The 2018 Hugo finalists for Best Novella

I found it pretty easy to rank these this year, though I am also very well aware that my tastes are very different from those of voters (and indeed nominators). One point before I start: it's of course very gratifying for to have got five of the six available slots, but is it such a good thing that one publisher has cornered the market in this category? (There was a time, of course, when Asimov's had this dominance too, getting five out of five slots for Best Novella in 1991 and 1996, and four out of five in 1987, 1988, 1990, 1992, and 2000; and likewise all but one slot for Best Novelette in 1988 and 1994, and all but one slot in Best Short Story in 1993 and 1995. We all survived.)

Anyway, my ranking, introduced in each case by the second paragraph of the third chapter, is:

6) All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

It wasn't until I was helping to carry equipment to the little hopper that I realized they were going to make me ride in the crew cabin.

I hate stories about anthroporphic robots coming to terms with their non-humanity, and I'm afraid this was another one of them.

5) Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor

When I finally stopped coughing and my eyes focused on the docked ships, my heart began to beat like a talking drum played by the strongest drummer. I rubbed some otjize with my index finger from my cheek and brought it to my nose and inhaled, exhaled, inhaled, exhaled its sweet aroma. My heart continued its hard beat, but at least it slowed some. Okwu was already at check-in and I quickly got behind him.

Unlike most people, I bounced firmly off the first of the Binti novellas, and the same happened here; I found the plot disjointed and the prose in places surprisingly clunky.

From here on we're into the stuff I liked. Sadly, we still have to rank them.

4) Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire

Age seven was first grade, where Jillian learned that she had cooties and smelled and no one wanted to play with her anyway, and Jacqueline learned that if she wanted people to like her, all she had to do was smile at them and say she liked their shoes.

To my immense surprise, since I've generally not found McGuire's writing to my taste, I hugely loved Every Heart a Doorway, last year's winner in this category. This year we have the back-story of two of the characters from Every Heart a Doorway, twin sisters Jack and Jill, and their adventure with a vampire in a hidden land. The characterisation of the sisters and their family was very convincing. But there were a number of gaps in the world-building that nagged me – not least that the sisters' home in our world wasn't quite right for either England or America.

3) River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey

They didn't read the second letter either.

I love this bonkers concept of an alternate steampunkish history where in the 1850s, hippopotami were introduced into the lower Mississippi, and immediately problems arise due to their tendency to take over the ecosystem. Our gender-diverse protagonists are sent on a mission to deal with the problem, and must deal with personal vendettas, betrayal and death. The hippos of this universe appear to be carnivorous, which suggests that evolution took a very strange turn at some point.

2) The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang

Winter had silenced the frogs that sang outside the windows on warmer days. In that quiet, Akeha cautiously cleared their mindeye and tapped into the Slack. The world of arch-energies lay calm around the sleeping bundle of their twin. Mokoya had nightmares sometimes, and on those nights the Slack seethed around them like a wild river. But not tonight. In Akeha’s mindeye, the Slack enfolded their twin like a gentle blanket, shimmering in the colors of the five natures.

I knew JY Yang back in Livejournal days in 2004, and indeed they made my Moldova userpic for me; I'm really glad to see their writing career flourishing now. I also really liked The Black Tides of Heaven, a story of high-born and magically gifted twins in an Asian-influenced fantasy world (which is however much more fluid in its acceptance of sexual diversity), dealing with the technology of mass destruction as well as their own relationship with each other and their lovers. Clear and direct, where a lot of stories like this disappear into their own jargon. Great stuff.

1) "And Then There Were (N-One)", by Sarah Pinsker

The hotel employee knelt by the Sarah to my left, who had my haircut and who was wearing the same T-shirt as me, only with a long sleeved shirt underneath it. She was the only one I’d seen with a prosthetic hand. It was a good prosthetic; I wouldn’t have noticed it if we hadn’t stood at a washroom sink next to each other before the meal. Other than the hand, she’d looked more like me than most; I desperately wanted to figure out where we’d diverged, but hadn’t worked up the nerve to ask her yet.

This was the first finalist that I read, and it was a good start. I may hate anthropomorphic robot stories, but I love doppelganger stories, and I have a residual affection for murder mysteries, and this scratches both of the latter two itches, with Pinsker called in to investigate her own murder at a convention attended exclusively by alternate timeline versions of herself. A briliant concept, carried off with just the right amount of humour and minimal solipsism. Gets my top vote.

Edited to add: Once again my tastes are out of whack with the trend, as All Systems Red won the Nebula!

2018 Hugos: Novel | Novella | Novelette | Short Story | Related Work | Graphic Story | Dramatic Long | Dramatic Short | Professional Artist & Fan Artist | Series | Young Adult | Campbell Award
1943 Retro Hugos: Novel | Novella | Novelette | Short Story | Dramatic Short | Fan Artist