My Hugo and #RetroHugos1941 votes: Best Novelette

My nominations for Best Novelette for the 1941 Retro Hugos were:

“It!”, by Theodore Sturgeon (finalist)
“Farewell to the Master”, by Harry Bates (finalist)
“New York Fights the Termanites”, by Bertrand L. Shurtleff
“Into the Darkness”, by Ross Rocklynne
“The Sea Thing”, by A.E. van Vogt

I admit that I deliberately avoided Heinlein in my pre-nomination reading; I knew he would need little help from me, and indeed he got two stories on the final ballot in this category as well as three in Best Novella.

My own vote is as follows:

6) “Blowups Happen” by Robert A. Heinlein

Second paragraph:

The man addressed turned slowly around and faced the speaker. His expression was hidden by a grotesque helmet, part of a heavy, leaden armor which shielded his entire body, but the tone of voice in which he answered showed nervous exasperation.

One of those Heinlein stories that you think you know and then discover has a lot more in it than you remembered. Too much so, in fact: psychologists controlling nuclear reactors, the craters on the Moon caused by the death of a lost civilisation. The story gets significant good marks for foreseeing how nuclear power could work in practice, but unfortunately the version in The Past Through Tomorrow has clearly been revised to catch up with reality mid-1940s, so it’s difficult to form a clear judgement of the 1940 version (which is ostensibly the version on the ballot).

5) “Darker Than You Think” by Jack Williamson

Second paragraph:

She had a million dollars’ worth of flame-red hair. White, soft, sweetly serious, her face confirmed Barbee’s first dazzled impression. Her rather large mouth appeared humorous and quickly expressive. Barber looked twice into her alert, grave eyes and decided that they were distinctly greenish.

I am frankly a bit surprised about this nomination. I know of a couple of people who nominated it but did so in the novella category, and my impression is that its’s well over the 17,500 limit for novelettes; a File 770 contributor think’s it’s 38,000, which is almost novel length. The 1940 version has been reprinted only twice, in two collections published by Haffner Press in 2008, neither available electronically and with paper copies going for rather heavy prices; but you can read the original here. To add further confusion, it is the 1948 novel-length expansion, not the original 1940 short version, that has been included in the Hugo packet. I do wonder whether those who nominated it were thinking of the 1948 rather than 1940 version.

Anyway, it’s a story of shape-shifting magic and the ancient revenge of the Black Messiah, which turns out not to be quite as awful as it sounds (though still pretty bad); the female characters are either evil or passive; there are some good descriptive moments, but I’m marking it down because of my suspicions about the categorisation.

4) No award

3) “The Roads Must Roll” by Robert A. Heinlein

Second paragraph:

The speaker stood still on the rostrum and waited for his audience to answer him. The reply came in scattered shouts that cut through the ominous, discontented murmur of the crowd.

This on the other hand is a very political story about how a new transport technology will be managed; one may not like the angle Heinlein chooses to take, but it’s undeniable that he goes beyond the “Isn’t it cool!” description of how the roads work and into the human dimension. The inclusion of a government minister from Australia is a rare acknowledgement in sf of this era that the world outside the USA exists as well.

2) “It!” by Theodore Sturgeon

Second paragraph:

It was never born. It existed. Under the pine needles the fires burn, deep and smokeless in the mold. In heat and in darkness and decay there is growth. There is life and there is growth. It grew, but it was not alive. It walked unbreathing through the woods, and thought and saw and was hideous and strong, and it was not born and it did not live. It grew and moved about without living.

Great creepy story of possession and body-horror.

1) “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates

Second paragraph:

He himself had come to feel an almost proprietary interest in the exhibit, and with some reason. He had been the only freelance picture reporter on the Capitol grounds when the visitors from the Unknown had arrived, and had obtained the first professional shots of the ship. He had witnessed at close hand every event of the next mad few days. He had thereafter photographed many times the eight-foot robot, the ship, and the beautiful slain ambassador, Klaatu, and his imposing tomb out in the center of the Tidal Basin, and, such was the continuing news value of the event to the billions of persons throughout habitable space, he was there now once more to get still other shots and, if possible, a new “angle.”

This will get a lot of votes because it is the basis for the great sf film The Day The Earth Stood Still, but I think it’s a good piece of work in its own right, meditating on how humanity is capable of screwing up relations with the Other and also of missing the point. The twist at the end did not make it into the film, so will take readers by (mild) surprise.

My nominations for Best Novelette for the 2016 Hugos were:

“Red Legacy”, by Eneasz Brodski
“Utrechtenaar”, by Paul Evanby
“So Much Cooking”, by Naomi Kritzer
“Our Lady of the Open Road”, by Sarah Pinsker
“English Wildlife”, by Alan Smale

None of these were finalists.

Two of the finalists – “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead”, by Brooke Bolander, and “Folding Beijing”, by Hao Jingfang – did moderately well in the File 770 straw poll, whose top nominated stories were:

“So Much Cooking”, by Naomi Kritzer (18)
“Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathangan”, by Ian McDonald (14)
“Another Word for World”, by Ann Leckie (13)
“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead”, by Brooke Bolander (11)
“Entanglements”, by David Gerrold (8)
“Our Lady of the Open Road”, by Sarah Pinsker (8)
“Folding Beijing”, by Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu (7)
“The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild”, by Catherynne M. Valente (7)

Two other finalists, “What Price Humanity?” by David VanDyke and “Obits” by Stephen King, were each nominated by one of File 770’s respondents; “Flashpoint: Titan” by Cheah Kai Wai was nominated by nonoe of them. It is reasonable to suppose that these three owe their position on the final ballot entirely to the slate – despite King’s prominence as a writer, the nominated story is horror rather than sf or fantasy,. (NB that the one non-Rabid Puppy nominee on the ballot was supported by the Sad Puppies.)

6) “Flashpoint: Titan” by Cheah Kai Wai

Second paragraph:

The console displayed the data as a three-dimensional hologram. In the center of the display, Takao was a blue triangle pointing towards a bright yellow mass. That was Titan, the largest moon in the Saturnian system, ten thousand kilometers away. Other yellow dots indicated satellites, orbital structures and shuttles with Titanian registration. White tracks indicated civilian space traffic. A number of small green dots orbited Titan, each representing American orbital patrol ships. Each contact carried a unique tag, displaying vector, velocity, name and other critical information.

Future space combat which I found pretty dull and gave up on half way through. Would not have been on the ballot without slate support.

5) “What Price Humanity?” by David VanDyke

Second paragraph:

While gathering strength, they raid, attacking our outposts and asteroid acquisition operations, our transiting cargo ships and task forces, looking for easy victories, forcing us to expend more resources than they. In accordance with their conservative –the misinformed might say cowardly –nature, they hit and run, always with the aim of preserving themselves while damaging us.

The scenario of human weapons becomes obvious to the reader in the first few pages, and then doesn’t really go anywhere. Would not have been on the ballot without slate support.

4) “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander

Second paragraph:

Rhye has her guns drawn before the other Ganymede fuckers can twitch, but it’s way too late — the damage is done and smeared across the walls and floor and ceiling. Synthetic blood and bone look exactly the same as the real deal. She puts three shots into the flesh slab that did it (he’s dead he’s dead gods fuck it no nononono) and then the rest of his pals are on her like the three-times-fucked human jackals they are, pulling her down. The room stinks of blood and gunsmoke and fear-sweat. For the first time in her life, those smells make Rhye want to gag. Her ears are ringing — whether from the gunshots or god knows what else — and it feels like the floor is falling away beneath her motorcycle boots.

I found this pretty violent and at the same time I wasn’t sure what it was about. It’s the only non-Rabid Puppy finalist and so quite likely to win, but I won’t vote for it.

3) “Obits” by Stephen King

Second paragraph:

That was the gospel according to Vern Higgins, who headed up the journalism department at the University of Rhode Island, where I got my degree. A lot of what I heard at school went in one ear and out the other, but not that, because Professor Higgins hammered on it. He said that people need clarity and concision in order to start the process of understanding.

Good creepy story, though with only a few tech changes it could have been written a hundred years ago. But it’s a horror story rather than sf or fantasy, and should not be a Hugo finalist. Would not have been on the ballot without slate support.

2) No Award

1) “Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu

Second paragraph:

After the end of his shift at the waste processing station, Lao Dao had gone home, first to shower and then to change. He was wearing a white shirt and a pair of brown pants—the only decent clothes he owned. The shirt’s cuffs were frayed, so he rolled them up to his elbows. Lao Dao was forty–eight, single, and long past the age when he still took care of his appearance. As he had no one to pester him about the domestic details, he had simply kept this outfit for years. Every time he wore it, he’d come home afterward, take off the shirt and pants, and fold them up neatly to put away. Working at the waste processing station meant there were few occasions that called for the outfit, save a wedding now and then for a friend’s son or daughter.

Given that two or three of the finalists would quite possibly have made the final ballot without slating, I feel that the Foster principle is weaker here; and I really liked this story (as I liked the same author’s “Summer at Grandma’s House” which I nominated for Best Short Story), an evocative look at a future densely populated and rigidly stratified society. I hope voters will overlook the slate support for it (as I’m sure they will for strong candidates in a couple of other categories) and recognise it.

One of the categories where even a relatively weak 1941 ballot is markedly better than the 2016 one.

Best Novel (1941/2016) / Best Novella (1941/2016) / Best Novelette (1941/2016) / Best Short Story (1941/2016) / Best Related Work (2016) / Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) (1941/2016) / Art categories (1941/2016) / John W. Campbell Award

One thought on “My Hugo and #RetroHugos1941 votes: Best Novelette

  1. It’s real, but nothing to do with Fukushima Prefecture – Fukushima Industries is in a different part of Japan.

    The pronunciation is also more benign: Fu-ku-ppy as opposed to Fuk-uppy as people are touting.

    If they’d just used Japanese writing characters no-one would have noticed…

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