2005 Hugo Award nominees: Novelettes

June 15, 2005 at 12:00 am | Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Short Stories | 2 Comments

I’m not going to review the other two Hugo categories, because the novels I have read I’ve already reviewed, and a couple of the novellas are unavailable. However, here’s my thoughts on the stories nominated in the novelette category. This time around no spoilers so don’t worry about reading them. As before they are all available online. I was very disappointed in the quality of the short stories, so I was delighted to find the novelettes are much, much better.

  • “Biographical Notes to ‘A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes’ by Benjamin Rosenbaum” — I was not optimistic when I saw the title as it seemed to scream, “Something twee this way comes.” Well, the story is definitely caught up in being cute, but unlike most such stories, it is very cleverly written. I’m not a huge fan of alternate history, but this is only superficially in that genre. The ending doesn’t 100% work for me, but it was nevertheless both an engaging and a thoughtful story.
  • “The Clapping Hands of God” — This is probably a favorite to win, and although it is not my choice, I won’t be disappointed if it does. My only trouble was at this point it is really difficult to do a first contact story without having it feel like a retread. I found the plot painfully predictable. Fortunately, the characters and writing kept the story interesting. Flynn actually does something very sneaky here by making the human civilization one that is dominated by Islam. As the explorers in the story are slowly piecing together the alien culture, the (western) reader is piecing together the explorer’s culture, using exactly the same kind of observational hints. I can’t evaluate his portrayal of Islamic culture for accuracy, but I found it fascinating. Definitely recommended even if the plot is more of the same.
  • “The Faery Handbag” — Probably the weakest story of the bunch (though at least as good as the best nominated short story), this is a pretty simple little fairy tale that doesn’t really do anything to rise above the conventions of the genre. It’s a nice story, but not really thought provoking on the level of some of the other novelettes.
  • “The People of Sand and Slag” — Reading some reactions online, it seems a lot of people were turned off by this story because the characters seemed inhuman, transformed by their dystopic, ruinous future into horrifying un-people. Me, I thought it an interesting take on cultural taboos. We perceive these people and their world very negatively, but only because it is so different. No one from our society could be happy in theirs, but they were doing just fine. No doubt they would have the same problem with our society. Of course, the author may well have just been trying to do a dystopia, but that’s why it is good to just put the story out there and let the reader take the side.
  • “The Voluntary State” — This was my favorite story and if I were voting it would be my choice. A society warped by technology and people trying to cope…that’s what science fiction is all about. Wrap this in excellent writing and some decent character work and you have what modern science fiction is all about. I could nitpick a little bit how the last third of the story is handled, but honestly this was the most enjoyable piece of short fiction I’ve read in a very long time.


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  1. […] Handbag” along with the other novelettes on the 2005 Nebula shortlist. I’m afraid I wasn’t too impressed. The story seemed like it was all style and no substance, the exact opposite of my tastes in […]

  2. […] my original estimation, “The Faery Handbag” was a mere mood piece. The narrator, Genevieve, describes her […]

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