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2015 Hugo picks: Novellas
These were a chore. The novels will be better. Right?

5. "The Plural of Helen of Troy" by John C. Wright
In a city run by malevolent time travelers, private eye Jacob Frontino must deal with a chronologically complex crime.
You'd think there'd be no timeline off-kilter enough for this author to get 3/5 spots on the Hugo ballot, but you'd be wrong. This story certainly wasted no time in busting out the unsavory racial and gender stereotypes. The plot is kind of cute, but it seems like it could have been done in a lot less space with a lot more punch. You infer much of what's going on from the confused first section, and then you sit through a long and careful explanation of it. It reminded me a lot of "A Toy for Juliette"/"The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World" from the Dangerous Visions compilation and Stross's Palimpsest (which in turn is a redo of Asimov's End of Eternity), but of course all of those were much better executed than this. And in passing, I don't find Marilyn Monroe a strong candidate for Most Beautiful Woman Ever. (If you want to talk Audrey Hepburn, however, you've got my attention.)

4. "Pale Realms of Shade" by John C. Wright
A dead psychic detective must sort out the circumstances of his own murder.
This one actually had my interest in the beginning, but then swerved hard into Jesus territory and lost me. Look, I'm not necessarily against Christian themes of redemption. They can be very powerful when done right (like the section on the Russian Monk Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov, for instance), but this is played too straight. It's preachy, and it's annoying. Some Puppy partisans apparently like to compare Wright to C. S. Lewis, but Lewis actually knew that "success in circuit lies" and wrote stories about lions instead of Jesus. Guess what? That works much better.

3. One Bright Star to Guide Them by John C. Wright
A man who had a Narnia-like experience as a child must face otherworldly evil again as an adult.
I liked this one alright in the beginning, but after meandering around a lot in the middle, it really went off the rails at the end. Even (maybe especially) when reading it purely as Christian allegory (which as best I can figure is the intended reading of all Wright's work)... it's weird. And it loses more points for its unoriginality and its simple good/bad duality.

2. "Flow" by Arlan Andrews, Sr.
A young man from a simple northern culture visits a large city in the south for the first time.
It was interesting enough to keep me reading but ultimately amounts to a long description of the setting. The MC never quite managed to be sympathetic; I never quite cared what happened to him. He seemed to lack depth, somehow. And you could definitely complain about the treatment of women here; other than as nameless sexual objects (and a mention or two of the MC's mother's name) females are completely absent from the story. He literally thinks nothing else of his mother but to remember that she exists and has a name, in contrast to his constant wondering about how his father and brother would react to the things he sees or what solutions they would have for his problems.

1. Big Boys Don't Cry by Tom Kratman
A battle AI reflects on its career in the service of human interstellar conquest.
I have mixed feelings about this one (it seems to have mixed feelings about itself), but all in all I actually liked it. The author seems to take quite a lot of glee in all aspects of war, both the visceral and the technical, and yet the actual plot verges on pacifist as one unjust slaughter after another parades by. It's a story about war that is at war with itself, and I like that. It started well and ended well, but the numerous and interchangeable battle scenes in between got pretty tedious.


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