Jul 21 2011 5:39pm

The 2011 Hugo Awards Nominees for Best Novelette

The 2011 Hugo Awards Nominees for Best NoveletteThe final ballot for the 2011 Hugo Awards lists five novelettes, and unlike this year’s nominees in the Short Story category, all of them appeared in traditional print magazines first — three in Asimov’s and two in Analog. The Hugo Awards (like the Nebulas) define a novelette as a story between 7,500 and 17,500 words, making it the middle child in the three short form categories, with short stories limited to 7,500 words and novellas between 17,500 and 40,000.

Here’s a brief look at the five nominees, including links to the stories.


“Eight Miles” by Sean McMullen

“Eight Miles” first appeared in the September 2010 issue of Analog. Analog’s editor Stanley Schmidt was nominated in the Best Editor, Short Form category. You can read the nominated novelette online here.

“Eight Miles” starts out feeling like a steampunk Final Frontier story. In 1840, an air balloonist who is trying to make money by offering aerial rides over London is hired by a rich Lord to attempt a higher altitude than he’s ever reached: a staggering eight miles. As the balloonist points out, this is “a frontier that can kill.” Even stranger, the man who is bankrolling the venture wants to take along a silent and furry woman who, he has reason to believe, will respond well to that unimaginable altitude. The ending of “Eight Miles” is very different from that I expected, based on how it started, but along the way there were also a few plot elements that border on the improbable, so I have mixed feelings about this story.


“The Emperor of Mars” by Allen M. Steele

This novelette appeared in Asimov’s in June 2010. Asimov’s editor Sheila Williams was nominated in the Best Editor, Short Form category. You can read the story here.

I really enjoyed this one. “The Emperor of Mars” is a fairly straightforward story about a man on a Martian colony who loses his mind after learning that his family, back on Earth, has tragically died. He finds comfort in a library of Mars-related science fiction classics, recovered from the wreckage of one of our contemporary Mars rovers, and eventually constructs an elaborate fantasy that he’s the emperor of Mars. The story is a touching play on the power of escapism. It’s also full of references to science fiction classics about Mars. The “Visions of Mars” collection actually does exist somewhere on Mars — and Allen M. Steele, the author of this novelette, has a story included in it. How neat is that?


“The Jaguar House, in Shadow” by Aliette de Bodard

This novelette originally appeared in the July 2010 issue of Asimov’s, and can be read online here. It was also nominated for a Nebula Award this year.

“The Jaguar House, in Shadow” is set in de Bodard’s Xuya universe, which echoes some of the Aztec material the author uses in her Obsidian and Blood fantasy novels, but turns it into a completely different, more futuristic setting featuring nanotechnology and other science fiction goodies. This novelette has a surprisingly complex structure: there are opening and closing scenes set in the story’s future, and between those two poles, we follow a Jaguar Warrior’s mission to save a friend, alternating with flashbacks that go progressively further back in time to explain how everything ended up the way it is. This novelette is a real gem. I hope the other Xuya stories will at some point be collected in one volume.


“Plus or Minus” by James Patrick Kelly

“Plus or Minus” originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Asimov’s, and can be read online here. It was also nominated for a Nebula this year.

“Plus or Minus” continues the story of Mariska, the disgruntled teenager from Kelly’s earlier story “Going Deep,” which was nominated for a Nebula last year. Unsurprisingly, Mariska has resisted her famous mother’s plans: instead of going into deep space, she has signed on as a manual labor “monkey” on an in-system asteroid mining ship. “Plus or Minus” is a claustrophobic story about five people — four teenagers learning the ropes and an older, cynical veteran — on a cramped ship. It’s wonderful and subtle (well, what else would you expect from James Patrick Kelly?) and full of recurring images that wrap several layers of meaning around a nail-biter of a plot. I’m pretty sure this one is going to get my vote. And can we have more Mariska stories, please?


“That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” by Eric James Stone

This novelette appeared in Analog in September 2010 and can be read online here. It won the Nebula for Best Novelette this year.

The story starts out on Sol Central Station, 400,000 miles under the surface of the sun. Our narrator is Harry Malan, a funds manager for CitiAmerica who is also the leader of the station’s Mormon congregation. One of Sol Central Station’s many purposes is researching the swales, huge plasma-based alien lifeforms that live inside stars. Some of the younger swales have converted to Mormonism, and one of them contacts Harry to confess what it considers to be a sin, although Harry has a very different take on this. I started out having real trouble accepting this story’s premise but enjoying the spectacular setting, and gradually became more impressed with the way the story merges theology and science fiction.


And that’s it for this brief look at the five Hugo-nominated novelettes. If you haven’t had the chance to read them yet, please follow the included links to take a look, and let us know which ones are your favorites! You can also still register for Renovation and cast your Hugo votes until July 31st.

Next up: The five novellas on this year’s Hugo ballot.

Stefan Raets reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. Many of his reviews can be found at Fantasy Literature.

1. JennyC
Hi, I'm back. It has been fun to reflect back on these since it has been a while since reading them. I really loved Plus or Minus the most, because it was so fun to read, and seemed original. I'm happy to read in your post that there is more where that came from!

The Bodard was pretty unique, the Steele was nostalgic, but both good. I have to admit to not caring much for the other two. The science in Eight Miles just seemed off; shouldn't any swimmer be turning into a mermaid? :)
2. benjicat
The link for "Plus or Minus" does not appear to be working.
Stefan Raets
3. Stefan
@2 benjicat - I just fixed it. Thanks for the heads-up!
Alex L
4. Quercus
A great set of nominees in this category - all enjoyable, and yet more authors to read.

I'm not sure how to I'm going to order these. Leviathan has a couple of great sensawunda moments with the solcetaceans, but I'm not convinced by the ending ('these puny humans were willing to die for you, therefore I will spare you'). I suppose it is consistent with the theology of the story. Jaguar didn't quite hang together for me, although whether that's the effect of the flashback structure and me being inattentive, or not familiar with the other stories in the universe, I'm not sure. Emperor confounded me by having a happy ending - I spent the story waiting for the awful disaster/suicide/whatever - and I liked the working-life view of a Martian station. 8 Miles had another unexpected, breathtaking and slightly threatening ending, brilliantly at odds with the steampunk tone of what went before. Plus or Minus is tense and marvellously written, and the bleakness of the title is only apparent at the end.

On balance, Plus or Minus just ahead of Emperor.
Bob Blough
5. Bob
I have to say I am disappointed in almost all of these nominations. I love Kelley's writing - have even read all his novels let alone his fantastic short stories - but this one was just adequate. The McMullen and the Steele are also OK but not award quality and I very much dislike the Stone story even as I have beliefs along the same lines as the main character. The de Bodard is a very good story and I would have put it on my nominations if I had voted so it wins amongst a poor crop of novelettes this year.
6. milo polaris
It is worth noting that several of these have been recently podcast on Escape Pod and Starship Sofa; perhaps the moderator can post links to the audio?
Ian Gazzotti
7. Atrus
Plus or minus was the best of the bunch, though the ending doesn't agree properly with me. Emperor comes a close second.

On the other hand I find Leviathan... problematic.
We're supposed to side with the main character, even though the doctor makes the right objections of different culture and different physiology, because he put a stop to something that, to us humans, might look like rape.
But suppose he convinced Leviathan to stop all sex outside of procreation, even if with consent, or even just the swale equivalent of drinking coffe... we wouldn't be so quick to side with him, I believe. And it probably would have made for a more compelling story.

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