Novellas are always an odd length for me. Between 17,500 words and 40,000 words, they aren’t always that short, but just about the time I get wrapped up in them, they’re over.
Nevertheless, sometimes it’s nice to have a complete and thoroughly realized story that is still shorter than your typical novel.
Big Boys Don’t Cry
The story centers around a futuristic tank-like battle AI named Magnolia, or Maggie. Right away, it is apparent that Maggie is a thinking, feeling machine. However, in a firefight, she quickly ends up needing to be scrapped, which sends her memories back over the years.
When I found out this story is an expanded from a version originally published in 2000, it makes sense. It rambles. It starts off okay, but then drags on to the story’s detriment. Some of the battle scenes are just overkill.
Bizarre. So apparently “wen” means women and the women that womanizing character Rist sees during his first ‘warmlands’ visit have strange, yet attractive ‘muscles’ on their chests. Moving on…
Asides from the background wen (who have no purpose aside from being pursued and desired),the story itself is rather jumbled.
The author delights in his many created words (difficult to pull off in less than novel length), which are often awkwardly defined and redefined throughout the text (“Suddenly, from the top of the tower darkwise—“West, they calls it down here…”). It’s a strange world, seemingly pre-technology, possibly our own earth after a disaster split humanity apart.
Overall, the story is hard to follow and the character’s motivations are weak. I had to read sections twice, assuming I had missed something.
One Bright Star to Guide Them
Tommy is no longer a child, but he clearly remembers the magic sword, the key that unlocks worlds and the flight against the powers of darkness— a childhood adventure. But when he reaches middle-age, he is called back to the fight.
I grew up on fantasy, so the mechanics of this tale were very familiar to me as a story of good versus evil, dark versus light.
In places, it reminded me of C.S Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and even Madeline L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet, but this story was not as polished and finely crafted.
Dialogue was clunky and the story was not tightly bound, instead sometimes drifting into moments of vague narrative.
The fleeting moments of thinly-veiled moral messaging did not detract from the story, and although the depiction of the fight against good and evil is a classic one, it seemed a bit too simplistic here.
However, it was interesting, and kept me reading.
“Pale Realms of Shade
As kind of a supernatural detective noir story, Pale Realms of Shade captured my attention. In life, Matthias was a psychic private investigator. But after being murdered, he is a shade, and an angry one at that. Even after death, is it too late to change?
Although this story was certainly heavy on the Christian theology side, that’s not too unusual when it comes to ghost stories.
Pale Realms of Shade is a unique take on what is in essence a story about seeking redemption. Although the religious passages were heavy-handed, the story was solid and compelling.
“The Plural of Helen of Troy”
Okay, the time-weirdness that is the city of Metachronopolis is awesome. The actual story The Plural of Helen of Troy is sadly not as awesome.
It’s fascinating to read about, but sadly, the scene-setting is far superior to the actual tale. Helen of Troy may have the face that launched a thousand ships, but this particular story about her just couldn’t hold my interest.
This category really challenged my desire to read all of the finalists before voting. To be completely honest, Pale Realms of Shade was the only one I didn’t struggle to finish. But even good stories aren’t great stories and I’ll probably have to pick No Award for this category.
The Hugo Awards are the most prestigious award in science fiction and fantasy and I’m excited to be voting and attending WorldCon this year. This analysis only considers the nominated work itself, ignoring all other external factors. I’ve shared my views on the Hugo Awards controversy separately.