The 2021 Hugo Nominees: 'The Novelettes' Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The 2021 Hugo Nominees: 'The Novelettes' Review

Alexander Wallace reviews the six novelettes in contention for this year's Hugo Award.
As I said in my article about the short story nominees for the Hugos, science fiction can be well argued to be most at home when at shorter lengths. Here, the works aren’t quite so short, and that’s why they’re the novelettes.

Without further ado:

Burn, or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super by A. T. Greenblatt:
This was a fun one, taking the superhero genre as we understand it from movies and shows and choosing a flummoxed, reluctant protagonist to helm such a story. It reminded me of a more angsty, mature (in the sense that the protagonist is older) version of Amazon Prime’s Invincible, taking a tone reminiscent of Office Space or other suburban angst works. I quite liked it.

Helicopter Story by Isabel Fall:
I will be blunt: what the internet did to Isabel Fall was appalling. She did not deserve to be raked through the coal, outed without her consent, and mentally brutalized to the point she ended up in an institution. One of the casualties of all this controversy was the actual story, which is a very good one. It takes the original slur and refines it to make a compelling cyberpunk story (an influence that has been neglected) about how the powers that be can co-opt what is progressive for its own purposes. A good story, with or without the controversy.

The Inaccessibility of Heaven by Aliette de Bodard:
This is urban fantasy at its most clever: a whodunnit set in a world with angels and demons walking the earth. Imagine Ted Chiang’s Hell is the Absence of God but with more smoky rooms and urban grit. Deftly plotted and skillfully characterized, it is another example of the good things that have come out of Uncanny Magazine.

Monster by Naomi Kritzer:
This one is an interesting take on the mad scientist trope, with much dedicated to why the scientist goes ‘mad,’ and why he partakes in acts of antisocial madness. Deftly welded with this is a vividly realized setting of Guizhou province, China, certainly an unconventional setting for a story of this sort. It has character, setting, and great interaction between the two: what’s not to like?

The Pill by Meg Elison:
I’m still conflicted about this one. On the one hand, it is a very good look at how society views the overweight, and what people would do to be thin. It has a wide variety of striking images and a mostly interesting protagonist with an interesting vantage point. However, in my opinion, it undoes some of its central ideas by the ending, removing agency from the protagonist. Additionally, I don’t think it reckons with the societal issues that lead to obesity in the first place nearly as much as it should.

Two Truths and a Lie by Sarah Pinsker:
This one is perfect for fans of the SCP foundation. An odd eighties children’s television show that affects the real world in a strange way? Perfectly eerie, perfectly odd, perfectly otherworldly. I’m not sure if it’s horror or merely horror-adjacent, but Pinsker brilliantly exploits the dated, dusty feel of leftover things from the eighties that we find in boxes and backrooms.

The 2021 Hugo Nominees: Reviews
'Finna' by Nino Cipri
'Ring Shout' by P. Djèlí Clark
'Piranesi' by Susanna Clarke
'Upright Women Wanted' by Sarah Gailey
'Come Tumbling Down' by Seanan McGuire
'Harrow the Ninth' by Tamsyn Muir
'Riot Baby' by Tochi Onyebuchi
'Black Sun' by Rebecca Roanhorse
'The Empress of Salt and Fortune' by Nghi Vo
'Network Effect' by Martha Wells

The Short Stories

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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