Reviews of Hugo Nominees

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Hugo Nominees 2002

NOVEL

  • American Gods, Neil Gaiman (Morrow)
  • The Curse of Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold (Eos)
  • Passage, Connie Willis (Bantam)
  • Perdido Street Station , China Miéville (Macmillan 2000; Del Rey 2001)
  • The Chronoliths, Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)
  • Cosmonaut Keep, Ken MacLeod (Orbit 2000; Tor)
  • NOVELLA

  • "Fast Times at Fairmont High", Vernor Vinge (The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge)
    This novella follows two students Miri and Juan through a class project in a future where people's integration with information and technology is ubiquitous and effortless. Nothing in the story that I noticed seems to denote a particular point in the future, probably with good reason because the pace of technological progress seems to be so hard to predict. So everything else about people's lives, from the junior high-age protagonists to their extended families and friends, seems basically analogous to the present. By telling this from the kids' point of view, Vinge is able to show just how easily we can adapt to this type of "wearable" access to information and use it not only to enlighten ourselves but to provide a veneer to the world around us, as a kind of realtime "skin" on what you see to make it better or at least more interesting than it otherwise would be.

    So far so good, Vinge even gives these kids potentially interesting families, particularly Miri's grandfather William, who now inhabits a much younger-looking body after undergoing treatments to reverse senility. He ends up tagging along with them on their trip into a city park, which is supposed to be mostly a survival mission to see how they can adapt to their surroundings with all this connectedness turned off. But it also doubles as a different class project to investigate some sort of big-deal movie production that Miri has deduced is being conducted right under their noses. For some reason, producing evidence that such a project actually exists will give them a high grade and some limited notoriety.

    This is where things start to wander around a bit. I can't help but think that Vinge started this story with some good ideas but no specific notion of where they would lead, and maybe that's part of the intent, since the focus is really on these early "post-human" adopters and what living in that sort of environment would be like. The main part of the story consists of Miri, Juan and William wandering through the park, looking for evidence and coming upon some sort of underground warren populated by mice that may or may not be real, presumably evidence of this movie project but at the same time both the reader and the characters are unsure as to what the project is, what role the mice have in it, and after the adventure is all over whether they've really discovered anything or not. But maybe that's just a device, because while all this is going on Juan is basically cheating because he's been taking some sort of pill that boosts his ability to see connections between information. Vinge implies the next step beyond access to information will be the ability to process it efficiently, since thei more information you have the more you have to rely on intuition and non-linear thinking to put it together in useful or unique ways. They're also using some kind of semi-organic cameras developed by a friend of Juan's, which helps them infiltrate the mice den, essentially expanding their access to information in ways that were previously impossible.

    These are all interesting ideas and extrapolations of technology that doesn't really seem that far removed from where we are already. But the story just kind of peters out at the end, we don't get the sense that the kids have been significantly altered by their experience, in some sense they're too young to appreciate the leap they've just made, it's just another day at the park, so to speak. And what William gets from the whole episode I have no idea, but he'll turn up again in Rainbow's End with his own set of problems. Vinge said in some sense this was a coming of age story, but I don't see it, Juan maybe has some better perspective on his "performance enhancing drug" at the end, but nothing particularly profound or even insightful. In the final analysis, they're still kids, their final projects are over and summer beckons.

    And why choose a title that draws a natural connection to the '80's movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" anyway? Now that story was definitely a "coming of age" in the sense of several different viewpoint characters all faced the end of their high school careers with different emotions and challenges. In the movie, the "fast times" could be said to allude not just to everyone driving fast cars and focusing on getting stoned or laid, but to the accelerated sense of the passage of time as they lurch from the limited responsibilities of adolescence into full-fledged adulthood. In this novella, maybe there was a similar intent at the outset, but I don't get the sense that Vinge came anywhere near that kind of transformation with his characters. His "fast times" are just the accelerated pace of living that embedded information access will allow us in the future, but those who grow up with the technology won't necessarily notice anything fast about it, it'll just be the status quo for them. This may be implicit in the story, but I don't know that it is necessarily the point Vinge wanted to make, the reader would seem to be left to draw his or her own conclusions. While this novella won the Hugo, I suspect it won more as an affirmation of the ideas Vinge put in the story, since the general Hugo-voting audience would be among the first in line when this particular future inevitably comes to pass.

  • "Stealing Alabama", Allen Steele (Asimov's, Jan 2001)
  • "May Be Some Time", Brenda W. Clough (Analog, Apr 2001)
  • "The Chief Designer", Andy Duncan (Asimov's, Jun 2001)
  • "The Diamond Pit", Jack Dann (Jubilee; F&SF, Jun 2001)
  • NOVELETTE

  • "Hell Is the Absence of God", Ted Chiang (Starlight 3)
  • "The Days Between", Allen Steele (Asimov's, Mar 2001)
  • "Undone", James Patrick Kelly (Asimov's, Jun 2001)
  • "Lobsters", Charles Stross (Asimov's, Jun 2001)
  • "The Return of Spring", Shane Tourtellotte (Analog, Nov 2001)
  • SHORT STORY

  • "The Dog Said Bow-Wow", Michael Swanwick (Asimov's, Oct/Nov 2001)
  • "The Bones of the Earth", Ursula K. Le Guin (Tales from Earthsea)
  • "Old MacDonald Had a Farm", Mike Resnick (Asimov's, Sep 2001)
  • "The Ghost Pit", Stephen Baxter (Asimov's, Jul 2001)
  • "Spaceships", Michael A. Burstein (Analog, Jun 2001)
  • DRAMATIC PRESENTATION

  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien and Frances Walsh and Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson
  • Shrek, William Steig and Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio and Joe Stillman and Roger S. H. Schulman
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J. K. Rowling and Steven Kloves
  • Monsters, Inc., Dan Gerson and Andrew Stanton
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Once More, with Feeling, Joss Whedon

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