Reviews of Hugo Nominees

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Hugo Nominees 2007

NOVEL

  • Blindsight, Peter Watts (Tor)
  • Eifelheim, Michael Flynn (Tor)
  • Glasshouse, Charles Stross (Ace)
  • His Majesty's Dragon, Naomi Novik (Ballantine Del Rey; Voyager as Temeraire)
  • Rainbows End, Vernor Vinge (Tor)
  • NOVELLA

  • "A Billion Eves", Robert Reed (Asimov's Oct/Nov 2006)
  • "Inclination", William Shunn (Asimov's Apr/May 2006)
  • Julian: A Christmas Story, Robert Charles Wilson (PS Publishing)
  • "Lord Weary's Empire", Michael Swanwick (Asimov's Dec 2006)
  • "The Walls of the Universe", Paul Melko (Asimov's Apr/May 2006)
  • NOVELETTE

  • "All the Things You Are", Mike Resnick (Jim Baen's Universe Oct 2006)
    Not on the Locus list, but a serviceable story from Resnick about a guy who gets caught up in the story of several men who individually went out in a blaze of glory trying to recapture the image of their perfect woman, which they had originally encountered in the form of some alien intelligence on another planet during a previous war. Resnick takes an interesting approach to this story, telling it after the fact from the viewpoint of the man who pieces all this together and becomes obsessed with what it was that drove these people to intercede in deadly situations, not because they had a deathwish, but because this woman would only come to them if they were in desperate need. He ends up travelling to the planet himself and conveniently gets hurt and meets the very same alien, or type of alien, and develops the same sort of obsession with her in her human form, even after she explains to him that while she's in love with him now, she won't remember him after he leaves. Resnick's working out of the relationship between memory and love and what people will go through to preserve it is the same ground he covered in "Down Memory Lane", his nominated story from last year. This is more original, although the alien seems a bit too good to be true, and it's ability to take the image of a person's ideal soulmate straight out of their head and make it manifest in their own form sounds like something right of Star Trek. Some of the dialog is a bit clunky, too, the characters don't really speak the way real people talk, which is unfortunate because there's quite a bit of dialogue. There's nothing particularly wrong with this story, it jumps right into the thick of things and focuses strictly on the plot from start to finish (sort of the anti-MacDonald), but it's not really of Hugo caliber.
  • "Dawn, and Sunset, and the Colours of the Earth", Michael F. Flynn (Asimov's Oct/Nov 2006)
    This long novelette lives up to high expectations from Flynn, typifying his evocative style and originality. If only it had a point. The premise is that a ferry boat in Seattle has disappeared into a fog bank in the harbor, never to be seen again. But that's not the plot, as this is covered in the first few paragraphs. What Flynn is interested in is the aftermath, both immediate and longer term, telling the story from multiple points of view by characters who were affected by it. In some sense this is a post-9/11 story (although by now it's well-post-9/11), drawing on some of the reactions of the friends and loved ones of the victims, from relief to a sense of renewal to the inevitable banding together of the "Families of the Victims", to hangers-on who really had no connection to the tragedy. But because this is a disappearance rather than a terrorist attack, there's no "closure", are the victims really dead, or are they just somewhere else. Turns out this phenomenon starts to occur on a regular basis, and various people try different things to see if they can determine what exactly happened. In fact, that's how the story ends, where enough time has passed that a specially made submersible is sent into the vortex in the water to see if it can find out what's on the other side. But in lieu of any real resolution, or even a hint as to what might happen, Flynn chooses to end with the title quote, taken from a poem called "The Dead" by English World War I-era poet Rupert Brooke. It's almost like he just ran out of paper and stopped in the middle. So the ending leaves a little bit to be desired, but I guess the ferry boat's ultimate fate isn't really the point. Flynn straddles the line between fantasy and sf well, such that you can't be sure whether there's a scientific explanation for the boat's disappearance or not. He's more interested in the notion that there are as many stories and varied reactions to the tragedy as there are victims, and these events and histories cross as a result in ways that otherwise wouldn't have happened. That's all well and good, but a few more paragraphs at the end to give the reader his own sense at least of direction, if not resolution, would have been nice.
  • "The Djinn's Wife", Ian McDonald (Asimov's Jul 2006)
  • "Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy)", Geoff Ryman (F&SF Oct 2006)
    You expect an off-the-wall story from Geoff Ryman and he doesn't disappoint, although the end result leaves me wondering what it was all for. The title character, Sith, is the daughter of the famous Cambodian despot, who conceals her true parentage from everyone because of the legacy of genocide he left behind. The house she goes to live in is haunted, apparently by the souls of those her father put to death, and they manifest themselves through the output of the copiers, fax machines and cell phones within the building. She falls in love with a young man, Dara, who has no idea who she really is, and when she finally tells him the truth he thinks its a ruse to precipitate a breakup. The parenthetical "fantasy" in the title is mirrored in the text, where several times Ryman points out a statement or anecdote that is not true, as well as in the plot where Sith builds up a fictional background of a different father who is a more revered deceased political figure, to the point where towards the end he is able to "adopt" her through the ghosts in her house. There is also some attention paid to the idea of redemption, and Sith's gradual acclimation towards her duty to making amends for the sins of her ancestors. The pace of the narrative is very quick, scenes change rapidly and time marches forward, conveying the appropriate combination of dream-state and fable. But these same qualities, while suited to the story, ultimately leave an impression of too much happening too quickly, and not enough to chew on after its over to keep it in memory for very long.
  • "Yellow Card Man", Paolo Bacigalupi (Asimov's Dec 2006)
    Bacigalupi has found a rhythm with this latest in a series of stories set in a so-called "post-oil" future, a meticulously detailed, politicized and utterly depressing milieu from which he seems to draw his greatest inspiration by depicting how this dystopia will manifest man's inhumanity to man. The main character, Tranh, is an old man who was once a shipping magnate, but no oil means no ships, so he is now basically a beggar on the streets of Bangkok, a Chinese refugee and second-class citizen by virtue of his "yellow card" status, which puts him at the bottom of the pecking order for food, jobs, and most of all respect. He crosses paths several times with a former employee of his named Ma, who is doing relatively well for himself and even takes some pity on Tranh's desperate state. But even Ma doesn't have it easy, as he is a foreigner also, and corruption among the police doesn't puts him at a disadvantage that comes to a head when he is accosted one night by three "white shirts". Tranh witnesses this and has the opportunity for at least some redemption or forgiveness, but it all comes to nothing. Unlike other post-apocaltypic futures (i.e. Mieville) that are equally unpleasant to contemplate living in but are at least interesting to read about, Bacigalupi's future is presented essentially without hope, a cautionary tale writ large, and while the details of the backdrop are scattered around enough to keep this from being at all preachy, the reader is left with a well-written two-character study that makes you want to slit your wrists. He's put more than enough thought into this to tell any number of stories, but they can't all be this bleak.
  • SHORT STORY

  • "Eight Episodes", Robert Reed (Asimov's Jun 2006)
    Reed masterfully executes a brief but complex narrative centered around a mysterious tv show, and the eponymous eight episodes that are the only ones broadcast. The show turns up out of the blue, develops a cult following in spite of telling a drawn-out, disjointed tale about a flawed scientist and his discovery of ancient visitors to earth. The conclusion reached is that the aliens that were out there have sent a message to humanity not to bother with interstellar space travel. But is what they're saying true, or do they just want to keep us where they can see us? The blurring between the show and reality comes to light later on, when the origins of the show come under more scrutiny and people start to wonder exactly who was behind its creation and its message.
  • "The House Beyond Your Sky", Benjamin Rosenbaum (Strange Horizons Sep 2006)
  • "How to Talk to Girls at Parties", Neil Gaiman (Fragile Things)
    Gaiman cuts to the chase in this brief vignette about two teenage boys in 1970's London looking for a party. The one they come across turns out not to be the one to which they'd been invited, but they're welcomed anyway, and there's enough pretty girls around to keep them from leaving. Enn, the narrator, tries to strike up a conversation with a couple of different girls but they're all talking nonsense about being part of another universe and seem to be new to the country. Suddenly the other, Vic, breaks up the conversation and drags Enn out of the house. Nothing even vaguely horrific has happened, but he's seen something in the girl he was with and has to leave. The end. I'm not sure what Gaiman is trying to do here, the story is certainly well-paced and evocative, he would seem to be grasping at some sort of image, teenagers crossing over into another stage of life when they're not really ready, maybe, with the time period meant to convey a sense of malaise or rootlessness? Crossed with this is a slight sense of dread that something unpleasant is going to happen, and this bizarre group of obviously alien girls that are essentially doing the same thing as Vic and Enn, just from a different perspective. I'm not sure if this all hangs together or not, there's a little more style than substance, but worth a read anyway.
  • "Impossible Dreams", Tim Pratt (Asimov's Jul 2006)
    This relatively simple story of Pete, a movie fanatic who stumbles across a video store from a parallel Earth where movies like The Magnificent Ambersons were made correctly, other classic movies feature different actors, and some movies exist that never happened in this reality. He befriends the store clerk, Ally, and desperately tries to figure out how to watch the movies on his home theater after discovering that not only are the movies different in her reality, but the formats are different too, as is the money he needs for the rental. Pratt does a good job of taking Pete from euphoria to despair as he exults over his good luck only to run up against one obstacle after another that prevents him from actually watching anything. While all this is going on, he's got even more problems, as the store only appears for a brief time every evening, and that window of opportunity is noticeably decreasing. Ally is just as much of a movie buff as he is, and of course the movies in our reality don't jibe with what she knows either. The ending is a bit predictable, but otherwise this is a nice, small-scale story that would make a good short film of its own, in this or any reality.
  • "Kin", Bruce McAllister (Asimov's Feb 2006)
    This odd and slightly creepy story concerns a young boy named Kim (not to be confused with the title, although the similarity is duly noted) and his mission to find an alien hitman to prevent the government from terminating the birth of his sister in an age of strict population control. He finds one basically by confronting possible contenders one by one with the accusation of their being a hitman, until he finally comes upon one who really is. The alien is too savvy to actually do it, but he does confront the government official with a warning, and sure enough strings are pulled and Kim's parents get to keep the baby. The alien is more interested in how Kim came upon this idea in the first place, and comes to understand there is some kinship (hence the title) in how they view the world. In an short epilog several years later, the alien has died and leaves his vast personal fortune and cache of weapons to Kim and his family, and Kim can't wait until he can travel to where the weapons are stored, implying Kim's destiny may not be too far from that of his benefactor. A little farfetched, maybe a little too pat, but certainly with a distinctive tone.
  • DRAMATIC PRESENTATION: LONG FORM

  • Children of Men (Screenplay by Alfonso Cuaron and Timothy J. Sexton. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron. Universal Pictures)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (Screenplay by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Walt Disney Pictures.)
  • The Prestige (Screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Touchstone Pictures.)
  • A Scanner Darkly (Screenplay by Richard Linklater. Directed by Richard Linklater. Warner Independent Pictures.)
  • V for Vendetta (Screenplay by Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. Directed by James McTeigue. Warner Bros.)

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