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I try to read pretty broadly before making my Hugo nomination choices, and I usually do a decent job of having read at least some of the finalists in most categories, but as it happens this year I completely missed on the novelettes (balanced out by having already read all the novellas). So on a recent vacation, I loaded them all onto the old e-reader (along with a novel and some Campbell finalists) and got to reading. My thoughts on each of the six stories, in the order I read them:

"Wind Will Rove" by Sarah Pinsker (not available in full text online): Beautifully written, and some nice thoughts on history and memory and clinging to the past vs building something new (although for a good critique of that aspect, see [personal profile] forestofglory's review). I loved the concept that music and art is a way of connecting with those who came before, while also creating connections to the future and the present through remixing and reshaping. Like other Pinsker stories I’ve read, I find the ending somewhat unsatisfying. There were so many threads and ideas waiting to be tied together, but instead she leaves them dangling in an abrupt fashion. )I felt similarly about Pinsker's novella finalist, "And Then There Were N-1", which I otherwise adored.)

"The Secret Life of Bots" by Suzanne Palmer: This was everything I ever wanted out of a story about robots. I loved the peek into a robot society and Bot 9’s clever solution to the central problem. The structure of going back and forth between the bots and the humans, with Ship as the bridge between them, was an effective way to contrast the robot society with what the humans think about them. A fun, fine story. It's interesting that there are so many stories about the internal life of robots and other forms of artificial intelligence on this year's Hugo ballot. I wonder why that is?

"Extracurriculuar Activities" by Yoon Ha Lee: I enjoyed getting a look at the younger Shuos Jedao, before he became an infamous war criminal, back when he was just a Kel operative, already brilliant and unpredictable. Jedao is, as always, a great character, and he’s improved by getting to be the sole point of view. Also there are some quite hilarious moments in this story, literally laugh-out-loud funny. My only quibble is the extended flashback to Jedao’s college years, which seemed meant to illustrate something about him, his college chum who is in need of a rescue, or the larger situation, but it never quite comes clear to me what it was. So instead it felt like a rather lengthy digression, unfortunate for a writer whose work I usually find to be quite efficient. As such, this falls a bit short of excellent to me, instead being a very good and fun story.

"Children of Thorns, Children of Water" by Aliette de Bodard: I want to like the stories in the Dominon of the Fallen series better than I do. The premise (fallen angels, secret dragons, political intrigue, and the fallout of colonialism in fantasy Paris) appeals to me greatly, but the two that I've read so far -- the first book in the series and now this story -- have landed flat to me. Perhaps I'm not just not connecting to the characters in the way that I should, or something about the storytelling makes everything feel too distant. There's nothing objectively wrong with this story, but it doesn't quite work for me.

"A Series of Steaks" by Vina Jie-Mae Prasad: I approached this one with a bit of skepticism. Almost everyone I know fell head over heels for Prasad's short story "Fandom for Robots", but it didn't do much for me. So I pleasantly surprised to not only enjoy but love this novelette. I was drawn immediately and happily into the tale of Helena, the beef forger. The bits of world building to create a plausible reason for a forger to deal in fake beef were great, the characters were great, and the ending was fantastic. Easily my favorite of the novelettes.

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I try to read pretty broadly before making my Hugo nomination choices, and I usually do a decent job of having read at least some of the finalists in most categories, but as it happens this year I completely missed on the novelettes (balanced out by having already read all the novellas). So on a recent vacation, I loaded them all onto the old e-reader (along with a novel and some Campbell finalists) and got to reading. My thoughts on each of the six stories, in the order I read them:

<cut><strong>"Wind Will Rove" by Sarah Pinsker (not available in full text online):</strong> Beautifully written, and some nice thoughts on history and memory and clinging to the past vs building something new (although for a good critique of that aspect, see <user name="forestofglory">'s <a href="https://forestofglory.dreamwidth.org/214607.html">review</a>). I loved the concept that music and art is a way of connecting with those who came before, while also creating connections to the future and the present through remixing and reshaping. Like other Pinsker stories I’ve read, I find the ending somewhat unsatisfying. There were so many threads and ideas waiting to be tied together, but instead she leaves them dangling in an abrupt fashion. )I felt similarly about Pinsker's novella finalist, "<a href="https://uncannymagazine.com/article/and-then-there-were-n-one/">And Then There Were N-1</a>", which I otherwise adored.)

<strong><a href="http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/palmer_09_17/">"The Secret Life of Bots" by Suzanne Palmer:</a></strong> This was everything I ever wanted out of a story about robots. I loved the peek into a robot society and Bot 9’s clever solution to the central problem. The structure of going back and forth between the bots and the humans, with Ship as the bridge between them, was an effective way to contrast the robot society with what the humans think about them. A fun, fine story. It's interesting that there are so many stories about the internal life of robots and other forms of artificial intelligence on this year's Hugo ballot. I wonder why that is?

<strong><a href="https://www.tor.com/2017/02/15/extracurricular-activities/">"Extracurriculuar Activities" by Yoon Ha Lee:</a></strong> I enjoyed getting a look at the younger Shuos Jedao, before he became an infamous war criminal, back when he was just a Kel operative, already brilliant and unpredictable. Jedao is, as always, a great character, and he’s improved by getting to be the sole point of view. Also there are some quite hilarious moments in this story, literally laugh-out-loud funny. My only quibble is the extended flashback to Jedao’s college years, which seemed meant to illustrate something about him, his college chum who is in need of a rescue, or the larger situation, but it never quite comes clear to me what it was. So instead it felt like a rather lengthy digression, unfortunate for a writer whose work I usually find to be quite efficient. As such, this falls a bit short of excellent to me, instead being a very good and fun story.

<strong><a href="https://uncannymagazine.com/article/children-thorns-children-water/">"Children of Thorns, Children of Water" by Aliette de Bodard:</a></strong> I want to like the stories in the <em>Dominon of the Fallen</em> series better than I do. The premise (fallen angels, secret dragons, political intrigue, and the fallout of colonialism in fantasy Paris) appeals to me greatly, but the two that I've read so far -- the first book in the series and now this story -- have landed flat to me. Perhaps I'm not just not connecting to the characters in the way that I should, or something about the storytelling makes everything feel too distant. There's nothing objectively wrong with this story, but it doesn't quite work for me.

<strong><a href="http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/prasad_01_17/">"A Series of Steaks" by Vina Jie-Mae Prasad:</a></strong> I approached this one with a bit of skepticism. Almost everyone I know fell head over heels for Prasad's short story "Fandom for Robots", but it didn't do much for me. So I pleasantly surprised to not only enjoy but love this novelette. I was drawn immediately and happily into the tale of Helena, the beef forger. The bits of world building to create a plausible reason for a forger to deal in fake beef were great, the characters were great, and the ending was fantastic. Easily my favorite of the novelettes.

<strong><a href="https://uncannymagazine.com/article/small-changes-long-periods-time/&gt;" small="Small" changes="Changes" over="Over" long="Long" periods="Periods" of="of" time"="Time&quot;" by="by" k.m.="K.M." szpara:</a="Szpara:&lt;/a"></strong> Neat story that looks at a question I never thought about -- what happens to trans people if they become vampires? I'm a sucker (pun not intended) for stories that ask about the real biological effects and consequences of fantasy creatures, and Sparza provides a fine example of that genre. </cut>

Overall, even though not all of these stories landed for me, I found them all to be worthwhile reading and a strong class of finalists (although not as strong as those novellas, which are going to be a challenge to rank!). Which of these have you read, and what did you think of them? Hit me up in the comments!

Date: 2018-07-10 03:05 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
"Wind Will Rove" had one major flaw in the area of studying the past vs. creating a new future. The student's argument was that since they were supposed to be leaving all that stuff behind, why bother studying it at all? To me, the very obvious answer is that everything they were studying had its roots in human nature, and human nature doesn't change much, so the same sort of issues were likely to crop up wherever they went and if they don't learn how to recognize the patterns, they won't be able to stop them. But nobody ever offered that as a counter-argument, and it makes the historian's stance look weak.

"A Series of Steaks" hits one of my bulletproof kinks (the corrupt/evil asshole gets a well-deserved comeuppance) and thus barely edges out "The Secret Life of Bots" for my #1 vote. But it was still a tough decision!

Date: 2018-07-11 02:02 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
I followed the link to her review, but IMO she didn't quite get to my specific rebuttal, so I left a comment there spelling it out. The thing is that while the ship may not be carrying those specific issues along with them, it is carrying the roots and seeds of every one of those things! Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.

It's quite possible that I noticed this as quickly as I did because of the current American political similarities to Germany in the early 1930s, and the number of people who seem completely oblivious to same. The relatively few survivors of WWII are universally sounding the alarm, and the people who are too young to remember, and think John Wayne war movies are documentaries, are refusing to listen.

Date: 2018-07-10 07:38 am (UTC)
voidampersand: (Default)
From: [personal profile] voidampersand
I've read them. They're all good.

I really liked the ending to "Wind Will Rove". I couldn't be sure she would go that way. She had a lot of choices. Her choice left me feeling more hopeful for their future.

"The Secret Life of Bots": Clever bot is clever. It was a bit of a setup, but the camaraderie made it work. Too bad the humans were so hapless.

"Extracurricular Activities": A deftly written farce in a grimdark interstellar empire. Gloriously violates multiple Worldcon Masquerade rules.

"Children of Thorns, Children of Water" is a prequel to The House of Binding Thorns. It is a fine fantasy, imaginative, beautiful and grim, with great characters. But it has the same problem as The House of Shattered Wings: the characters don't have a lot of choices. The House of Shattered Wings was a tough read for me. I decided to read The House of Binding Thorns anyway, because I wanted to know what happened next to the characters I cared about. I was amazed. The story was much more grounded in the characters. What happens to them matters deeply. And it was much more unpredictable. The characters didn't have any good or easy choices, just plenty of bad ones. It is the most emotionally intense and most audaciously plotted fantasy I've ever read.

"A Series of Steaks": Well done.

"Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time": A powerful and moving story. Raw, but honest. Works as a relationship story, as a personal journey, and also as a classic science fictional "What If?" story.

Why so many stories about the internal life of robots? That's a great question. There is a long tradition of great robot stories in SF, from R.U.R. and Metropolis to The Caves of Steel and When HARLIE Was One and The Terminator. What's different now is we have a better understanding of technology. We can better imagine the internal lives of robots. Another part is that robots are a great metaphor for issues of personal autonomy and identity. If we can learn to recognize the personhood of our machines, maybe we can do the same for our fellow humans.

Date: 2018-07-12 05:47 am (UTC)
voidampersand: (Default)
From: [personal profile] voidampersand
You are of course totally right that each story should stand on its own. I probably enjoyed "Children of Thorns, Children of Water" more than it deserved, because I am turning into a total de Bodard fan, but I like to enjoy what I read. Hopefully I can be open and objective when it comes to the voting.

Date: 2018-07-10 01:32 pm (UTC)
novin_ha: Buffy: gotta be a sacrifice (Default)
From: [personal profile] novin_ha
(Psst: Szpara, not Sparza. Perhaps Eastern-European rather than Hispanic in origin? I'd be curious to know, since it is a surname and a word in my language.)

My favourite was "Wind Will Rove". I found it enormously compelling and emotionally resonant, and loved the ending so much (though it's difficult for me to explain why months after reading it; and at the time I read it, it was available for free online in full, I think.)

I have yet to read de Bodard or Palmer, but of the others, A Series of Steaks was my second favourite, with Extracurricular Activities a close third. And I actually liked them more than this year's selection of novellas. Plus, now I'm very curious to read Palmer.

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