Reviews of Hugo Nominees

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Hugo nominees 1995

Disclaimer: Some reviews contain spoilers. The following pearls were written during the voting period for Hugos for that year, so I'm sure some of my opinions have softened since then with the acquisition of greater wisdom.
NOVEL

  • Mother of Storms by John Barnes (Tor)
    I had high expectations for this book, and for the most part it fulfilled them. There were a lot of interesting characters, and Barnes' vision of the near future is pretty plausible. If I have a quibble it's that the effects of the hurricanes seems minimized. He doesn't dwell on destruction, which may be a good thing, but as a result it seems ancilliary that there's any weather problems at all. The weather causes things to happen with people, not so much to people. All in all a good book, a little long, but worth it.
  • Brittle Innings by Michael Bishop (Bantam)
    This book is being marketed by the powers-that-be as mainstream fiction and they're mostly correct. The SF angle is that this semi-pro baseball team of the 40's has a player who is actually the original Frankenstein monster, albeit with a few more miles on him. The book goes on and on, mixing metaphors as the season rambles along, but I just don't see the point. I like Bishop's stuff, but this struck me as gimmicky, and not even very much of that because other than explaining how Frankenstein's monster became Jumbo Clerval over the course of a century or more, and letting him kill somebody in a fit of rage, there's really no other reason that this character needs to be Frankenstein's monster. Not a bad read, but not really sf, either.
  • Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
    I was anxious to read this since Bujold won two best novel Hugos in the last five years and I had never read anything of hers ever before. It revolves around the Buck Rogers-type hero, Miles Vorkogsian, and his various exploits in rescuing his clone brother from the evil House Bharaputra. This turned about to be a fun book, more like the old-fashioned space opera that nobody writes anymore. To make it interesting to today's readers, she's brought in more thought-out politics and some four letter words, and the prose flows much better than some of the original writers of this kind of stuff. My complaints are two: one is that even a thousand years into the future, the universe is still largely run by men. With no explanation to the contrary (at least in this book, part of a long series), I've got to believe that there would be something more like equality in the 2900's, among races as well as the sexes. My second quibble is her use of 20th century vernacular, people using phrases like "secret decoder ring" and quoting Shakespeare and such. Spider Robinson does this a lot now and it ticks me off. Still, overall a good book, such that I would be interested in learning more about the various Vorkosigans.
  • Beggars and Choosers by Nancy Kress (Tor)
    Unlike every other author in this category, I've actually read another book of Nancy Kress's in the last ten years, specifically the first book in this soon-to-be trilogy, Beggars in Spain. This "sequel", like the middle book of many trilogies, doesn't seem to hold up as well, even though it's much more even than Beggars in Spain was. Kress said she liked this book better, and I can see why, but given the moral questions it wrestles with, it's pretty thin. She mostly succeeds with multiple first person, but the politics behind various groups and their actions is not explored very much. Unlike the first book, the people's reactions to things is much more believable in this one. I'll even agree that the SuperSleepless would want to save humanity. The book approaches the "sense of wonder", unlike all the others, but never really capitulates it.
  • Towing Jehovah by James Morrow (Harcourt Brace)
    How's this for a premise: God is found dead, two miles long and floating in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. If such a thing could happen, Morrow has carefully reasoned out the wherefores and the consequences of such an occurrence. Not just for athiests, Tom Easton said an open-minded bishop should be able to enjoy the rationales in this book. But I tend to think that it's still somewhat blasphemous. But also at times hilarious, poignant, and definitely the ubiquitous "page-turner". My one quibble is that the one person stranded on a desert isle that the crew happens to pick up is a militant feminist who seeks to undo the whole plan to "Tow Jehovah" up to his burial site in the Arctic, which is a bit contrived for me. But otherwise one of the most original books I've seen recently.
  • NOVELLA

  • 'Cri de Coeur' by Michael Bishop (Asimov's, September 1994)
    Once again, I like Michael Bishop, but once again, this story is mawkish and pointless. It seems that three ships holding 1600 people each are leaving the dying earth destined for a new home. Sound original? The hook seems to be that the main character's son has Down's syndrome. But it has nothing to do with anything else in the story. Disaster befalls one of the other ships, but again, nothing really comes of it. Do they get to their new planet and start a new home? Who cares.
  • 'Melodies of the Heart' by Michael J. Flynn (Analog, January 1994)
    Analog stories tend to be hard science, and Flynn tends to write same, but this story isn't that hard and it's great. It's also 80 pages long, which must put it awfully close to the novel category. A doctor who has a child that has that disease where you age too rapidly discovers a woman in a nursing home who it turns out has lived for a couple of hundred years without ever really thinking about it. Unfortunately, she's dying, and it's a race against time to try to take whatever is in her genes that prevents her from dying and giving it to his daughter. The more I think about it, the more this story stands out. It is reminiscent of Nancy Kress, with characters that are very well drawn (given the amount of space, they should be), but told in a different style. I would like to see more from this guy.
  • 'Forgiveness Day' by Ursula K. Le Guin (Asimov's, November 1994)
    I know this story won the Asimov's readers poll for best novella, but I'm sorry, I thought it was dull, dull, dull. Are we supposed to ooh and ahh over this because it's written by Le Guin? It doesn't have anything else going for it. The plot (?), concerning a starcrossed couple that are abducted and ransomed, isn't exactly unheard of, and there's nothing, nothing, nothing in this story to make this setup unique, other than the usual sexually obsequious new planet that she makes up for the setting. Le Guin seems to write two different kinds of stories, with "The Matter of Seggri" or "Another Story" being the other kind, more of a lyrical fable-esque way of story telling. As opposed to this kind, where I find my mind wandering every couple of paragraphs, and at the end I think, "What did I just read?"
  • 'Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge' by Mike Resnick (F&SF, October/November 1994)
    Resnick takes time out from his Kirinyaga stories and whenever he does the story gets nominated. As a result , two of the three nominations he has this year are not based in his primary milieu. This story mentions the Kikuyu, but otherwise has nothing to do with Kirinyaga. Thousands of years after the human race has conquered the galaxy and then died out, a survey group comes to Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania looking for artifacts that may help to explain why the human race was the way they were. The narrator is able to take an artifact and draw out the its story from it, which he does seven times. The premise seems to be that humanity is so aggressive that even a small matter like their extinction does not diminish their threat. A good story, a little obvious in some places, but not my favorite.
  • 'Les Fleurs du Mal' by Brian Stableford (Asimov's, October 1994)
    Stableford is a name I've only seen in the last few years, and every one of his stories sticks with you. As a result I end up nominating him fairly often, since he's fairly prolific. This story has to do with a series of murders put on for the benefit of a rose geneticist named Oscar Wilde. As such, it's a murder mystery, but with a certain style about it, and the Wilde character (about 600 years after his namesake) is fun. This story doesn't try to take on too much baggage, but it's a good yarn and one of my favorites in this category.
  • NOVELETTE

  • 'Cocoon' by Greg Egan (Asimov's, May 1994)
    An interesting premise, where a drug company has manufactured a pregnancy drug that, among other things, insures that the child will not be gay. This premise is not fulfilled however, because the ending, where the drug company's saboteur is revealed, is out of left field and, for me at least, not in the least bit believable. Egan has gotten lots of good press, but doesn't show up much in this country, but I think that we can expect a lot more from him in the near future.
  • 'The Martian Child' by David Gerrold (F&SF, September 1994)
    This is a very heartfelt and amusing story about someone adopting a child who is quite insistent that he is a Martian. The narrator, actually the author writing as himself, does some research into the phenomenon and starts to believe it His friends, though, people like Steve Barnes (!), tell him he's crazy. This is a very unassuming story, with several nice touches and turns of phrase. Really not science fiction, but written more for that readership because those are the people who would relate the most.
  • 'The Singular Habits of Wasps' by Geoffrey A. Landis (Analog, April 1994)
    This is the only story in this group I hadn't read before and I liked it very much. I like Landis's stuff, particularly last year's "Beneath the Stars of Winter", which didn't even get nominated. That story was in Asimov's, and this story probably could have been, since it's not hard at all. In fact, it deals with Sherlock Holmes, on the trail of what turns out to be Jack the Ripper. But this Jack the Ripper is different from other incarnations we've seen before. A good setup leads to a satisfying explanation of the crimes. All in all, a very good candidate.
  • 'Solitude' by Ursula K. Le Guin (F&SF, December 1994)
    Another ho-hum story from UK Le Guin, but significantly more interesting than "Forgiveness Day" in the novella category. All of these Le Guin stories feature different worlds where men and women live segregrated, and generally only meet to have babies. Is this Leguin's idea of some feminist Utopia? Or does she just believe that given a million different worlds, this arrangement would be the dominant one? I wish I could have asked her that last year. But that was before she suddenly got prolific and all these stories appeared. Raising money to buy the new house? I still like "Another Story" the best because it was based in fable, and did not get into this mishmash of alternate sexualities that, in this story's case, mean nothing to the story. Setting and character without plot. She nearly gets away with it here, but not enough for me to remember, seven months after the first reading, one snippet of text when I read it again.
  • 'The Matter of Seggri' by Ursula K. Le Guin (Crank!, Spring 1994)
    Hooray for the small press! Finally one of the new magazines has a story nominated, proving that if you're a big enough name, you can publish something on the back of a matchbook and everyone will still read it. This Le Guin story is a little more profane than most, which is probably what precipitated her to publish it in a small-press magazine. It 's actually a set of four or so vignettes from different periods in the history of the planet Seggri. Naturally for Le Guin, she turns the gender roles on their respective ears and has lots of fun imagining how things would pan out once they encountered the Ekumen. Probably my favorite of the three Le Guin stories nominated.
  • 'A Little Knowledge' by Mike Resnick (Asimov's, April 1994)
    Here's the Kirinyaga story among Resnick's three nominations, and it's my probably my favorite ever in this series. What could almost be considered the final story, the Kikuyu begin to question their way of life in the utopia they've created. When they get wind of all the things that could be helpful to them from the outside world, the narrator, the shaman or "mundumugu" tries to reason with them that this is why they created a utopia in the first place, to get away from things European and have their own identity. But the original founders of the utopia are almost all dead, and the question arises of whether a utopia can change and grow and still be a utopia. A very well-done, memorable story.
  • SHORT STORY

  • 'Mrs. Lincoln's China' by M. Shayne Bell (Asimov's, July 1994)
    I don't know anything about Bell but this is a brief vignette that is actually very original and well-drawn and makes me want to know more about him. The White House is vandalized and one older woman wants to have a couple of pieces of Mrs. Lincoln's china to keep for posterity. I liked this one a lot.
  • 'Dead Man's Curve' by Terry Bisson (Asimov's, June 1994)
    Only Bisson lives up to his reputation in this category among the name writers, but even this story wasn't as good as "The Hole in the Hole", for which I voted but it wasn't nominated. Nevertheless, it's a good concoction with the right amount of humor and not taking itself too seriously. We've seen this "bizarre combination of events leads to alternate universe" theme before, too, but Bisson is earnest enough about it that it seems like a new idea. Probably the best in this category.
  • 'None So Blind' by Joe Haldeman (Asimov's, November 1994)
    A young genius has a blind girlfriend, and discovers that by being blind we can open up other parts of our brains and be a lot smarter than we ever were before. Was this written in the sixties? I thought this story was terribly anachronistic. This is the kind of piece I worry I'd write, using ideas that even if used in a different permutation amount to the same thing as every other expanded conciousness story ever written. Very disappointing from the same guy who wrote "The Hemingway Hoax", one of my alltime favorites.
  • 'Understanding Entropy' by Barry Malzberg (SF Age, July 1994)
    A two page story in SF Age that did not stand out to me in any respect. So a guy at the end of his life regrets that he lived fast and loose because he's dying a slow painful death. That's about it. An idea with potential, but two pages isn't much room to use it.
  • 'Barnaby in Exile' by Mike Resnick (Asimov's, February 1994)
    This story, about a sentient chimp, reads like "Flowers for Algernon", as it's told from the chimp's point of view. Not very Resnick-esque, and I thought pretty unremarkable for a story. Amazing how this category is filled with big names represented by far less than their best stuff.
  • 'I Know What You're Thinking' by Kate Wilhelm (Asimov's, November 1994)
    This is another story that seems tried before. A woman can hear other people's thoughts, although she uses this power for good. Wilhelm of course can write well about yesterday's want ads, but the premise must have been used a zillion times, including in comic books. As equally disappointing from Wilhelm as the Haldeman story is for him.

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