written by David Steffen
“Almost-Hugo Review”? What’s that? If you’re not familiar with the minutiae of the Hugo rules, there’s an odd rule that makes no sense to me. When tallying up the nominations, ordinarily the top five counts for a particular category end up on the final ballot. Except if a story has less than 5% of the total vote. What’s the purpose of that? I don’t know. The percentages for individual stories are going to tend to be lower if there are more voters and if there are more stories that people felt moved by. More voters is good–this year there were almost twice the previous record of voters for a variety of reasons. More stories moving people is good. So… why does that mean we get less Hugo nominees? No sense whatsoever.
Anyway, after the Hugo award are given out they publish more voting numbers, including the stories that were close to being nominated but not quite, and so with that data, we can find out who only missed nomination by that pointless 5% rule. This year, there were only four nominees on the final ballot due to that rule. The story that got bumped off the bottom was “Dog’s Body” by Sarah A. Hoyt which you can read for free online–(really, 4.4% of the votes somehow makes this get bumped off the ballot when the 5.0% was the winning story?). So, since Sarah’s story got bumped off the ballot on that stupid rule, I figured the least I could do would be to give her story a review like the rest.
The protagonist of “Dog’s Body” is a cryptojournalist who goes to locations that have reported sightings of Big Foot or other such modern day mythical creatures. He’s never found anything on these trips, and he has no reason to think that he’ll find anything real on this trip to Goldport, Colorado. This is a strange one, though, in that there hasn’t been just one sighting reported, but a whole bunch of them from dragons to room-sized cockroaches to squirrels wearing berets, and the photos of the creatures don’t have the defects typical of Photoshopped images. While he’s driving through the area, he sees a dog being chased by an angry mob, and he rescues the dog from its aggressors. The dog turns out to be a teenage girl shapeshifter who has been held captive by con artists who use her as part of their schemes. Our protagonist chooses to help her get out of the trouble she’s in.
I thought the idea of the story was very interesting and there was a lot of potential in the setup, but I thought the story as a whole was slow paced and ended up feeling pretty dull and unengaging. It’s quite a ways into the story with the protagonist rambling about his past cryptid searches (which I didn’t care in the slightest about) before the rescue of the dog happens. It got more interesting at that point, but there’s quite a bit more story before anything more than vague and nebulous threats actually impinge upon the narrative. In the end, I didn’t think the story was bad. It was a serviceable adventure narrative, but not one that really impressed me with any imagination nor with any real emotional engagement. On the bright side, it had a clear speculative element, unlike “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” and “Selkie Stories are For Losers”, and it had an actual narrative instead of a collection of random stuff, unlike “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket”. This was probably my 2nd choice of the 5, but not good enough for me to have voted for it on the final ballot.