are even less developed.

My Nominations

For reference, I nominated the following for Best Novelette:

  • The Ghosts of Bourbon Street Seanan McGuire

  • Stingers and Strangers Seanan McGuire

  • Bury Me In Satin Seanan McGuire

  • Snakes and Ladders Seanan McGuire

(Yes, they are all InCrypid stories by Seanan McGuire - but I nominated almost everything I read from last year, at least if it was good. And I really like these stories)

I'd probably still rank these above just about everything in the above category.

Best Novella

"Flow"

I enjoyed "Flow" a fair amount. It is a pretty straightforward explorer's story, with the protagonist learning about parts of his world beyond his original ken, and nearly getting into serious trouble

No Award

Yes, only one novella seemed Hugo Worthy to me.

One Bright Star to Guide Them By

This wasn't all that bad of a story. But, as I was reading it, I couldn't help by see Narnia shining through. This left me feeling off until a friend summed up what it was quite succinctly: "Bad Narnia Fan Fiction."

"The Plural of Helen of Troy"

This story was hard to follow - coming from a collection of shared-world stories (I gather based on the title of the collection it comes from). It is a mish-mash of alternate history, time travel, and paradoxes. But, instead of being intriguing as this could/should be, it was just confusing. The stories not-quite back-to-front ordering added to the problems, even if it was necessary to hide the outcome.

"Pale Realms of Shade"

I didn't finish this story, which means I probably should have left it off my ballot (but it is there at the time of writing). After reading a not insignificant part of the story, my feeling was that I needed to re-read (re-listen to) Seanan McGuire's Sparrow Hill Road (one of my Novel nominees) to wash the taste of it out of my brain.

Like the Rose Marshal ghost stories in Sparrow Hill Road, "Pale Realms of Shade" is a ghost story told, in first person, from the perspective of the ghost. In this case, it was combined with an attempt at a Noir feel and Celtic urban fantasy. Again, this resulted in a bit of a mish-mash that became unreadable.

Big Boys Don't Cry

I didn't finish this story either. But, it did do something very important for me: it convinced me that I don't like the type of military SF that is mostly combat.

Best Novel

Note, I didn't read the excerpt from Skin Game. Being part of a long-running series that (from what I understand) has a lot of continuity, I didn't feel that I could enjoy or judge the story. Also, at the time of this review, I was still reading The Goblin Emperor, but had read enough to make my judgements and cast my ballot. Plus, I was getting to where I was going to start seeing preliminary results in testing and wanted to minimize my influence.

The Goblin Emperor

I'm enjoying this story a lot. It is a coming of age story, with a lot of unique elements. On top of that, the author is doing a good job of revealing a world that is both unlike ours, and unlike your typical fantasy world - even if characters are referred to as "elves" and "goblins."

If I have any complaint, it is her odd use of older speech forms in the dialog, but not in the text nor the internal monologue.

The Three Body Problem

Again, a very enjoyable story. There is what I have to conclude is a definite flavor coming from the setting in modern China, but it also resonates with the parts of the world I'm more familiar with. If anything bothered me significantly, it was some possibly out-of-date information regarding nearby star systems.

The Dark Between the Stars

At first, I was liking this a fair amount. But, I quickly grew tired and quit listening for two reasons. First, the information carried over from the author's previous 7 book series in the same universe seemed to becoming something that was really needed to understand and follow the story. But, more importantly, the story quickly found itself in a "many lines, all waiting" situation. Having read (OK, listened to) about 1/3 of the story - around 18-20 chapters, I'd only seen 3 characters having more than one chapter as the PoV character. On top of that, most of the story lines appeared to be independent, with no indication of how or why they might be interconnected.

Ancillary Sword

I know Ancillary Justice was last year's Hugo Award winner. But, I couldn't get through the first chapter of the excerpt. Not only did there seem to be a lot of information from the first book that was needed to understand what was going on, it was sounding or feeling like the setup for yet another military SF drudge story.

 

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