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Sun, Jun. 19th, 2005, 07:31 pm
coalescent: Hugo Nominees 2005: Novellette

Ever since the Hugo nominations were announced, I've been telling people that the novellette category is the peach. Now I get to put my money where my mouth is.




The People of Sand and Slag by Paolo Bacigalupi

I would be surprised if 'The People of Sand and Slag' was not written, at least in part, as a response to other stories. It is the tale of a trio of miners in a world where technology has made humans independent of the Earth's biosphere. Weeviltech can heal any injury, protect against any disease, metabolise any material as food. This is the stuff of post-scarcity societies, like the Bitchun society in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, but Bacigalupi's take on the implications of this technology is sharply opposed to Doctorow's, and significantly more cynical.

Far from being a utopia, the world in 'The People of Sand and Slag' is a cold, claustrophobic, environmentally devastated place. The sfnal thrill comes from dissonance, the things the narrator does and says and notices--or more significantly, doesn't notice--as compared to the things we expect. The story seems to begin as military sf, with the miners tooling up and rushing out to deal with an intruder. They jump out of their airship without parachutes, and land in a pile of breaking bones without any suggestion that this is remarkable. Shortly after, they eat sand for dinner as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

The focus of the contrast between our world and theirs is the intruder, who turns out to be a dog. None of the miners know what to do with a dog; they've never seen one before, and indeed they were thought to be extinct. They are fascinated and horrified by how fragile a creature it is, 'as delicate as a rock'. An expert is called out--we are told that to be a biologist in this world is to be in a dead-end job, reduced to growing animals from dna to study their behaviours. To all intents and purposes, the dog is an alien, and this is a first-contact story. It is something utterly outside the protagonists' experience, as their world is utterly outside ours.

Bacigalupi's writing here is more pared-down than in either of the other two stories by him that I've read, 'The Fluted Girl' and 'The Pasho'. There are still, however, some excellent passages, as for example when the miners go on holiday to Hawaii. For them, as for us, it is a beautiful holiday destination; Bacigalupi's description is evocative in a few well-chosen words, and almost makes it possible to see it as the narrator sees it, before our perceptions snap back and we recognise the true ugliness of the scene.
Lisa was a good swimmer. She flashed through the ocean's metallic sheen like an eel out of history and when she surfaced, her naked body glistened with hundreds of iridescent petroleum jewels.

When the sun started to set, Jaak lit the ocean on fire with his 101. We all sat and watched as the Sun's great red ball sank through veils of smoke, its light shading deeper crimson every minute. Waves rushed flaming onto the beach. Jaak got out his harmonica and played while Lisa and I made love on the sand.
If the story has a weakness, it is perhaps that it is not ambitious enough. It's a timely counterbalance to some of the more optimistic interpretations of nanotech, a reminder that it might be more than just our biology that makes us human, but it's not new in itself. Though it does everything well it doesn't do anything truly startling. Perhaps its greatest strength is the ending; perhaps many writers would have given in to the temptation to allow their narrator to realise what has been lost, but all Bacigalupi allows is the suspicion that something might have been lost. It's a graceful and appropriate finish.




The Clapping Hands of God by Michael F Flynn

There's always a temptation, when it comes to Hugo ballots, to be cynical about the Analog story, because it does seem as though there's always one, and it's often hard to believe that the people that nominated it are the same as the people that nominated everything else. I've certainly been guilty of it; but 'The Clapping Hands of God', though I don't think it's the strongest story on the ballot, puts the lie to the prejudice, because it's a very credible effort indeed.

And, to be patronising for a moment longer, it manages this while still being what you might think of as typical Analog fare. It's a scientific survey story: a team of humans arrive at a distant alien planet, and begin to study the local scenery and life. And it has an explicit moral: the very first sentence tells us that 'How much explorers learn about a world--and what they can do about what they find--depends on how they come to it.'

There are a couple of things that distinguish this from most such stories, the most significant of which is the characters. It's surely not the result of chance that the proportion of stories with Arabic or Muslim protagonists has increased over the past few years, to the point of often being patronising or cliche--an easy way to score political points. Flynn's explorers, however, are credible and thoughtful. They tread lightly, and when they make assumptions, as at times they must, they are entirely understandable. If there is a flaw, it's perhaps that he goes too far in attempting to make them sympathetic; there are no leaps of logic, no incautious rushing in to interfere, and although there is plenty of debate within the team about whether or not they should meddle, it's not the debate of differing ideologies, it's a debate between innocence and experience.

The almost complete lack of contact gives the story an interesting perspective: the narrator is telling us the story of the exploration team, who are reconstructing the story of the people they find as best they can. The aliens aren't the most alien to grace the page, but that's not really the point (or it is, somewhat, but it's not a serious flaw). What's more interesting is how the story interacts with the reader's expectations; the team are so canny at avoiding the usual first-contact idiot plots that you half-believe they had a crash course in sf before they ever left Earth. Right up until the end, you're waiting for some form of involvement, some form of solution, wondering how the mysteries around the aliens will be resolved--but of course none of those things happen. The aliens' story is not the humans' story, and for once the humans are smart enough to realise that.

If the story is a little overlong (it is) and told in a slightly faux-lyrical voice (it is; the word 'younglings' appears, although I may be more sensitive to that than normal at the moment), these are, to me, forgiveable faults. 'The Clapping Hands of God' is a likeable and admirable piece of work.




The Faery Handbag by Kelly Link

Kelly Link's 'The Faery Handbag' is also likeable, thought for rather different reasons; and it pulls a similar trick in having the real story be happening elsewhere. If it were part of a novel, 'The Faery Handbag' would be the prologue. It's the story before the story, a portal fantasy in which our heroine, Genevieve, steps up to the edge but not through into another world. The fantastic (she is rather irritated to realise) is happening to other people, but not her.

Not that we see any of it at first. In fact, in the beginning it's only Genevieve's disingenuous entreaty that we 'promise me you won't believe a word' that makes us believe at all, at first. The faery handbag, it turns out, belongs to Genevieve's tall, eccentric, scrabble-loving grandmother Zofia, and it seems that any magic about it is purely the product of her overactive imagination. To get out of a tricky situation in scrabble one day, Zofia claims to hail from a now-vanished country called baldeziwurlekistan. As the story grows, we learn that the humans of baldeziwurlekistan coexisted with faeries under a nearby hill, until, during a time of threat, the entire village relocated into the handbag, where they reside to this day.

There seems too much coincidence and convenience in this for it to be true, but gradually signs emerge that it is, and eventually the handbag demonstrates its true power in a surprising and moving fashion. In some ways, this is atypical Link; it's more direct and intimate than much of her work (at one point Genevieve asks the reader to bear with her, because 'it's hard work telling everything in the right order'). There's no allegory, just pure story; Zofia is as memorable as any grandmother who stepped straight out of a fairytale ever was.

'The Faery Handbag' was published as part of a young-adult anthology (The Faery Reel, ed. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling), and perhaps not uncoincidentally it's one of Link's more direct stories; but it doesn't lack for the charm and ambition that characterises most of her work. It is probably the most accomplished of the nominees in a purely literary sense, although like several of them it trades on existing genre traditions to achieve its full effect. Nevertheless, it's an excellent story on a strong ballot.




'Biographical notes to 'A discourse on the nature of causality, with air-planes' by Benjamin Rosenbaum', by Benjamin Rosenbaum

The tone of 'Biographical Notes...' is set by the title, or at the very least by the opening paragraph, which mentions in quick succession that Our Hero is returning from 'PlausFab Wisconsin [...] the World's Only Gynarchist Plausible-Fable Assembly', that he is travelling on the PRGB Sri George Bernard Shaw (which we quickly learn is an airship), and that he is sharing a compartment with the Raja of Outermost Thule. This is sf at play, deconstructing itself in a setting built from pure pulp.

Benjamin Rosenbaum (in the story) is a gentleman-hero with a dry sense of humour who has been commissioned to write a plausible-fable about a world without zeppelins. What he'd really rather be doing, what he often can't help doing, is building the alternate philosophy and history of his story-world, but Benjamin Rosenbaum (as the author) throws obstacle after obstacle in his way. The Raja is poisoned by an assassin; our hero gives chase, but after a series of thrilling escapades finds himself captured by pirates (who only decide to execute him after discovering that he's not the author of the children's picture-books loved by the pirate captain's son; plausible-fabulists can't get no respect).

Beautiful consorts and flying war-cities also feature; it's that sort of tale, for more than one reason. The excess of coincidence and adventure is the central cliche of the genre Rosenbaum is working in, and this is that sort of tale; but the nature of coincidence and causality is also the subject of the tale, as explored in Our Hero's musings to himself. Story-Rosenbaum lives in a world where linear cause and effect is only the simplest of the Five Forms of causality; where the world is understood as a dream; where he can be hired to write the history of Outermost Thule as it might have been, rather than as it actually was. It is, in other words, a world of speculation; a world where mind is greater than matter; a world of fiction.

Story-Rosenbaum's speculations about the nature of the world-without-zeppelins, his shadow world which is of course our world, are reminiscent of the musings of Diego Patchen, the cosmogonic fiction writer in Paul di Filippo's novella 'A Year in the Linear City'. But Rosenbaum goes further than di Filippo in some aspects. In both stories, the protagonist considers himself above the pulp tradition; Rosebaum has his avatar dismiss plausible-fables that are full of 'extravagant perils, ironic coincidences, suddeny bursts of insight, death-defying escapades and beautiful villannesses', and vow that his shadow-world will eschew such shallow traits for conflcit of 'a rich and subtle kind'. And yet, he also places his protagonist in a story of exactly that kind.

Both author and protagonist, perhaps, are trying to understand their own stories. Faced with the utter improbability of his situation, story-Rosenbaum is forced to wonder how his hypothetical protagonist, a believer in linear cause and effect, would react, and concludes that he would search for a single cause that could explain the seemingly unconnected incidents. This approach saves his life, but does that mean his shadow's philosophy is the correct one? Of course not; what it means is that speculating on other philosophies is a valuable intellectual tool.

'Biographical Notes...' marries form and content to produce an argument for the validity of science fiction as both adventure and philosophy, as a genre uniquely able to explore imaginative space. It does not outstay its welcome, and remains funny and smart throughout; perhaps more tangled than it strictly needs to be to make its point, perhaps a little lazy in the choice of cultures used as background colour, but nevertheless extremely hard to dislike.




The Voluntary State by Christopher Rowe

Sometimes, after you've spent months telling people to read a story because it's brilliant, it's hard to come back to it and find specific brilliant things about it yourself. That's not the case with 'The Voluntary State'.

Like 'The People of Sand and Slag', 'The Voluntary State' is a dystopian story. They are of different kinds, however; in both cases, there is extremely advanced technology involved, but where in Bacigalupi's story technology allows a dystopia, in Rowe's technology is used to bring one about through active enforcement. The voluntary state of the title is Tennessee. If you believe the propaganda it's the first fully-realised postcolonial state; in reality it's a playground for an AI, Athena, who seems to like extravagant biotechnoloy and whose understanding of the humans it's ruling is flawed at best.

Not that any of this is immediately obvious. The story opens with a painter, Soma, and his broken-down car. What happens, in fairly quick succession, is that the local authorities appear and agree to arrange repair of the car, that it is determined that the car was damaged by a raiding party from neighbouring Kentucky, and that Soma is kidnapped by said raiding party. But the style in which this is told requires decoding; it is full of distractions. There are mentions of crane-trees dredging the harbour, of bears in the sky and of alligators with babies' limbs for lures on their nose. It is not even clear, at first approach, if you don't already know, whether to read the story metaphorically, as a fantasy, or literally, as science fiction. It's probably a comment on how we see the future that similar stories are becoming increasingly common, even in relatively near-future sf; 'The Voluntary State' is one of the best examples of this approach.

The plot continues at a high rate of knots. The Kentuckians themselves are--to Soma, and therefore to us--wild and random, given to proclamation and song. They claim to be on a mission to kill Athena, and they seem organised enough but they know so much more about the world than us that we're always playing catchup. The leader of the pack, Japheth Sapp, also reinforces the story's parallel to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, first hinted at by Soma's name, when he responds ironically to the painter's incomprehension: "it's the fate of the noble savage to be misunderstood by effete city dwellers." And that, of course, is because Soma, like the inhabitants of Huxley's dystopia, has had their view of the world limited. Soma is actively controlled (and, to double the parallel, turns out to have been an agent that helped enable that control) but doesn't realise it. One narrative thread sees the Kentuckians gradually break through his conditioning, even as they break into the heart of the voluntary state's capital. His gradual awakening and recovery of memory is brilliantly characterised, up to and including his final, dramatic perspective shift.

Meanwhile, other threads proliferate (only to eventually reunite, like a vacuum fluctuation). Jenny, the mechanic called to help repair Soma's car, recurs several times, for reasons initially unclear; and the black feathers left by the Kentuckians turn out to be hiding viral programs which, released into the Tennessee infosphere, make their way to the capital to help subvert various systems. The portrayal of these programs, referred to as 'the math', as strange, thinking entities, is extremely effective and quite often funny; it's arguably in these sections that we best understand the shape of the society we're touring.

And through it all there's Rowe's writing, which is never less than good and is often very striking indeed: controlled but expressive throughout. It matches the setting well. As the Kentuckians penetrate deeper into the state there's a sense of anticipation, wondering what wonder they'll find around the next corner; Rowe manages the increasing reader expectations expertly, and the narrative crescendo is perfectly timed. It doesn't matter that a good part of the imagery is inherited--such as the use of the parthenon in the final pages--because the mix of influences and references is so diverse that Rowe creates something rich and new. That's the single thing that most impresses me about the story: more than any of the other stories, it doesn't feel like the same-old same-old. Although the ingredients--dystopia, biotech, singularity, overthrow-the-government--are familiar, the end product is not.




So how am I voting? I think my first two choices are probably fairly obvious: 'The Voluntary State' at the top of the ballot, closely followed by 'The Faery Handbag'. After that it gets harder, but if you pushed me today I'd put 'Biographical Notes...' third, 'The People of Sand and Slag' fourth and round out the pack with 'The Clapping Hands of God'. It's a hard choice, because I don't have much quibble with the ballot. I'd probably substitute in Judith Berman's 'The Fear Gun' in place of one of those last three if I could, but it would be close call.

I think it's interesting that this is not a ballot with big names on it. Most of them are writers that I think of (perhaps wrongly) as relatively new; at the very least, they are not the writers who regularly appear, and equally regularly win the award. I think that's a good thing, not least because these are writers whose work I like, want recognised, and want to see develop further (I gather there will be a novel set in the same world as 'The Voluntary State', and I think 'The Faery Handbag' may be part of a book as well. I'll be at the front of the queue for both).

But--if I can finish on a parochial note--where are the equivalent British short fiction writers? British novels are going great guns (just look at the Best Novel shortlist), but how is it that in a year of a British Worldcon the only British short fiction nominee is Charles Stross, who in any case has a fairly US-based publishing history? What worries me most is that I have trouble thinking of the British writers I'd want to see nominated in these categories. It may not matter--it may be that the novel now truely is the heart of the genre--but I think it's a shame.

Mon, Jun. 20th, 2005 11:31 am (UTC)
chance88088

You'd probably get more comments if you made some controversial statements - the only difference I have from your ballot is flip-flopping Ben and Kelly.

Mon, Jun. 20th, 2005 12:53 pm (UTC)
coalescent

Well, I did try to pep it up a bit with that where-are-the-Brits thing at the end...

Mon, Jun. 20th, 2005 01:06 pm (UTC)
chance88088

maybe if you hadn't signed your name to the post ...

Mon, Jun. 20th, 2005 01:11 pm (UTC)
coalescent

I could register masked_critic!

Mon, Jun. 20th, 2005 01:17 pm (UTC)
chance88088: very very silly

:)

Mon, Jun. 20th, 2005 11:53 am (UTC)
frogworth

You have an interesting point about British short fiction writers. I do think Charlie is a great short fiction. And I think that in the past Al Reynolds has written some excellent short fiction too - "The Great Wall of Mars" and "Glacial" come to mind in particular. But of late he's been concentrating on novels too (looking forward to his story in the next Postscripts though!)

On the other hand, Cory Doctorow has been scattering fanastic stories around lately (the various ones in Salon for instance), and there's Paolo Bacigalupi, Ben Rosenbaum, the genius of Jay Lake, Chris Roberson's excellent recent future-China stories, and so on. Robert Reed continues to write though-provoking far-future stuff (and some duds). North America seems to be doing rather well!

Mind you, I honestly thought there were some really good entries in Peter Crowther's Constellations anthology; Gwyneth Jones' story was a beautiful piece of Light-like weirdness and reminds me that M. John Harrison's "tourism" was awesome last year. I loved Justina Robson's and Al Reynolds' stories there too. Meanwhile, Eric Brown is increasingly winning me over with his Kéthani stories too. Nothing Hugo-worthy admittedly, but some very worthwhiel stuff.
And I'm excited about the China Miéville collection coming out soon.

But Britain is way ahead with the novel thing at the moment, no doubt.

My voting order would go:
'The Voluntary State'
'Biographical Notes...'
'The People of Sand and Slag'
and then the other two. I though 'Sand and Slag' was amazing and alarming.

Mon, Jun. 20th, 2005 01:09 pm (UTC)
coalescent

Huzzah, a comment! :)

I do think Charlie is a great short fiction [writer]

I think he can be (and is more often great than at longer lengths), certainly.

(the various ones in Salon for instance)

Various? The only one I've seen in the last year is 'Anda's Game', which to be honest I thought was ok but not spectacular. Am I missing some others?

North America seems to be doing rather well!

Not to mention Kelly Link, David Moles, Alan DeNiro, Theodora Goss, Jeff Vandermeer, M.Rickert, and I'm sure many others I'm forgetting...

Mind you, I honestly thought there were some really good entries in Peter Crowther's Constellations anthology

Actually, that anthology is one of the things that's made me worried about British short fiction, because most of it seemed deeply average. Jones' story was too much like Light to really impress me, and Al Reynolds' and Eric Brown's stories were deeply pedestrian. I did like 'The Little Bear', though, and also Ian McDonald's stories. But equally worrying is that there weren't any unfamiliar names; almost all the contributers are veterans (for some value of 'veterans') in a way that I think the majority of the North American writers we've just listed aren't.

Mon, Jun. 20th, 2005 04:00 pm (UTC)
(Anonymous): China's collection

I've read the originals (and previous had read most of the other stories) and his short fiction --which I love--is mostly horror, very rarely does he write short sf. One of the originals is a New Crobuzen story.
Ellen Datlow

Wed, Jun. 22nd, 2005 03:42 am (UTC)
leokor: My Opinion

While I have largely agreed with your assessment of the short story category, I find myself in some serious disagreement with you regarding the novellettes. Most importantly, the story you have placed first (Voluntary State), I place last. Why?

The reason is simple. In my opinion, Voluntary State is just another razzle-dazzle story of the kind we're starting to see more and more. It's as if we've become so starved for sensawunda that we're ready to jump on anything with a fanciful setting, even if that setting is the story's only redeeming quality.

I will admit that Voluntary State uses a highly imaginative setting. Kudos! But setting, as we know, is only one aspect of a story. What about plot and character development? I would argue that, stripped of its fanciful setting, Voluntary State falls flat on its face.

Plot? Tell me, if you please, why the Kentuckians required Soma's presence in their midst to achieve their goal; then we'll talk. (You may say, "See what happened at the end?" To which I'd say, "But how did they know it would happen that way? What made them take him along for a ride, in the first place?") Not only does the protagonist not protag, but he has no natural place in the story at all.

All right, I would be even willing to forgive the lapse of story logic that makes the Kentuckians take Soma along for a ride, as long as Soma shows some meaningful character development. Alas, it seems to be limited to a fairly common variety: a good dystopian subject recovers his wits. Fine, I could settle for an interesting new spin on that, except that there is none. We never even get to see why the "natural state" is better than the dystopian "voluntary state," much less what convinces Soma of that fact. He seems to have warmed up to the Kentuckians by the end of the story. But why? Only because the author willed him to (or was it because Soma was impressed by their selfless deliveries of fresh vegetables?).

Kentuckians are also very simplistic in that regard. They're the good guys by the very virtue that they're on the "natural state" side of things, as opposed to the "voluntary state." Did the author feel there was no need to show us _why_ that makes them good guys? ("Hey, don't you know that everything natural is supposed to be good? It's in the definition!")

And what about Jenny? The story goes to such lengths to unroll her subplot, with the overtones of an unexpected help foretold to come in the nick of time, only to discover that the success of that help depends on the enemy using such antiquated props as hydraulic devices. The author's imagination, so beautifully manifested in the setting, seems to have stumbled at this point.

I think there should be some reason to worry if the car's antics turn out to be the best and the most memorable part of a story. The emperor is without clothes!

Leo

Wed, Jun. 22nd, 2005 07:21 am (UTC)
coalescent: Re: My Opinion

Tell me, if you please, why the Kentuckians required Soma's presence in their midst to achieve their goal

Soma was insurance, because as a fully-integrated member of the vol state he has an advantage over the Kentuckians. But I think there's also a suggestion that Japheth and Soma were friends before the state was created; this is Japheth offering Soma a chance to make his choice again, the better way.

Fine, I could settle for an interesting new spin on that, except that there is none. We never even get to see why the "natural state" is better than the dystopian "voluntary state," much less what convinces Soma of that fact.

I think that's deliberate, in that I don't think whatever's outside the voluntary state necessarily is better, and I don't think the Kentuckians are necessarily 'good'. They're just in opposition.

Wed, Jun. 22nd, 2005 04:25 pm (UTC)
leokor: Re: My Opinion

Soma was insurance, because as a fully-integrated member of the vol state he has an advantage over the Kentuckians.

I find this reasoning to be rather weak. He has to serve some very specific, important purpose to justify the risk and expense of his capture. What part of the Kentuckians' plan would have been impossible without him? A quick stop at his house to dress into the vol clothes? The guys appear to be more than capable of doing that in other circumstances (nor are the new to the vol state). In fact, that was one of the easiest legs of the plan.

But I think there's also a suggestion that Japheth and Soma were friends before the state was created; this is Japheth offering Soma a chance to make his choice again, the better way.

Now that you mention it, I have a vague feeling that I may have encountered a hint of sorts, though it beats me where exactly. The very ambiguity of this only underlies the more general fact that the entire in-the-memories thread about the past and how it came to be is underdeveloped in the story. And if Japheth's and Soma's common past was important, the story should have been seeded with cues of that from the beginning.

But speaking of Soma's choice, let's take a look at how he actually makes it in the end:


"you are due upgrade soma-friend swell the ranks of commodores you were 96th percentile now 99th soma-with-the-paintbox-in-printer's-alley the voluntary state of tennessee applauds your citizenship"



But it wasn't the early slight, the denial of entry to the circle of highest minds. Memories of before and after, decisions made by him and for him, sentiences and upgrades decided by fewer and fewer and then one; one who'd been a product, not a builder.

Soma plunged the knife into the Owl's unmoving chest and sawed downward through the belly with what strength he could muster. The skin and fat fell away along a seam straighter than he could ever cut. The bomb—the knife, the eraser, the threat—looked like a tiny white balloon. He pierced it with the killing tip of the Kentuckian's blade.



If the middle paragraph represents the only motivation for his action, then I must confess I'm not impressed.

Neither am I impressed with the part Jenny is destined to play. I actually loved the seemingly simple but touching scenes in her POV between her and the car. And to what purpose was all that set up? The only thing she does is disable the hydraulic cylinders (see my opinion about that in my original posting) and die to serve as a surrogate defender for Athena. Ugh.

As I said before, I think that the setting is the only redeeming quality of this story. I can give the credit where it's due: the setting is gorgeous. But is it enough to be nominated for the Hugos? Is it even enough to make a story? Have we become so uncritical as readers that we melt the moment we read about cars being grown and healed, or about flying bears, so that we can forgive any fault in the story from now on?

Leo

Wed, Jun. 22nd, 2005 08:29 pm (UTC)
leokor: Re: My Opinion

While I have largely agreed with your assessment of the short story category, I find myself in some serious disagreement with you regarding the novellettes.

Oops, I didn't realize that the analysis of the short story category was by a different person: http://www.livejournal.com/community/shortform/27310.html

Leo

Wed, Jun. 22nd, 2005 03:33 pm (UTC)
despotliz

Hooray, I've read them all.

My (probable) order:
1. The Faery Handbag
2. Biographical notes with ZEPPELINS
3. The People of Sand and Slag
4. The Clapping Hands of God
5. The Voluntary State

The first two are just delightful and fun. The Link wins because I just loved it more, with the scrabble and the little people under the hill, and the Rosenbaum didn't make me quite as excited. The third is good and slightly creepy, especially the razor blade hands. The Flynn is good, and reminds a lot of The Sparrow if they'd been competent at first contact, and I like the multicultural team which isn't going "look, we have muslims!". It is, I think, a bit over-long, and the ending was a little bit predictable. I haven't read The Voluntary State for a couple of months, and if I reread it it might get higher in my ballot, but I just didn't really get what was going on.

Unlike the short story list, I am impressed with the nominees, and don't intend to put No Award above any of them.

Wed, Jun. 22nd, 2005 04:51 pm (UTC)
leokor

My list is strikingly similar. In fact, it's just about the same, except that I can't quite decide between the 2nd and 3rd places (Zeppelins or Sand and Slag?).

The Faery Handbag has no contenstants in this category, in my personal opinion. In addition to what was said about it, I'd like to add that I'm also impressed by the technical execution. An uninterrupted storytelling (I mean, literally storytelling) narrative of this sort... Well, I'm not normally a big fan of public readings (I find I understand stories better when reading on my own), but I'd love to hear that story being told.

I'd also like to comment on The Clapping Hands of God. The story's message is interesting and in many ways relevant: we so often give our sympathies freely based on our own preconceptions that a wakeup call can sometimes be harsh indeed. (Without making any judgment or taking political sides, let me just briefly mention that this argument may applies to all sides in the conflicts currently raging in different parts of the world.)

But I have a writerly comment on The Clapping Hands of God as well. The story begins in a very strong voice that impresses itself on plot, character development, and worldbuilding. Let me compare this to a man waking up fresh and strong in the morning. But somewhere in the late afternoon, the story starts weakening stylistically, as if the author has decided that the reader is already hooked enough and starts cutting himself some slack. The narrative turns more linear, sentence variety narrows, continued characterization starts slowly giving the pages' real estate to a linear "this happens, then this happens, and then this happens" plot narrative. This is followed by a brief flare-up by the evening. But due to the lengthy stylistical siesta in the afternoon, it doesn't satisfy quite as much as it may have done.

I have observed this pattern numerous times. Why is it that there are so many stories that start strong, hooking both reader and editor alike, only to start weakening stylistically later. Since when has the job of hooking been confined to the beginning alone?

This phenomenon is not to be confused with the story starting to pick up pace. And even if it does start picking up pace, it still is no grounds for deemphasizing style. Strong style can be maintained well into the fastest pace. In fact, stylistic elements can be used to speed up the pace, to begin with.

Leo

Wed, Jul. 6th, 2005 02:48 am (UTC)
elysdir

Excellent comments.

One quibble, though, re "Clapping Hands of God":

And it has an explicit moral: the very first sentence tells us that 'How much explorers learn about a world--and what they can do about what they find--depends on how they come to it.'

I assumed that wasn't part of the story; I think it's the editor's pre-story comment/blurb. It's not in the same narrative voice as the rest of the story, and it's much more direct than the rest of the story. I was annoyed by it, but fortunately managed to forget it by halfway through the story.

As for the rest of the novelettes: Just finished reading them, and though I have a clear favorite ("Biographical Notes" may've been my favorite story of the year), I find myself in the very unusual position of liking everything in this category. I would be happy with any of these winning. A really impressive set.

Wed, Jul. 6th, 2005 07:45 am (UTC)
coalescent

Ah. Hmm. That's embarrassing; I think you're right. The only excuse I have is that I didn't read the webpage direct for any of them, I copied them all into one big text file. I must have lost the formatting for that intro during transfer. Thanks for pointing it out, though.

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