2021 Hugo novelettes

Before I get started, I just want to say that these are all really good. Some years it feels like the novelette is the ideal range for speculative fiction, and this is one of those years. I wish that all of these could win.

6) “Burn, or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super”, A.T. Greenblatt. Second paragraph of third section:

At least that’s what he keeps telling himself. His new office is really quite large and nice. Or would be if the floor wasn’t smothered by boxes and files. Or if the whole set up didn’t look like it never met a computer and didn’t reek of dust and disuse. Or if the office wasn’t in the basement 9 of the old community center.

Alas, we have to start pruning somewhere, and superhero stories aren't as much my thing as they are for some people. This is a good look at the superhero who is marginalised in a society where they are generally not all that respected and where his super power isn't actually all that useful. Nicely done.

5) “Monster”, Naomi Kritzer. Second paragraph of third section:

Everything around me looks quaint and old, but in fact it was built from scratch just a few years ago to showcase local ethnic cultures and attract tourists to the area. Local people are employed to wear traditional costumes, walk the street playing traditional instruments, make and sell traditional crafts. It reminds me of a Renaissance festival.

A somewhat grim tale of a woman who tracks her only friend from a bullying high school down to China where he is engaging in genetic manipulation. Vividly envisaged.

4) “The Pill”, Meg Elison. Third paragraph (doesn't seem to have sections):

Third para: She [the narrator's mother] did them all: the digital calorie monitors that she wore on her wrists and ankles for six straight weeks. (I rolled my eyes at that one, but at least she didn’t talk about it constantly.) The strings like clear licorice made of some kind of supercellulose that were supposed to accumulate in her stomach lining and give her a no-surgery stomach stapling but just made her (and everyone else who didn’t eat a placebo) fantastically constipated. (Unstoppable complaining about this one; I couldn’t bring anyone home for weeks for fear that she’d abruptly start telling my friends about her struggle to shit.) Pill after pill after pill that gave her heart palpitations, made her hair fall out, or (on one memorable occasion) induced psychotic delusions. If it was a way out of being fat, she’d try it. She’d try anything.

Challenging story about body image – what if there was a widely available pill that eliminates obesity? What does that do to society, and to those who don't want to take it? The icky ending is depressing but entirely plausible.

3) Two Truths and a Lie, Sarah Pinsker. Second paragraph of third section:

She headed out to Denny’s house. She paused on the step, realizing she was in nicer clothes this time. Hopefully she wouldn’t be there long.

A good spooky story about childhood memories of a creepy local TV presenter which turns into fighting off an otherworldly menace. A little closer to horror than I usually like, but very memorable.

2) “The Inaccessibility of Heaven”, Aliette de Bodard. Second paragraph of third section:

For a moment, as I started the computer and checked the accounts for the day, I contemplated calling Cal’s mobile—but it was a foolish idea, dismissed as soon as it occurred to me. She wouldn’t want to talk to me in any case.

A whodunnit with fallen angels. I like Aliette, I don't always get on with her prose, but this worked very well for me, nicely structured and paced with believable characters in a credibly portrayed situation. has already won the Ignyte Award.

1) “Helicopter Story”, Isabel Fall. Second paragraph of third section:

We are here to degrade and destroy strategic targets in the United States of America’s war against the Pear Mesa Budget Committee. If you disagree with the war, so be it: I ask your empathy, not your sympathy. Save your pity for the poor legislators who had to find some constitutional framework for declaring war against a credit union.

This story of course controversially was withdrawn after publication, due to a horrific online mobbing of the writer and the story. That whole saga has been written up in detail hereBest Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Series | Best Related Work | Best Graphic Story or Comic | Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form | Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form | Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist | Lodestar | Astounding

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