written by David Steffen
And on to the Novelette, the awkward older sibling of the Short Story category. Stories from 7,500-17,500 and voted by fans. A decent batch of stories here! And unlike the Short Story category this year, we got a nice round 5 of them (which means it might’ve been less contested than that category, no doubt in part due to the difficulty of getting longer short stories published).
Hugo Award for Best Novelette
1. In Sea-Salt Tears by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
Selkies live a life that is both blessed and cursed. They love the ocean, but each Selkie is born without the Selkie skin that allows them to turn to seals. This is their blessing, for with a skin they can swim in the ocean as naturally as if they were born there, and be one with the tide and the current. This is their curse, because there are a limited number of Selkie-skins, much more than there are Selkies. You can only have a skin if you are given one by someone else who wishes to give it up. So Selkies are doomed to live a life of longing, wishing for something which they can’t have unless they are given it. This is the story of a Selkie named Liz who has been passed over for Skin inheritance time and time again, and who falls in love with the sea witch.
As the writers of 500 Days of Summer so aptly put it “This is not a love story. This is a story about love.” Which is to say, this is no rom-com where happiness is inevitable after some madcap hijinx involving a last-minute reunion at an airport. This feels like the real thing, because it is not idealized or idolized, it is what it is.
Well done, Seanan McGuire.
2. The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
“Look” is the titular boy who casts no shadow. He does not even cast shadows upon himself, so he lacks the shading that gives our face their visual depth. He also does not appear in reflections or video recordings, and he’s become a celebrity due to unphotogenic nature. But overall he’s still just a normal teenager. He makes friends with Splinter, a boy who’s made of glass who is nothing but reflection where Look has no reflection. Splinter’s parents, understandably, are very protective of their boy, because he is so fragile.
It took me a little while to get into the story, while Look monologues about the nature of his condition. But it hooked me a little while later when the focus becomes his bond with Splinter. Really, I thought Splinter the much more interesting character and I thought he should’ve been the one the story was named after. Splinter wants so badly to experience life fully but his parents don’t allow it. Together with Look, he tries to expand his horizons. In a way this reminded me of the type of movie/book (and I’ve seen a few) where a person discovers they have terminal cancer and try to live their life to fullest because they know they don’t have long. This was a little different in that Splinter could live a long life if he’s careful, but he wants to really experience things. This story is about him making that choice for himself.
3. Rat-Catcher by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)
The year is 1666 and Rand is a prince of the Cait Sidhe (a type of Fae who can shift into cats) who does his best to avoid confrontation with his father and others. But when he hears a prophecy of the simultaneous destruction of London and Londinium (the Fae counterpart to the English city), he must leave his comfort zone and do everything he can to save his family and his people.
This story was entertaining enough, with plot and character and stakes that I could root for. The details of the Fae in this particular universe were interesting and made me want to know more. It seemed like this story was barely get started when everything resolved very quickly in the end. I would like to read a longer story about this character and this place. It’s a good sign when a story leaves me wanting more, but I would’ve like if this story had been a little meaty as well.
4. The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
Humankind is spread across the solar system, but it doesn’t all look like it used to. The natural human form is not well-suited to long occupancy in space or other planets, so we have developed the technology to make drastic and irreversible body modifications to bodies better suited to the environment. The story takes place around Jupiter. The “Girl-Thing” of the title is an old-fashioned human working among the “sushi” that are body-modded people. She has made the decision to “go out for sushi” meaning that she has decided that she will go through the body mods.
This one definitely kept me paying attention from the beginning because it dives right into future lingo head first. It doesn’t ease you into it, but neither does it go at a pace so fast that it’s incomprehensible. As a linguistic puzzle, it’s very entertaining. By the end I could understand the lingo for the most part.
But, perhaps due to the careful pacing chosen to allow the lingo to be understood, when I think back on the story the events themselves aren’t all that compelling to me. Things happened, for sure, but those things seemed to happen in a rush at the end as if Cadigan were running out of space and just tried to cram them in. I think this one could’ve used a little more room to expand so that there would still be space for the lingo to be explored, but then could go through the events themselves at a pace that let them have more impact. So, while it wasn’t a bad story, it wasn’t spectacular either. Fair-to-middlin’, I’d say.
5. Fade to White by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
Joseph McCarthy has become President of the United States and life is good for everyone. Yes it is good, as defined by the goodness measures laid down by President McCarthy, everything from the war effort to the structure of the family unit. Never mind the radiation and the widespread impotence or the government choosing your occupation. The story is told as alternating propoganda videos by the McCarthy administration and two children who are trying to find their place in this world.
I felt like I should like this story. For those who may not know, Joseph McCarthy was the US Senator who singlehandedly started the Red Scare, lying his ass off to convince people that Communists were infiltrating us, thousands of spies acting as normal American families. Anyone could be a Communist spy, and you had to keep vigilant and report the slightest odd behavior. But McCarthy never showed any evidence of this in our world, and eventually was disgraced because everyone came to the conclusion he was lying.
McCarthy as President is a great premise for a dystopian future. Even I (who generally doesn’t have interest in politics) can’t help but extrapolate from that basic premise to something really terrible.
I generally liked the sections of this story that were told as editing notes on propoganda tapes. I’ve always liked stories that felt like “found” documents, and this had that feel. The propoganda feel gives an uneasy overpatriotic ring to this part of the story, very creepy.
But the “honestly” told parts of the story bothered me. I mean, bothered me in a way that meant I didn’t like it rather than the seat-squirming involvement in the propoganda sections. I’m having trouble putting my finger on exactly why, but it meant that I didn’t like the story in the end. The closest I’m able to put it to words at this moment is that the “honestly” told parts of the story felt somehow even less genuine than the things that were clearly meant as propoganda. The over-the-top propoganda videos seemed to have been meant as a cautionary tale, and these other sections were meant to show the real life behind the propoganda, a life that isn’t so great. But to me these other sections didn’t ring true, to the point that they feel like propoganda directed at me and authored by Valente, using the obvious propoganda to try to drive me toward believing the other part is authentic when it really just felt like a more subtle propoganda to me. And, I mean, the main message I can detect there isn’t a bad one, that McCarthyism is a scary thing and that it’s a good thing that it didn’t sweep the American mindset and stay there. But the way that it’s told makes me want to distrust every part of the story as more propoganda, and that means that everything is so disingenuous to my gut feelings that there’s nothing of meaning here to me. In the end, this story just ended up just leaving me irritated.