Hugos 2015 roundup: Part 2

Some more Hugo nominees I’ve read, in no particular order:

Title: Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium

Author: Gray Rinehart

Published in: Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show

Category: Novelette

Slated: Sad and Rabid

Premise: A dying man tries to free a human colony from its alien conquerors by arranging to be buried after death, a custom the aliens find abhorrent.

Where it grabbed me: The writing isn’t bad, and I liked the details on the human-alien interaction.

Where it lost me: It’s talky and the characters feel generic. Also, I was never fully convinced by its central premise — the alien horror of burial ends up feeling arbitrary and not entirely satisfying, a made-up solution to a made-up problem.

Did I like it? Kinda?

Does it deserve a Hugo? Maybe?

Title: One Bright Star to Guide Them

Author: John C. Wright

Published in: Castalia House

Category: Novella

Slated: Sad and Rabid

Premise: A gray middle-aged man who spent his childhood in Narnia, except it’s not called Narnia, is revisited by his old friend Tybalt the talking cat, and set to the task of rounding up the old gang to defend England from a magical threat.

Where it grabbed me: Well… it has a talking cat.

Where it lost me: This one stayed interesting for a couple of pages, but once the cat shows up everything turns to a mush of mismatched fantasy concepts and stilted would-be-poetic writing. Every sentence is drenched in superfluous words, and not one of them ever seems like the right word. It’s impossible to follow the action, believe in the characters, or take any of it seriously.

Did I like it? No, although its sheer what-the-hell-ness was sometimes briefly entertaining. Like, apparently one of the old gang has gone over to the other side, which is demonstrated by the fact that he traded the sword-that-was-broken for a Plague Doctor mask, forced a girl get an abortion, and made his college fraternity brothers sacrifice a goat then cavort around it naked and cutting themselves like something out of a medieval anti-witchcraft pamphlet, and… oh, it just goes on and on. And on. And on. It’s a novella, you know. I started skimming. I think at the end the cat comes back from the dead and gives the protagonist a theology lecture.

Does it deserve a Hugo? You’ve got to be kidding. Maybe a spot at the next Turkey Readings.

Title: The Goblin Emperor

Author: Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette)

Category: Novel

Slated: No

Premise: The very much unfavored half-goblin son of the emperor is thrust unexpectedly into rule when his father and older brothers are killed in an airship accident.

Where it grabbed me: The first chapter or so, while the premise is being set up, is engaging.

Where it lost me: Once they get to the palace it turns into a court intrigue fantasy, a type that almost never works for me, no matter how well-written. About fifty pages in I gave up.

Did I like it? I wanted to like it. It’s a friendly, likable book. But… court intrigue bores me, there’s just no getting around it.

Does it deserve a Hugo? It might. “Good but REALLY not my thing” can be hard to evaluate.

Title: A Single Samurai

Author: Steven Diamond

Published in: The Baen Big Book of Monsters

Category: Short Story

Slated: Sad only

Premise: A Samurai rides on the back of a mountain-sized monster and tries to figure out how to kill it.

Where it grabbed me: Some of the monster and destruction imagery is effective.

Where it lost me: A lot of it feels very generic, and the Samurai culture bits aren’t convincing.

Did I like it? I didn’t hate it. But I read it and instantly forgot about it.

Does it deserve a Hugo? No.

Title: On the Spiriual Plain

Author: Lou Antonelli

Published in: Sci Phi

Category: Short story

Slated: Sad and rabid

Premise: On an alien planet where the strong magnetic field keeps dead souls hanging around as ghosts, a human chaplain leads one soul to freedom.

Where it grabbed me: It seemed like a cool premise

Where it lost me: The writing is flat and full of tedious explanations of abstract concepts. I would have enjoyed something that really explored what it felt like to live in a world full of ghosts, but didn’t get that here. Nothing much happens in this story except that we’re introduced to the premise. There’s no conflict, no surprises, and no depth to its exploration of the concept.

Did I like it? No.

Does it deserve a Hugo? No.

Title: Big Boys Don’t Cry

Author: Tom Kratman

Published in: Castalia House

Category: Novella

Slated: Sad and rabid

Premise: A damaged war machine AI contemplates her “life” as she is about to be dismantled.

Where it grabbed me: It didn’t.

Where it lost me: The writing didn’t jump out at me as being bad or incompetent, but it failed completely to engage my interest. I started it three times, and every time, by the second or third page I realized that my brain had already wandered off and I had no idea what was happening.

Did I like it? No.

Does it deserve a Hugo? Probably not.

Title: Flow

Author: Arlan Andrews Sr.

Published in: Analog

Category: Novella

Slated: Sad and rabid

Premise: In a post-apocalyptic world that has come to vaguely resemble the setting for a Conan story, an iceberg dealer floats his wares to the warm lands and… I dunno, stuff happens I guess.

Where it grabbed me: It didn’t.

Where it lost me: The first few pages were promising as setup, but then it gets to the point where something should start to happen, and nothing happens. Two guys wander around while one guy tells the other guy about their culture. It’s like the world’s most boring walking tour. I think the protagonist irritates some priests at one point but by then I didn’t care and was finding it impossible to pay attention. It also really bugged me that women are called “wen” for no obvious reason, while most words haven’t changed. Was it supposed to be some clue about the nature of the apocalypse? Was there a meaning that I missed? Or was it nothing more than a freakishly obvious and peculiar way of othering female characters?

Did I like it? No.

Does it deserve a Hugo? No.