Kelly Robson provided three stories for the Hugo Voting Packet – two shorts, and one novelette. Her work is quite explicitly feminist, and tends to revolve around themes of parenting.
In Waters of Versailles, we have Sylvain, who has tamed a nixie, mostly by accident, and is using her to advance his prestige in the court by making water closets and fountains. This story did a very good job of showing the politics and rivalries of the court, and had a very strong sense of place and time, but for some reason it didn’t grab me. I did like the way Sylvain went from viewing the nixie as an animal and a pest to viewing her as a child who he needed to protect. Warning for animal cruelty (monkey death – inadvertant, but fairly brutal).
Two Year Man drove me right up the wall. It was set in a future dystopia where one’s status, salary, and the jobs one can do are linked to how many years one spent fighting the war. And I don’t think one gets a choice about how long one is sent for. The hero of this story is a two year man, which is very low status. He has a cleaning job in a lab where they cook up babies, some of whom are not quite right – it’s hard to tell whether they are deliberately cooking up designer babies and getting it wrong sometimes, or whether there is a high mutation level in this society. Anyway, he rescues a baby with a beak from the trash can and brings it home to his wife. So far, so endearing – he clearly adores the baby, and his wife, and is delighted at the idea of being a father and making this family work.
Except that his wife explicitly married him because she did not want children. But that’s OK – he concludes that she’s obviously broken, poor thing, but love will fix her. He also concludes that she will probably throw the child in the trash while he is out, but that’s OK too, because he’ll find another one, and will keep bringing them home until his wife is Fixed. Which is appalling on too many levels to count, really… I do think it’s a good story, though. It couldn’t have upset and frustrated me quite this much in quite this way if it hadn’t been.
The third and final story was called the Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill, and it has all the triggers. There is an extremely graphic and brutal rape. There is suicide. There is repeated death. There are alien parasites who are trying to cure her, but who are also trying to manipulate her. There is racism. There are parent figures and teachers who just couldn’t give a damn about any of this.
It’s horrible all around, and I did not need to read it. I wish I hadn’t.
In conclusion, then, we have three stories by Robson. One, I quite liked, and really should have liked more, but ultimately it didn’t grab me. One was deliberately aggravating and horrifying, but what the author was doing was clever enough that I could appreciate it. And one was an absolute horror and I really wish I could unread it. She goes above Mulrooney on the ballot, but she’s certainly not going to the top. That last story was really unpleasant and is largely the reason I dived back into romance novels and stopped reading Hugo ballot nominees for the last month.