The Hugo Awards 2017 Finalists: Best Novellas

The Hugo awards are considered the most prestigious sci-fi awards, but it has been marred by controversy for the past three years. Two regressive groups exploited the weaknesses of the voting system to dominate the majority of the nominees despite commanding less then 15% of the total votes (you can read more on George R.R. Martin blogpost [here]). This year this did not happen: the minority did manage to get no more than one entry per category, proportionally to their group size. The result is an awesome set of finalist, very diverse (from military sci-fi, to fantasy pieces that investigate the psychological impact of oppression, from space operas, to post apocalyptic fiction), and very strong. It is going to be hard to pick a winner this year among so many strong options! A few of them were among [the ones I nominated], or the ones I almost nominated.
After reading, and reviewing all the [short stories] and the [novelette], I just finished reading all the finalists in the novella category. None of them is available for free on-line, but they were all given in the Hugo voting packet (if you are a world-con member). In this article I am listing them in my order of preference, along with a short review, and a link to where to buy them.
As I finish reading the nominees in the other categories, I will post my reviews in this blog.

Best Novella

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
A modern re-interpretation of a typical Lovecraft’s story. While in Lovecraft’s novels the horror was based on the deep xenophobia of the author, by his fears of immigrants, and African-American, in LaValle’s story, the horror is the xenophobia itself, the endemic racism of the government, the police, and of the justice system.
This is the story of Charles Thomas Tester, that works hard to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father’s head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping. A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?
Hugo worthy? Yes! It is by far my favorite in this category.
Was it part of a slate? No
Buy: [amazon]

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson
An interesting version of a classic coming out story, set in the beautiful and fascinating world that Kai Ashante Wilson introduced us to in The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. I will not say much to avoid any spoiler, but I loved reading this story (even if I was a little disappointed by the ending).
Long after the Towers left the world but before the dragons came to Daluça, the emperor brought his delegation of gods and diplomats to Olorum. As the royalty negotiates over trade routes and public services, the divinity seeks arcane assistance among the local gods. Aqib bgm Sadiqi, fourth-cousin to the royal family and son of the Master of Beasts, has more mortal and pressing concerns. His heart has been captured for the first time by a handsome Daluçan soldier named Lucrio. in defiance of Saintly Canon, gossiping servants, and the furious disapproval of his father and brother, Aqib finds himself swept up in a whirlwind romance. But neither Aqib nor Lucrio know whether their love can survive all the hardships the world has to throw at them.
Hugo worthy? Yes! This is a great story. I am looking forward learning more about this fictional world.
Was it part of a slate? No
Buy: [amazon]

Penric and the Shaman by  Lois McMaster Bujold
I read Penric and the Shaman as part of my Hugo awards finalist reading marathon.
Lois McMaster Bujold is an established well-known award winning author, and this latest work does not disappoint. It is set on the world of the five gods, and it is best enjoyed if read after the previous book in the series, Penric’s Demon.
In this book Penric is now a divine of the Bastard’s Order as well as a sorcerer and scholar, living in the palace where the Princess-Archdivine holds court. His scholarly work is interrupted when the Archdivine agrees to send Penric, in his role as sorcerer, to accompany a Locator of the Father’s Order, assigned to capture Inglis, a runaway shaman charged with the murder of his best friend. However, the situation they discover in the mountains is far more complex than expected. Penric’s roles as sorcerer, strategist, and counselor are all called upon before the end.
The novella is quite entertaining and fun. While it is not ground-breaking in the genre, I am growing fond of this character, and I am looking forward reading more books set in this world.
Hugo worthy? Yes. While there is nothing really groundbreaking, I am starting to fall in love with some of these characters.
Was it part of a slate? No
Buy: [amazon]

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
The premise of this clever dark fantasy novella is the following: children have always disappeared under the right conditions. slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else. But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children. And those sent back have trouble adjusting back to the word they were born into. Miss West’s home for wayward children is a safe haven for them. Nancy is one of those children. The things she’s experienced changed her. Each of Miss West’s children is seeking a way back to her/his own fantasy world. But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.
I really enjoy the story, it has a strong beginning, memorable characters, and an original plot. It just slow down a little bit before the end, and I am left wondering if it would have worked better as a shorter story. This said, I am looking forward reading the sequel!
Hugo worthy? Yes, this is quite an original and interesting story, with very interesting characters.
Was it part of a slate? No
Buy: [amazon]

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson
As the title suggest, this story is inspired by, and a sequel of sort of the famous Lovecraft’s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, that is, by far, one of my least favorite books I have ever read, I found the original slow and boring, and I had to force myself to reach the end. It should not come as a surprise, that I was not looking forward reading this modern version of it. It turns out though, that the story is quite good, vastly superior to the original, and it subverts many of the problematic tropes of the Lovecraft’s story.
Hugo worthy? Yes
Was it part of a slate? No
Buy: [amazon]

This Census-Taker by China Miéville
This is a very interesting, and layered tale by China Miéville. The main character, a young boy, witness a profoundly traumatic event. After that he is left alone in a remote house on a hilltop with his increasingly deranged parent. When a stranger knocks on his door, the boy senses that his days of isolation are over… but by what authority does this man keep the meticulous records he carries? Is he the boy’s friend? His enemy? Or something altogether other?
The story is quite complex, and it requires the reader full attention to catch some just hinted details to fully appreciate it.
Hugo worthy? Yes
Was it part of a slate? yes, but this was a “poison pill” nomination… an attempt to damage the reputation of a book putting it on a slate.
Buy: [amazon]

Relevant links

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