Hugo Awards 2024: Best Novelette Nominees

Hunh, I didn’t realize that almost all of the novelette nominees in this year’s Hugo Awards category have their own entries on Goodreads. I’ll have to populate my shelves there accordingly.

Anyway, my favorite novelette this year by a country mile was C. L. Polk’s Ivy, Angelica, Bay. She’s long been one of the authors I’ve wanted to read but just can’t find the time for, so this was a great way for me to finally sample her work. Set in the 1970s, this is the story of witches battling over Hurston Hill, as Miss L’Abielle is called upon to protect her beloved neighborhood from greedy property developers. That’s just the backdrop, however, for a tender tale of found family, as Miss L’Abielle simultaneously grieves the loss of her mother while dealing with the orphaned girl who’s arrived on her doorstep. This story made me cry, which is quite an accomplishment for a work of about 50 pages or so.

My second favorite story had a similar theme of hope and community, Naomi Kritzer’s The Year Without Sunshine. It’s a very low-key story of resilience in the aftermath of apocalypse, as a semi-urban community bands together to provide essential services to all its residents. There isn’t a lot of high drama in this story, which only adds to the realism of it for me. How would our communities actually cope when the skies go grey and services fail? It’s honestly one of the most reasonable looks at life post-apocalypse that I’ve ever read, as remarkable for its lack of theatrics as it is for its upbeat optimism.

Next on my list was Sarah Pinsker’s One Man’s Treasure, a delightfully cozy urban fantasy about the life of a garbage disposal specialist in a world where discarded items carry unexpected hazards. Aden hates dealing with the thoughtlessly thrown out trash of his city’s richest neighborhood, as the consequences of handling such can prove fatal to his co-workers and himself. But when he finds a tossed out statue that he’s fairly certain is actually a person unlawfully turned to stone, he decides that it’s finally time to take a stand.

Nghi Vo’s On The Fox Roads takes readers back to the Jazz Age, when bank robbers were glamorous figures terrorizing the Midwest. A young stowaway falls in with “Chinese Jack and Tonkin Jill”, as one pair of robbers is known, and slowly comes to discover their true identity. While I enjoyed the story well enough, I’ve found that I tend to prefer those of Ms Vo’s stories set in a fantasy Asia to those in historical American settings, if only because the plot twists seem a lot less obvious to me.

I genuinely had a hard time staying focused and awake during the first two thirds or so of Gu Shi’s Introduction To 2181 Overture Second Edition, translated by Emily Jin. It’s meant to read like a textbook before actually injecting human emotion into the proceedings, and succeeds all too well at its remit. Other readers may love the dryness and subsequent contrast, but the twist came too late for me to feel anything more than annoyed at having to slog through such a dull lead in to get there.

And finally, we have Ai Jiang’s I Am AI, the story of a young cyborg literally burning herself out to help her community. It’s hard for me to sympathize with someone who’s so poor at managing a battery with an actual physical indicator, and who can’t find the nerve to say to her neighbors “hey, I gotta go recharge so I can keep helping you instead of literally dying.” It’s both a ham-handed and inept metaphor for social battery, made worse by the silly idea that a physical heart is the seat of human emotions and not the brain. I suppose I wouldn’t have minded the narrator’s inability to set boundaries so much if the proceedings hadn’t been laced with so much self-pity. Hard pass on tales of pointless self-martyrdom.

And that’s my slate for the Hugo Awards 2024 category for Best Novelette. Wherever possible, I’ve linked to where you can read each nominee for free online. More Hugo coverage to come soon!

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