2018 Hugo Awards: Best Novelette - My Ballot

My ballot:
  1. "Wind Will Rove," by Sarah Pinsker
  2. "The Secret Life of Bots," by Suzanne Palmer
  3. "Extracurricular Activities," by Yoon Ha Lee
  4. "A Series of Steaks," by Vina Jie-Min Prasad
  5. "Children of Thorns, Children of Water," by Aliette de Bodard
  6.  No Award
  7.  "Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time," by K.M. Szpara
All of these works are available to read free online, right now. Just click the links on the titles of the works.

A few thoughts on each story. I tried not to *completely* spoil anything, but there are going to be some spoilers if you haven't read them yet!

Overall, I'm pleased with the bunch this year. There are several authors here, new to me, whose names I will be watching out for going forward!

Sarah Pinsker's "Wind Will Rove" is story of 'middles.' It's a generation ship story, told through the perspective of a grandchild of one of the original astronauts who chose to leave Earth for a distant planet, knowing their many-times-over-grandchildren would be the ones to set foot on the new planet. Very few of the original astronauts still survive. Our protagonist is in her 50's, in the middle of her life, between the generations who remember Earth and those who no longer have any connection to Earth at all.

This story hit several of my sweet spots, and I really loved it. It's told through all forms of culture, with the ship's residents trying both to create an oral history of Old Earth and tell their own stories through new creations. Primarily, though, it's told through fiddle music and history lessons. It's about the differences between generations, the old and the young, and all on a ship that's completely cut off from its roots on Earth.

I had to put the story down a few times, just because it was so intense. I really felt like I was there, living it. We've seen stories of generation ships where they retain a balance of old and new, and we've seen stories of generation ships where the original purpose and culture is completely lost over the generations. This is where that choice is being made; this is where it's happening. You could even say it's not really that different from the journey we're taking in our big Blue Boat even now.

Suzanne Palmer's "The Secret Life of Bots" is a delightful little story about a tiny bot with an attitude who saves the world! Outdated, decommissioned Multibot 9 is reactivated aboard a recently recommissioned derelict ship. All of the ship's better bots are busy repairing the damage that has accumulated while the ship has been 'in storage,' so 9 is activated to solve the problem of a little biological pest the ship wasn't able to completely solve on its own before the humans came aboard. This bot model was programmed with Improvisation routines which were meant to be wiped from all bots many years ago because of the instability such routines introduce. Aren't they lucky they have this tiny old bot with them, though, when things go sour?

I really like this story. There's an enormous depth of world and story here, glimpsed through the back-and-forth between points of view of 9 and the human captain of the ship. It's a pretty dark future, really, but our spunky little bot brings a lot of humor and hope. I'm definitely going to keep my eye out for this author in future.

Yoon Ha Lee's "Extracurricular Activities" is a far-future space caper, providing backstory for a character in the first novel of the Machineries of Empire series.

There's a lot of depth and complexity to this universe and the peoples and cultures who inhabit it, and I want to learn more about it. I recall not being able to get very far into Ninefox Gambit, the first novel in the series, when it was nominated last year, I believe because I was turned off by too much unnecessary casual violence. There's some of that in this story, too, but the balance is much better. Our protagonist has to infiltrate enemy lines to rescue an old classmate and their crew. He does so creatively, with humor, flirting, all the while giving us some insight into his family and flashbacks to his school years and the friend he's tasked to rescue. And of course, there's a bit of a twist. Very well told story which kept me up later than I'd intended, because I couldn't put it down.

There's really only one big question left unanswered by the end of this story. What WAS wrong with his hair?

The second novel in this series is on the Hugo ballot this year. I find I'm looking forward to it, now that I've read this novelette. I really hope the second novel will stand alone fairly well, because there's not going to be time to backtrack and give Ninefox Gambit another try first.

Vina Jie-Min Prasad's "A Series of Steaks" takes us to a fairly near future where 3-D bio-printing is becoming mainstream for both medicine and food, and countries' laws  and societies' attitudes are just beginning to catch up to the new technology. We follow a heroine who runs a small-scale beef printing company and is hiding until she can make enough money to escape something dark from her past.

This story is also a caper, of sorts. Our heroine gains a partner, and together they come out ahead of the real bad guy in the end. It's very interesting seeing how the technology works, and feeling the ebb and flow of the world's reactions to the repercussions of widescale bioprinting technology.

 Aliette de Bodard's "Children of Thorns, Children of Water" provides backstory for a character in the second novel in the Dominion of the Fallen series. It's a nice little side-trip from the main storyline. I'd wondered how the dragons had gotten a spy into one of the Houses of the Fallen!

Let me say, to start, I love de Bodard's writing. Her stories are compelling, and they pull me right into her world. She's also right up there with the best in the field on the poignancy of her social commentary.

As a rule, I'm not fond of dystopian sff, and I really dislike horror. So it says a lot that I still, kindof, enjoy the stories in this series set in a dystopian future where the world is being pelted with fallen angels, and everything is turning to rot and waste. The vivid descriptions of every aspect of this world are filled with decay and desolation. The world is full of dark magics vying for dominance, eating away at all the good that existed in the world, even slowly poisoning the old magics like that found in the dragon kingdom which lives beneath the river.

In this novelette, our dragons are trying to infiltrate one of the Houses of the Fallen and gain intelligence to potentially help counter the damage being done to their kingdom beneath the water. In the process, the dragons get caught in a power struggle between two dark magics.

It's a well told story with a lot of interesting elements, but ultimately it's difficult for me to get past how depressed I feel after delving into this vision of the future. I'd hoped at least one of de Bodard's science fiction stories from her Xuya universe would make the ballot this year. Alas!

K.M. Szpara's "Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time" asks the question, 'What happens when a transgendered person who has undergone hormone therapy and some GCS is turned by a vampire?' And it is an interesting thought experiment.

The story isn't really about becoming a vampire and the associated gory vampire stuff, though there is plenty of that. The story also isn't really about porn, though there is also plenty of that. It's really more about the complexities of unwillingly finding yourself in a body that doesn't match your sense of self, in a society that accepts you for who you are, but only at a surface level. The societal prejudices still run deep, and finding ways to meet your most basic needs is a challenge beyond all reason. The transgender change and the vampiric (transhuman? translife?) change parallel each other in many ways in this society. Both are legal and regulated. Both are *technically* socially acceptable, but still medical care is difficult to come by, and wandering very far outside the strict societal and legal boundaries (even to meet basic human needs) can mean a death penalty.

The concept encompassed in the title of the work, revealed at the very end, sang to me. I really wish there had been more focus on the deeper themes, and less on the gross vampire stuff and the porn. In the end, I had to struggle past the constant vampire gore and explicit sex scenes. I just can't give this a Hugo.

In the end, although I enjoyed all of the novelette finalists this year, my top pick was an easy choice. I think the story about the generations on a generation ship, exploring what it means to be human and the value of history, is most deserving of the Hugo Award this year.

Generations: Old Man Orion teaches Baby Perseus how to steal the dog's food.

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