Hugos 2015 roundup: Part 1

I’ve been reading the fiction that came in my Hugo packet and, with the vote deadline looming at the end of July, decided it was time to corral my scattered thoughts. In no particular order, here are some things I’ve read so far:

Title: Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal

Author: written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt

Category: Graphic story

Slated: No

Premise: A teenage daughter of conservative Muslim immigrant parents struggles to reconcile her different worlds, a struggle that becomes infinitely more complicated when she gets super powers and becomes the new Ms. Marvel.

Where it grabbed me: The art is lovely. The characters are engaging. Overall it’s a very warm book, where it’s obvious she and her parents love each other even while they’re arguing.

Where it lost me: In structure it’s very much a by-the-numbers superhero origin story, and adheres to most of the dominant conventions of the costumed hero sub-genre.

Did I like it? Yes.

Does it deserve a Hugo? Yes.

Title: Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery

Author: written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch

Category: Graphic story

Slated: No

Premise: In a fantasy world based (humorously) on D&D campaigns, the Rat Queens are a team of four adventurers with foul mouths, troublemaking ways, and mad fighting skills. This angers someone in the town, who tries to get them killed. But who is it?

Where it grabbed me: Imaginative and sometimes very funny.

Where it lost me: The Rat Queens are engaging at first, but by the end of the book, they were starting to feel very one-note, and their personalities weren’t distinct enough from each other. Also, the art is weak. Good character design, but then we see those characters in a limited range of poses, expressions, and camera angles. Plus, their environments are simple and lacking in depth and texture.

Did I like it? Kinda-sorta?

Does it deserve a Hugo? Kinda-sorta?

Title: Saga Volume 3

Author: written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples

Category: Graphic Story

Slated: No

Premise: Two people from different species fighting on opposite sides of an intergalactic war fall in love and have a baby. They intersect with a variety of fantastical characters and situations in their attempt to avoid being captured or killed by those who disapprove of their relationship.

Where it grabbed me: Beautiful art. Compelling story. Vast imagination.

Where it lost me: I was very conscious of having been dropped into the middle of a complicated ongoing story.

Did I like it? A whole bunch.

Does it deserve a Hugo? A whole bunch.

Title: Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick

Author: written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky

Category: Graphic Story

Slated: No

Premise: A woman who literally stops time when she orgasms hooks up with a man who does the same thing. But when he pushes her into helping him revenge-rob a bank, they discover that they are far from the only people with this ability.

Where it grabbed me: I liked the voice of the viewpoint character and ended up feeling deeply for her emotional state. The moody art and emotionally mature feel reminded me of why I liked reading Vertigo comics in the 90s. The premise sounded cheesy and I was ready to find it gross. But instead it’s honest and thoughtful.

Where it lost me: NOWHERE.

Did I like it? YES YES YES YES YES

Does it deserve a Hugo? YES YES YES YES YES

Title: The Day the World Turned Upside Down

Author: Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator

Published in: Lightspeed

Category: Novelette

Slated: No

Premise: One day gravity reverses itself and everything not attached to the ground starts being flung out into space. A man who is upset that his girlfriend left him makes a dangerous journey through this upside-down world to return a goldfish.

Where it grabbed me: Some of the imagery is striking.

Where it lost me: I had difficulty picturing what things looked like, most of the time. The story isn’t careful about use of terms like “up” and “down” and has a tendency to go into metaphors and abstractions at exactly the wrong moment. Also, I hate-hate-hated the viewpoint character. He’s a self-pitying misogynist jerk.

Did I like it? Not really.

Does it deserve a Hugo? No.

Title: Turncoat

Author: Steve Rzasa

Published in: Riding the Red Horse

Category: Short Story

Slated: Rabid only

Premise: The AI in charge of a battle spaceship develops a conscience for some reason and switches sides in the middle of combat.

Where it grabbed me: It didn’t.

Where it lost me: Early on it goes into a tedious techno-dump and never recovers. If you read the title, you already know the “twist” ending. If you have ever read or watched any science fiction ever, you will have encountered every single one of its concepts many times, by people who did it better.

After skimming it and tossing it aside, I was inspired — by at least one person seeming to like it sincerely — to go back and read it more carefully in case it had merit I missed the first time. But, no. The more carefully I read it, the worse it got, as the inconsistent voice, thin characters, obvious cliches, dull info-dumps, and vaguely-imagined environment quickly smothered the tiniest spark of interest. It fails in every way a story can fail.

However, this does increase my confidence that if a story doesn’t grab me relatively quickly, it never will.

Did I like it? No, not at all.

Does it deserve a Hugo? Not even remotely.

Title: The Parliament of Beasts and Birds

Author: John C. Wright

Published in: The Book of Feasts & Seasons

Category: Short story

Slated: Rabid only

Premise: A fable-ish fantasy about animals gathering after the fall of humans. Excuse me, the fall of Man. A bit of a rehash of C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle

Where it grabbed me: It didn’t.

Where it lost me: Early on, I realized I was in the hands of a writer with the unfortunate combination of literary pretensions and a tin ear. I skimmed the rest and it didn’t get any better. Ponderous, self-important, and dull.

(Also — and I mention this as an aside, because I don’t think it influenced my evaluation of the story overall — while The Book of Feasts & Seasons doesn’t especially bother me as a title for a collection, and “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” doesn’t especially bother me as a title, for some reason I find the combination extraordinarily grating.)

Did I like it? No.

Does it deserve a Hugo? Absolutely not.

Title: Totaled

Author: Kary English

Published in: Galaxy’s Edge

Category: Short Story

Slated: Sad and Rabid

Premise: In a world where medical care is based on projected economic earnings, a catastrophic accident leaves a researcher as, basically, a brain in a jar. She struggles to communicate with her partner to accomplish one final research breakthrough before her mental functions shut down entirely.

Where it grabbed me: I liked the details on her attempts to communicate with her partner, and the final scenes, where she’s losing herself, were touching.

Where it lost me: It completely fails to engage a large part of its SFinal premise. The fact that they live in a world where people get “totaled” provides the mechanism by which the viewpoint character ends up as a brain in a jar, but after that it doesn’t affect the story at all.

Did I like it? More or less.

Does it deserve a Hugo? Eh… not really. I think the failure to fully engage its premise is a pretty big flaw in a Hugo nominee.