Hmmm…. A bit of a disappointing batch again, with one exception. I think there’s something about award-nominated stories–it’s rare that I really connect with them. Maybe my taste differs from the typical Hugo voter or maybe, in order to garner enough votes, a nominated story tends to be a bit vanilla. Anyway, here are my thoughts such as they are.
Opera Vita Aeterna by Vox Day (The Last Witchking, Marcher Lord Hinterlands)
This is the big one… I approached the whole Hugo saga determined to judge each story on its merits alone and to dispense with the meta-game being played by some. Despite that I was fully expecting Vox Day’s effort to be sub-par. I had only heard of him as a blogger and ‘enfant-terrible’ of the sci-fi world and the fact that I’d never come across his fiction did not bode well. In the end, although I thought his work was just okay, he was far from outshone by the other entries, including those of former Hugo winners.
This story has an interesting premise… An elf spends time at a human monastery in an attempt to understand their religion. A real-life sorcerer wrestling with the much-promised, but never actually realised omnipotence of God. The author perhaps doesn’t wring quite enough story out of this idea and at the end is somewhat abrupt with an awkward coda, but the journey to that end was enjoyable enough.
The Exchange Officers by Brad Torgersen (Analog) – Recommended
As you would expect from a regular contributor to Analog, this is a solid, medium-to-hard sci-fi story with a heroic bent. The author’s military experience shows in the flashback training scenes and the ending is reminiscent of stories from the Golden Age of sci-fi in that it actually has an ending rather than meandering to a confused halt like some modern stories and the end comes about by a decision from the hero using his experience and judgement. Perhaps a little old fashioned for a modern audience, but still the best of the bunch by a fair way IMHO.
The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor.com)
A surprisingly weak effort, this one. I suspect that it rode through on the coat tails of much better previous stories by this author.
An elderly astronaut is approached for one last mission but it will mean abandoning her ailing husband. The weakness in this story comes from the lack of conflict: she’s offered a job, she wants to do it, her husband wants her to take it, eventually she does it. The only conflict is internal as she feels bad about leaving her husband. She wanders around through the middle of the story trying to fabricate a rationale whereby she can do what she wants to do without feeling bad about it. Eventually she manages this: a selfish decision IMHO which just made me dislike the protagonist more.
The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling by Ted Chiang (Subterranean)
An interesting story about the plasticity of memory and its relationship to language. The two threads perhaps don’t work together quite as well as one might have hoped. Not much else to say about this one. It was okay, no more.
The Waiting Stars by Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam)
Another one for the category of decent enough, but not exceptional. Probably my second pick after The Exchange Officers. Again we cut back and forth between two stories (there have been a few of those this year). One story is a hostile salvage operation to rescue the mind of an elder that had been decanted into a starship (since disabled by combat). The other story appears to be that of a young woman growing up in a re-education centre. Eventually the two stores come together in a way you will probably have spotted about half way through.
Other reviewers have said that this story tackles themes of imperialism. I thought it would be better described as a clash of cultures rather than one culture subsuming another as I found points to agree with on both sides of the story.