Hugos 2023: Best Novella

I do generally like the novella category, which often unleashes some corking good fiction at digestible length. As usual, this year has some great stuff, and I found it difficult to rank them. But rank them I must.

6) A Mirror Mended, by Alix E. Harrow.

Second paragraph of third chapter:

I knock my head ungently against the wall and order myself to get it together. Luckily, or unluckily, I’ve been in enough perilous situations by now that I don’t waste too much time panicking or regretting my life choices or shouting SHITSHITSHIT in all caps. I’ve developed a simple system.

Characters are fairy-tale archetypes exploring the possibility of different destinies. It’s a neat idea, but was a bit fresher last year, and I found the violence a bit squicky. You can get it here.

5) Where the Drowned Girls Go, by Seanan McGuire

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Eleanor herself smiled warmly at Cora as she walked around the bulk of her desk and settled in her leather-backed chair, gesturing for Cora to sit in one of the more modest chairs on the other side of the desk. Cora settled without a word of complaint, her still-damp nightgown sticking to her skin, while her hair sent rivulets of water down her back. The upholstery might get wet, but Eleanor wouldn’t care about that. Caring about things getting wet wasn’t very nonsensical, and Eleanor’s devotion to the Nonsense still waiting for her on the other side of her own door was one of the school’s few true constants.

Next in the sequence of the Wayward Children stories, where it turns out that there is another, much nastier school for the children who have slipped between worlds. I enjoyed but wondered a bit about the longevity of the schools within the premise, and felt it was getting a bit too entangled with its own mythology. You can get it here.

4) Into the Riverlands, by Nghi Vo

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“The Hollow Hand,” Khanh said, his voice remarkably calm, and Lao Bingyi scowled.

A very nicely done story drawing from the wuxia tradition, a travel narrative with lots of sub-narratives. There’s a particularly good discussion of heroic women who are not also beautiful. I could practically smell the landscape. You can get it here.

3) Ogres, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Second paragraph of third section:

Stunned silence from them. And then… a medley of reactions; quite the range, now you think back on it. Because some still have that core in them, hammered there by church and village life before they did whatever each one did to make them outlaw. Some are shocked that you could even lift a hand against the Masters, let alone shed so much of that vast reservoir of blood that it might kill one. Taboos like that, beat into you from earliest childhood, they don’t get shaken free so easily. Garett, the oldest of them, is pale and shaking his head, and Nell Wilso sucks at her toothless gums. But some of the others, their eyes are lit up. They’re the ones whose crimes were against the property, not of humans but of ogres. They lost that reverence, and maybe they’ve dreamed of doing just what you did every night since. And right then you’re in no position to appreciate it, lost in a welter of guilt and panic, but it’s the first time people look at you like that. Not fond, not exasperated. You’re not the prodigal son or the lovable rogue right then. You’re the hero who slays the monster.

As previously reported, dystopian agricultural future where an elite minority of big people (the ‘ogres’ of the title) holds the majority of humanity in brutal slavery, and our protagonist discovers the awful truth and begins the overthrow of the system. You can get it here.

2) Even Though I Knew the End, by C.L. Polk

Second paragraph of third chapter:

I knocked the right rhythm — not shave and a haircut but close. I stood still as the peephole opened and a light flashed in my eyes. The wall opened, and Sylvia let me onto the landing before a long flight of stairs leading down into the earth.

Really inventive story of lesbian love in magic-infested noir Chicago, and the price of your soul. Vivid plotting and description. You can get it here.

1) What Moves the Dead, by T. Kingfisher

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“Did Denton insult you?” he asked, once we were out of earshot of the parlor. I could tell he was genuinely worried. “He’s a good man, but you know they don’t have sworn soldiers in America. I’ll have a word with him if he did.”

I thought this was tremendous – a rewriting of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” with a lot more background and indeed plot. I’m not familiar with the original story, but nonetheless this grabbed my attention and gets my vote. You can get it here.

2023 Hugos:
Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Graphic Story or Comic | Best Related Work | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist | Lodestar Award for Best YA Book | Astounding Award for Best New Writer

Best Novella Hugo, 2022

As with Best Short Story and Best Novelette, I’m not going to record my own preferences, just the fact that I’ve read this category. I will say that I thought these were all really good, and whoever it was that said that sf is at its best at novella length had a point. (I’ll also add that during eligibility research we found that several were just the merest shade under the 40,000 word limit for novellas!)

Across the Green Grass Fields, by Seanan McGuire. Second paragraph of third chapter:

Her father, a little subdued and worn out after his day at the clinic where he worked, sat across from her. He was a big man, with square shoulders and square hands, and always carried the faintest scent of fur and sweat on his skin. He wasn’t the only large-animal veterinarian in the area, but he was known as the best, and his ability to coax even the furthest-gone foal into eating had saved a lot of horses since he’d opened his practice. Regan’s riding lessons came at a discount because the owners recognized that having the local vet’s only daughter utterly in love with their horses was the opposite of a bad thing.

Elder Race, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Second paragraph of third chapter:

Nyrgoth Elder was seven feet tall, gaunt, clad in slate robes that glittered with golden sigils, intricate beyond the dreams of tailors. Lyn imagined a legion of tiny imps sewing that rich quilted fabric with precious metal, every tiny convolution fierce with occult meaning. His hands were long-fingered, long-nailed; his face was long, too: high-cheekboned, narrow-eyed, the chin and cheeks rough with dark stubble. His skin was the sallow of old paper. He had horns. In the old pictures, she’d thought they were a crown he wore, but there they were, twin twisted spires that arched from his brows, curving backwards along his high forehead and into his long, swept-back hair. She would have said he was more than half monster if she hadn’t known he was something half god. He was the last scion of the ancient creators who had, the stories said, placed people on the world and taught them how to live.

Fireheart Tiger, by Aliette de Bodard. Second paragraph of third chapter:

It burnt. The tea burnt. Soggy tea leaves caught fire right in the throne room, in full view of everyone else. Not just in her nightmares or in her bedroom.

The Past Is Red, by Catherynne M. Valente. Second and third paragraphs of third chapter:

When I remember hunting my name, I mostly remember the places I slept. It’s a real dog to find good spots. Someplace sheltered from the wind, without too much seawater seep, where no one’ll yell at you for wastreling on their patch or try to stick it in you in the middle of the night just because you’re all alone and it looks like you probably don’t have a knife.

I always have a knife.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built, by Becky Chambers. Second paragraph of third chapter:

Dex realized, slowly, still naked, still dripping, that the robot wanted them to shake its hand.

A Spindle Splintered, by Alix E. Harrow. Second paragraph of third chapter:

Primrose’s castle is about a thousand times better. The stone is smooth and cool beneath my tennis shoes and the torch brackets smell of oil and char. My dress isn’t polyester and plastic; it hangs heavy on my shoulders, literal pounds of burgundy velvet and gold thread. I try to walk like Primrose, a glide so delicate it suggests my feet touch the earth only by happenstance.

NB this last includes some gorgeous interior illustrations by Arthur Rackham.