2014 Best Novella nominee: “The Chaplain's Legacy” by Brad Torgersen, published in Analog, Jul-Aug 2013.
If I wait for the voter's packet to come out, I will never be able to get through everything I want to read. I bought the back-issue of Analog through the Newsstand on my iPad. Bonus! I'll get a lot of other stories, too, for my couple of dollars.
Note: I didn't see the controversy involving the person who was kicked out of the SFWA last year until I was mostly through with this novella. So I know my take on this novella isn't colored by that controversy. I'm going to try not to let it affect my reading of the other works on that list either.
I'm always uncomfortable making public posts about works of fiction that I didn't like. No, I know I could not do better myself. I have a lot of respect for all of the work and heart and imagination that goes into every one of these stories. I know some people love the stories I don't like, and I mean no disrespect to them or the authors. The genre would be seriously boring if we all liked exactly the same things.
In fact, I hope to hear from you if you love the things I don't like, and if you don't like the things I love. One of the best book club experiences I've ever had was a science fiction book club in Midland, TX. My tastes completely clashed with the other folks in the book club. Yes, it was really uncomfortable at first. They went on at great length about how horrible this or that favorite book of mine was, and couldn't understand how anybody could possibly like it. Books that I thought were really really horrible with completely flat characters and really bad science seemed to hit their sweet spot and they'd go on at great length about the wonderfulness of those books. Then came the day when I realized I should probably start picking up "bad" books they ranted about. I found some books that I really loved, that I might not have picked up otherwise! :)
But I digress.
Spoilers below, which is hopefully showing behind a link. Please let me know if it shows up differently for you!
I could not get into this novella. I really tried. My attention kept wandering, and I kept getting distracted and wandering off to do other things. I'd force myself to sit back down and keep reading. I forced myself to keep on until I was a little over half-way through, and I decided at that point that it was time to move on to the next one. If I have time left over before July 31, I'll come back and try to finish it.
I really liked what appeared to be the basic premise of the story. An insectoid alien race was going to wipe us off the face of the galaxy, just like they've done with every other race they've met. They decided not to kill us all (yet) because they were fascinated by our religious beliefs, which were completely foreign to their conception of the universe. Their academics convinced their Queen to hold off on killing us so they could study and understand what our religious beliefs were all about. Though I left archaeology a little over a decade ago, I'm still an anthropologist at heart. And I'm a Unitarian Universalist, besides. So this premise hits a sweet spot for me.
But... at least half-way through the story, not much has been done with this premise. I want to know what they find so fascinating about our religious beliefs. I want to learn how their minds work, and their culture. I want to know what they're learning about us. I want to know why this foreign concept was so important to them. I believe the story hinted that many other races they've obliterated had religions of various sorts too. They have always viewed these religious beliefs as primitive superstitions. What's so fascinating and different about ours? The story got me thinking about these questions and more, and then left me there while it wandered off. Even when it brought some of these questions up again, itself. The story kindof left me hanging there.
At the point in the novella where I stopped reading, it seemed that the story was developing into an agnostic's journey, finding his own faith. And possibly the journey of the atheistic aliens, finding their own faith, too. Which are also both interesting story premises, as long as it's not trying to tell me that being agnostic or atheist is inherently bad. But I still just couldn't get into the story.
Maybe the writing style just doesn't jive for me. The characters felt flat to me, and I couldn't make myself care about them, much as I tried. I didn't feel like I was there with them, experiencing these things with them. I just kept getting bored. Neither my empathy nor my intellect was feeling particularly stimulated.
In the end, I decided that if I'm bored and aggravated and having to force myself to keep reading, it's time to move on to something else. As I said, I'll come back and try to finish it if there's time before the ballots are due. Based on my experience last year, and given that we're also evaluating Retro Hugos this year and have less time, that probably won't happen.
Up or down ballot (note for myself): DOWN, could not finish.