Hugo Novelette Review: “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” by Rajnar Vajra

written by David Steffen

“The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” by Rajnar Vajra, published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, is nominated for the Hugo Award this year in the novelette category.  Analog has posted this story for free for the voting period.

The protagonists of this story are a trio of Exoplanetary Explorers: an earthling, a silver Venusian, and a golden Martian.  They get in a bar fight, which puts them on thin ice with their commanding officers.  Their punishment is to be assigned to a mission doomed to fail–there is a planet on which they wish to establish a colony, where they have learned that the residents are intelligent but have failed to establish true contact with them.  Priam, the Martian, raises the stakes by promising that they can establish contact and offering up their jobs if they fail.

I am not the audience for this story.  It does evoke a sense of golden age SF, but not in a way that I found appealing.  The conversational tone of the narrator only came across as irritating to me, right from the first lines: “A silver Venusian, a golden Martian, and an Earthling walked into a bar. Sounds like a joke, right? Nope. Actually an unfunny blunder the three of us made that Friday evening.”  I didn’t care about the fate of any of the characters, and Priam who is portrayed a the smartest of the trio, I found particularly annoying in his thoughtless raising of the stakes for all three of them based on his own arrogant assessment of his own intelligence which, because this harkens back to golden age SF, is of course completely justified in the end because the smart character always wins the day.  It was kind of interesting to try to figure out the mystery of the intelligence, but as tends to happen when a story tries to put together a puzzle that is set up as being unsolveable by most people, it didn’t actually succeed in convincing me that it wouldn’t’ve been solved before this point.  The stakes of the story were entirely unimportant to me, or rather I was more rooting for them to be kicked out of the Exoplanetary Explorers but also had no doubt whatsoever that smart Priam would save the day because the shape of the story was so familiar.

So, as I said, I’m clearly not the target audience for this tale.