Hugo Novellas, Part 1
I’m splitting my Hugo Novella reading into two parts, on account of novellas are long, so it’s taking me more time to get through them.
My other Hugo reviews/thoughts so far:
Kiss me Twice, by Mary Robinette Kowal – Reading this story made me think of Asimov’s Robot Detective books with Elijah Bailey and his robot partner R. Daneel Olivaw. Both present interesting mysteries. Both explore the relationship between human and artificial intelligence. Both question the implications and possibilities of artificial life, the rules and the loopholes.
I liked the Asimov books, but I like Kowal’s story even better. Much of this is due to the character of Metta, the police department’s A.I. I love how Kowal developed this character, the way Metta adopts a different persona for every police officer (much as a human might change clothes depending on the situation), the Mae West quotes she uses to joke with Huang, the way she’s simultaneously supercompetent and aware in the way only a computer can be, but also vulnerable and, if you’ll forgive the conceit, human.
Detective Huang is a good protagonist, too. A decent, determined, well-developed character who treats Metta more like a partner than a machine, which means he’s invested on all levels when something happens to her.
This is a fun, well-paced story which asks interesting questions, presents various nifty and shiny SFnal ideas, and made me blow off several things I needed to get done so I could find out how it ended. I’ve told Mary that 1) she should turn this into a book and 2) I want to write a blurb for that book.
Silently and Very Fast, by Catherynne Valente – I’ll be honest, Valente’s skill with language and imagery made me question whether I was a good enough writer to review this one. (I decided to do it anyway!) This is a wonderfully layered story. It’s retold fairy tales and romance and tragedy and poetry and the power of story/myth and post-singularity science fiction all woven together.
Like Kowal’s story, “Silently and Very Fast” deals in part with the relationship between humans and artificial intelligence. Elefsis is a program who started as the virtual keeper of a house, but grew into so much more thanks to the love and attention of a child, Ceno. It’s a relationship that can’t be forced into human terms. Ceno is Elefsis’ parent and lover and sibling and so much more. Thanks to the neural hardware, they’re literally a part of one another.
Over the years we see Elefsis grow and pass from one family member to another as the humans age and die. We learn how the world has evolved during this time, and the lengths they’ve gone to in order to protect Elefsis.
There were parts I didn’t understand at first. Only as I kept reading did some of those earlier scenes and stories slip so beautifully into place. I strongly recommend reading this one twice, because the parts become that much more gorgeous and powerful once you’ve seen the whole.
Countdown ($2.99), by Mira Grant – “Countdown” is a prequel to Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy (including her Hugo-nominated novel Deadline). Having read the first two books of that trilogy, I enjoyed getting all of the background information on how the zombie uprising began, and seeing characters who until now had just been mentioned in a historical context.
I think, if you’ve read and enjoyed the books, then this will be a good, powerful story, one you should definitely check out. The pacing and voice are similar to Grant’s other books, but the structure is different: “Countdown” is broken into lots of smaller segments from various characters’ perspectives as the inevitable undead uprising unfolds.
If you haven’t read the books, I don’t know if this will work as well. (Or if you read the books but they weren’t to your liking.) Some of the power of the story comes from knowing what happens later on. For example, seeing the Masons as good, determined, loving people and knowing what’s about to happen and the kind of people it turns them into was simply tragic. On the other hand, much of it works just as well in isolation–like the stories and fates of those involved in creating the original viruses.
Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire is up for four Hugos, but I think this one might be a long shot. While “Countdown” does stand alone, I think it will be more powerful and effective to fans of the books.
Comments and discussion are very much welcome, as usual.
June 14, 2012 @ 3:09 pm
Of the 3 you’ve listed above, my vote goes to “Silently and Very Fast” – it’s definitely the most ambitious/virtuoso-like of the 3. I found that “Kiss Me Twice” left me with a lot of unanswered questions, and I felt that the prose style of “Countdown” was really flat.
However, I’m still having a mighty hard time determining which novella to vote for, because I also enjoyed one of the ones you haven’t mentioned yet – Kij Johnson’s “The Man Who Bridged the Mist.” The pacing of that story was very measured, and I liked the quiet, ruminative tone of the story. I kept expecting something melodramatic to happen to these characters, and was delighted when the author didn’t take a cheap route like that, but stayed true to who these characters are and what they want.
Jim C. Hines
June 14, 2012 @ 3:12 pm
Virtuoso-like. I like that.
At first, Cat’s story wasn’t working as well for me, but by the time I reached the end and saw the scope of what she had done, it blew me away.
I haven’t read the other three yet, and I’m *already* having a hard time figuring out how to vote. CURSE THESE OVERLY TALENTED AUTHORS FOR MAKING THINGS SO DIFFICULT!!!
June 14, 2012 @ 4:11 pm
Oh yeah, “Silently and Very Fast” demands a second reading. I first experienced the story through the Clarkesworld podcast, and at first I didn’t get it (I admit I drifted in and out of the story because I was doing some work and listening to it in the background).
The second time, though, I cracked it open – or maybe, it cracked me open instead. Then, the relations between the various threads made more sense – the subverted fairy tales, the achronological way Elefsis’ story is told, everything. I was staggered by the inventiveness of her images, like the Elefsis-snail with the house on its back, or the mermaids in the cyberworld undergoing their own permutations and evolutions.
I agree with you on the cursing, though! Curse them for being so awesome!
July 22, 2012 @ 4:36 pm
Of all the nominated novellas, I found “Kiss Me Twice” the most *fun* to read — I want to read more about Metta and Huang, and I want to know more about the world they live in and the aftermath of the story.
I need to re-read “Silently and Very Fast”, but I was flattened by how story showcased the power of myths and fairy tales to help us frame and reframe problems in order to gain a deeper understanding.
I really enjoyed the two Newsflesh books that I’ve read, and enjoyed “Countdown” as further background information, but to me, it didn’t really feel like a story. There was nothing for the protagonists to do but to be ground up by the approaching horror. Protagonists have to act and grow, and I’m not sure they did in “Countdown.”
Jim C. Hines
July 22, 2012 @ 4:43 pm
I agree with you about Kowal’s story being the most fun, and fun goes a long way with me. I enjoyed all three of these in very different ways. This was not an easy category for me to vote on 🙂