I’m pleased that two of the four works that I nominated made the final ballot; sadly, the two that didn’t make it were my personal favorites. I did not find the other four nominated stories to be award worthy (one of which cannot even be taken seriously enough for me to bother reading), therefore only Gilman’s and Wong’s will be included on my final ballot. However, I will not be using the “No Award” option, out of respect for the three serious authors who I plan to leave unranked.
Rating Scale: 1[godawful]-10[godlike] (DNR=Did Not Read)
“Touring with the Alien”, by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld 115, April 2016) 8.7
Gilman is one of my very favorite writers, and this “soft” alien invasion story was absorbing from the get go. Gilman has a talent for creating characters that can digest extraordinary events and adjust quickly to the new normal, without losing their innate human curiosity of the unknown. Avery, a bus driver hired to take a recently landed alien being on a tour of America, is one of her best. The catch is, the alien is highly intelligent but lacks consciousness, and can only relate to the world through its bond with a human abductee. Gilman’s other gift – forging the emotional center of a story in secret and letting it sneak up on the reader – is put to good use here, providing a surprisingly poignant finale. Great storytelling, even if the author hand-waves past some of the science.
“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay”, by Alyssa Wong (Uncanny Magazine 10, May/June 2016) 8.3
Wong’s weird western is probably the most beautifully written story I’ve read all year; I can even forgive the second person narration, which I usually find bothersome. It is the story of Ellis and Marisol, two children orphaned by a mining accident. Ellis is a necromancer, and he is forced to journey back to the site of the accident where his parents and scores of others were killed, when men claiming to be assessors for the mining company come to town. The plot unfolds at a little too deliberate a pace, and the villains are strictly formula, but it is still a compelling read thanks to the author’s stark gothic imagery and incomparable prose.
“The Art of Space Travel”, by Nina Allan (tor.com, 7/27/2016) 7.3
A pleasant story with a nice hook. A woman employed as a housecleaner where two mars-bound astronauts are staying is led to believe – by her own mother – that her father was one of the astronauts on an earlier mission to the red planet that ended in disaster. That the claim has a sliver of credibility leads her on an investigation to uncover the truth. A good set-up with nice character moments and an engaging plot is hampered by an ending that is too pat and convenient.
“The Tomato Thief”, by Ursula Vernon (Apex 80, January 2016) 7.1
I am not as big a fan of Vernon’s writing as some others, but I do admire how she has carved her own niche among the wide stable of genre writers. “The Tomato Thief” is a sequel to her popular story “Jackalope Wives”, and follows Grandma Harken’s quest to save a pair of young shapeshifters from an awful curse. The strength of the story is in Vernon’s expert grasp of her particular brand of American folk storytelling. Vernon’s stories have always felt a little too tidy to me, engaging for their aesthetic qualities but never reaching me on an emotional level. “The Tomato Thief” is no different, but is an entertaining tale nonetheless.
“The Jewel and Her Lapidary”, by Fran Wilde (tor.com) 4.4
This is the first piece I’ve read by this author, whom I’ve heard a great many things about the last couple of years. Perhaps this was not the best introduction to her writing. Very few things about the story worked for me. I was not invested in the characters or their plight, and the plot was weighed down so heavily by exposition and info-dumping that I very nearly DNF’d it. I realize that short form epic fantasy is difficult to do, but I have seen it done well on several occasions. I think this world could have benefitted from a bigger canvas to paint on, but as it stands it invokes that rare feeling of being simultaneously rushed and bloated – a unique and baffling path to misadventure.
“Alien Stripper Boned from Behind by the T-Rex”, by Stix Hiscock DNR
The latest (and presumably the last) pathetic troll from the sad clown behind the Rabid Puppies “movement.” It’s even more pathetic when you consider that this was his second attempt at the same joke, after the Chuck Tingle nomination backfired on him. I have better things to do with my time.
The other two novelettes on my nominating ballot (aside from Gilman’s and Wong’s) were “The Visitor from Taured” by Ian R. Macleod and “Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea” by Sarah Pinsker. I thought these two were the strongest stories from this category I read last year, and I am disappointed they did not make the final ballot. I highly recommend you give them a read, even if neither of them will bring home a Hugo this year.