Hugo Awards 2022: Best Novelette Nominee

I’m a big fan of ordering my group reviews for the Hugos alphabetically, but what to do when my favorite is the very first of them? I haven’t had a chance to read much Suzanne Palmer, but I adored Bots Of The Lost Ark, which managed to pack a whole bunch of interesting and delightful surprises into its 20+ pages. Essentially, a sentient Ship is attempting to limp home to Earth after a succession of battles left it both damaged and wildly off-course. With another potentially deadly encounter on its horizon, Ship is forced to wake the troublesome Bot 9 in order to help it overcome the conflicts plaguing it internally before even being able to prepare for examination at the hands of the AI-distrustful Ysmi. The story is fun, inventive and funny. I loved it.

Bots of the Lost Ark by Suzanne Palmer, magazine coverSecond alphabetically is Caroline M Yoachim’s Colors Of The Immortal Palette, which I loved much less. I appreciate the fact that this novelette tries to grapple with what it means to belong and to matter when you’re not in the mainstream of society, but didn’t feel that it said anything particularly new or interesting, or that the supernatural conceit of longevity added anything to the story. It was fine, but probably at the bottom of my list of nominees this year.

Next up is Catherynne M Valente’s L’Esprit D’Escalier, which I was pleasantly surprised to find did not end by punishing the heroine, as I was fearing was becoming a habit with this author. This update of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice was beautifully written and wonderfully observed, tho a large part of me would rather have had the story told from primarily Eurydice’s perspective.

Fourth on the list and in my esteem is Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki’s O2 Arena. The dystopian setting of underground fighters battling to the death to earn a fortune in oxygen credits in a world seared by pollution isn’t the freshest, and the ending of the piece a little too abrupt, but the depiction of bullshit patriarchal systems dominating in even supposedly enlightened academia hit home to me as someone who went through a similar system. I’m just… well, I always assumed that the trade-off for putting up with crap like that was at least a strong social net and a functioning system of medical welfare, particularly for the ill and disadvantaged, but apparently that’s not as common in Nigeria as in Malaysia, and that sucks. I greatly admired the passion behind this story, even if I think the craft still needs work.

Speaking of craft, John Wiswell’s That Story Isn’t The Story is my second favorite, and is only hampered really by the occasionally clumsy repetition of the title within its otherwise excellent tale. Anton is trying to run away from his vampiric master, and is rescued by childhood friend Grigorii, who thinks Anton was merely in the clutches of a cult. But the Master won’t give up so easily, sending his other familiars to bring Anton home. The way Anton recovers, messy and harrowing as it is, makes for heartfelt reading — I teared up at least once.

Finally, we have Unseelie Brothers Ltd by Fran Wilde. As carefully constructed as the fabulous frocks, suits and capes the title atelier designs for its moneyed clientele, the novelette was let down, I felt, by a series of odd choices leading up to the too happy ending. It’s hard to believe that fae would capitulate so quickly given the circumstances, but it is a pleasant enough fairy tale.

Now I have to go look at Doug’s choices and see how far we differed!

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  1. Differed by a lot, I love it! I liked the art in “Immortal Palette” and the furiousness in “O2 Arena,” even though I agree with you about both premise and craft in that one.

    The fae would definitely *not* be taken in so easily, and any deal would have had more of a sting in its tail. I also rolled my eyes at the not very convincing New York setting for several reasons: there are US cities where being part of established Society matters a lot more than in NYC; Wilde doesn’t actually do much with the New Yorkiness of the setting, it’s more just a stand-in for Big City; New York is grossly overrepresented in American publishing, if your story doesn’t need to be there, set it somewhere else! (I sniped at Lewis Shiner for this too in my review of Outside the Gates of Eden. Some of the weakest bits in the book is when he bends it to get his characters to NYC and Woodstock.) I did like the magic of fashion.

    Wiswell, by contrast, does have a reason to have his tale in the greater NYC area. They are Russian (or Soviet) immigrants or children of said immigrants, and the NY metro is home to one of the largest concentrations of such folks. I liked the messy and the harrowing.

    I liked that I didn’t entirely know what to make of Valente’s take on the myth. I feel sure that there are layers I am missing; like twelve steps of Orpheus may be an actual thing, and also some Joseph Campbell assigns twelve steps to the hero’s journey, quite aside from the twelve steps of AA and its progeny. I also liked her skewed take on the Olympians and other Greek figures, adapting to the modern age and hey dude-ing each other. Eurydice is not exactly punished, but she is not exactly in a good state either. Things that make you go, “Hmm.”

    1. I couldn’t divine what your rankings were! Overall, I thought this category stronger than the short stories this year.

      1. Oh! I reviewed them in reverse order of preference. I guess I didn’t say exactly.

      2. And yes, I think it’s stronger than the short stories, too.

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