Reading the 2018 Hugos: Best Novella Noms

Even though there’s more days in the month, this will be my last Hugos post. Tomorrow I’ll be winging my way to Egypt with my sister and I’m not sure how Internet access will be, so I need to get my votes in before I leave.

So, here’s my thoughts on the nominated novellas.

All Systems Red-Martha WellsAll Systems Red, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing) — Martha Wells’ novella All Systems Red presents the diaries of a company-supplied security android designed to provide protection for survey teams exploring planets for possible resources. Murderbot (as it calls itself) just wants to be left alone to watch hours of vids in peace. But when another survey team mysteriously goes silent, it has to work with it’s team of clients to discover the truth before they’re all killed.

I loved this book. Murderbot is cynical about humans and the world in general, an attitude that is totally understandable given its circumstances and understanding of the universe. But the team of scientists he’s assigned to give him a broader perspective on humanity, showing him people who are able to work together with compassion and intelligence — such considerations they show not just to each other but to Murderbot itself, as they continue to work with and rely on it. It’s so wonderful to read a story that centers people who are good to each other. Plus, the action is intense, making this a short and rapid read. There are already several sequels to this out in the world and I can’t wait to read them all.

Uncanny Magazine-MarApr17
Cover of Uncanny Magazine, Issue 15, March-April 2017.

“And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017) — Insurance investigator, Sarah Pinsker, gets an invitation that she at first believes to be a joke — until she stands in a hotel lobby facing a multitude of versions of herself from a multitude of parallel worlds, each representing the infinity (or a small portion of that infinity) of diverging choices she could have made in her life. One of the Sarahs has found a way to open the door and invited the rest of the Sarahs to come to a convention, a meeting of similar (sometimes almost exact variations), which is in some ways unsettling in itself. Then one of the Sarahs shows up dead. Insurance investigator Sarah is set to the task of looking into the murder after a storm rolls in cutting the local police off from reaching the island.

Who would we be if we made different choices in our lives? It’s a question pretty much everyone has asked themselves. I couldn’t imagine a more poignant examination of that question than this story. In some ways, all the ways the variations of Sara are similar is as fascinating as the ways in which they are different. All together, it’s so strange and meta and moving and  fascinating — with an ending to sit and think over long after you’re done reading.

Binti Home by Nnedi OkoraforBinti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing) — The Binti trilogy is fantastic from top to bottom. The second book in the series, Home takes place one year after the events in the first book. Binti is a student at Oomza University as she hoped. Although she’s considered a hero for brokering peace between two species, Binti is fundamentally changed and still dealing with the trauma — a mix of panic attacks and deep rooted anger.

Believing it can bring her healing, she decides to return home to the family she slipped away from in the middle of night. Coming with her is her friend Okwu — the first of the Meduse species to come to Earth in peace — which of course creates it’s own multitude of problems.

This is a quick paced space opera with imaginative world building and fantastic characters. It’s amazing to me how Okorafor can pack so many layers of culture and characters into such slim books.

The Black Tides of Heaven by JY LangThe Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang (Tor.com Publishing) — Unfortunately, I did not get around to finishing this one, so I can’t express my full thoughts on it, but here’s the book description:

“Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as children. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While his sister received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What’s more, he saw the sickness at the heart of his mother’s Protectorate.

A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue to play a pawn in his mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from his sister Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond he shares with his twin sister?”

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuireDown Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing) — Jacqueline and Jillian are twins born to parents who never really understood or wanted children, parents who believe children are objects to be shaped to their desires rather than actual, you know, people. But the world in which they live is full of doors and some of those doors lead to other worlds and Jacqueline and Jillian find their way to a place of darkness and death, where they suddenly have the ability to choose.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a standalone story in the Wayward Children series, and as such, you can read the books in the series in any order. Although if you really want to know what happens to Jack and Jill, then I recommend reading Every Heart a Doorway, which chronologically comes after this one (even though its the first in the series). I hope there are many, many more books in this series, because I’m loving it.

River of Teeth-Sarah GaileyRiver of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing) — Once upon a time, the U.S. government considered importing African hippos and raising them in the Louisiana bayou in order to address a need to increase the national meat supply — not joking, this was really a thing. Sarah Gailey’s novella presents a reimagined history in which this damn foolish/brilliant idea actually took place.

A group of charmingly of devious scoundrels set out on a caper — I mean, “operation” — to clear a section of Mississippi river of feral hippos. Winslow Houndstooth is a former hippo rancher with swift knife skills and a grudge. Regina Archambault (“Archie”) is a brilliant conartist, with a protective affection for Houndstooth. Hero Shackleby is a demolitions expert who has become profoundly bored by their peaceful retirement. Adelia Reyes is a heavily pregnant badass . . . and well, I’m going to let you figure out the rest.

The audio book narration by Peter Berkrot is fantastic, bringing all the characters to vivid life. I was as delighted by the idea of riding domesticated hippos as I was horrified by the idea of stumbling upon a group of ferals. Although, I had a bit of a hard time getting into the story at first, the caper — ahem, “operation” — was fun with some solid twists and the ending was deeply satisfying.


My personal and entirely subjective ranking:

  1. Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
  2. All Systems Red by Martha Wells
  3. “And Then There Were (N-One)” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017)
  4. Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
  5. River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing)

Since I did not finish reading The Black Tides of Heaven, it is not ranked.

All my Hugo related posts are under the 2018 Hugos tag and you can check out the complete list of nominated creators and works here.

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