Hugo reading 2016: The Novelettes

I’ve started working my way through my Hugo voter package. I don’t think I’ll be able to read everything, but the short fiction, films, TV episodes, and related works should be doable (I’d like to read the novels and the Campbells, but realistically, I think enough people will vote on those that if I run out of time, it’s less important).

I haven’t voted in the Hugos before, and I honestly don’t know what the best response to this year’s Fun With Bloody-Minded Puppies might be. I’ve decided my approach will be to read everything, make my notes, and then check afterwards which entries were puppified. If I’m having trouble deciding between two entries, association with Vox Day and his merry men is likely to then be a downvote. And of course, I’m aware that anything from Castalia House has this association, but I’m going to at least attempt to give stories the benefit of the doubt.

Today, I read the novelettes.

Flashpoint: Titan by Cheah Kai Wai (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House) – This was the first one I read. It was boring. So very boring. If you like physics and weapons and space battles and no characterisation at all, then you might like this. Then again, if you don’t like dubious racial stereotyping (Japanese and Chinese flavours) and the odd racial slur (which, in addition to being a slur, is probably actually the wrong slur anyway – would a Japanese person really use the same slur regarding the Chinese that an English speaker would? I think not.), these might be a problem for you. I was going to complain about the dearth of female characters, but honestly, there was no characterisation of anyone, really, so this is an occasion where a lack of women really doesn’t bother me.

What Price Humanity? by David VanDyke (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House) – Especially after Flashpoint, I wasn’t expecting anything good from Castalia House. This was actually quite good, though, with reasonable characterisation, and it was very readable – I didn’t have to skim to get through it. My biggest issue here is that the story sets up an ethical question at the start regarding whether some actions are acceptable in war, then shows us the impact of these things, and then goes, yep, it’s awful, but you know, sometimes, terrible things are necessary. Which I don’t think is an adequate answer to the question.

Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu (Uncanny Magazine, Jan-Feb 2015) – Ooh! This was really good! The worldbuilding was fascinating, and I love how it was described, and how economics turned out to be the key to why the world functioned this way. I haven’t seen a lot of economics-motivated science fiction. I liked the characterisation, which was very vivid, and while I found the story a bit depressing, I liked that the main character was content with how things ended, even though I would not be. It seemed consistent with him.

Obits by Stephen King (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Scribner) – This is the first Stephen King I’ve ever read and I really liked it, which was unexpected. Just a nice, straightforward, creepy bit of horror writing. I enjoyed reading it more than I enjoyed Folding Beijing, but I feel the former was the better book

And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead by Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed, Feb 2015) – I now discover that this was the only non-puppy-affected story on the ballot, and alas, I didn’t like it very much, even though it had an actual female protagonist (first of the day!). I found it a little hard to follow, and while I recognise that the non-stop profanity was part of the characterisation, and important, I found that unpleasant to read. But it’s growing on my a little more in retrospect.

Current ballot:

1. Folding Beijing
2. Obits
3. And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead (might swap with 2, I have a feeling it’s a better story, even if I didn’t like it)
4. What Price Humanity
5. No Award
6. Flashpoint: Titan (goes below no award because I really had to force myself to finish it, and also it was racist.)

Next up: short stories, featuring Chuck Tingle! I think I’ll save him for last…