Hugo Novelette Review: “The Day the World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

written by David Steffen

“The Day the World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelte (translated by Lia Belt) was published in Lightspeed Magazine.  It appeared both in text and on the Lightspeed podcast.

Toby’s world turned upside down, figuratively speaking, when his girlfriend Sophie left him, with only a promise to pick up her goldfish the next day.  But, before she can fetch the fish, the world turns upside down, literally.  No one knows why or how, but gravity suddenly reversed.  Many people don’t survive, many from head injuries, many others from falling down into the endless sky.  Toby survives.  The goldfish survives.  Did Sophie?  He has to find out.  And also give her the fish back.  And maybe, just maybe, they can reconnect in this world gone wrong.  As Toby makes his way across the dangling undersurface of the Earth, he meets other people trying to survive.

I enjoyed this story.  It was on my nomination ballot because I thought it was fun (admittedly, I don’t read nearly as many novelettes as I do short stories so the pool of my potential nominees is quite a bit smaller).  When I was a kid I played games like that, imagining how I would get around if the world turned upside down, so probably part of my like is that it tapped into that childhood sense of wonder about reimagining everyday scenarios.  Some of the dialog felt a little bit odd, but I’m assuming that’s an artifact of the translation, and only lent to the dreamlike quality of the story.  I can’t say that I entirely related to the quest in the story to return the goldfish and try to rekindle the relationship, because she had made it pretty clear she wanted it to be over, it didn’t seem likely that was going to change, but I found the overall scenario and the interactions with other characters along the way to be plenty to keep me interested.  I gave this my second-rank vote for the Hugo novelette category.