The 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
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
“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” 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
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.