2012 Hugo Nominees

 

Best Novel

  • Among Others by Jo Walton (Tor)
  • A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin (Bantam Spectra)
  • Deadline by Mira Grant (Orbit)
  • Embassytown by China Miéville (Macmillan UK / Del Rey)
  • Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (Orbit)

Best Novella

  • Countdown by Mira Grant (Orbit)
  • “The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction November/December 2011)
  • “Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s June 2011)
  • “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s September/October 2011)

The title of this story describes exactly what it delivers, a quiet unassuming tale of Kit, a government official who is assigned to a rural area to oversee the construction of a quarter-mile suspension bridge.  The bridge is needed to bring two parts of the faraway Empire together, but it isn’t a river or other body of water that separates them, but rather some form of semi-solid mist, which is patrolled by legendary creatures known only as the “Big Ones”.  Transportation across the mist has previously been provided by ferrymen, including Rasali, whom Kit meets immediately upon his arrival and then of course ends up carrying on a relationship over the five years or so that it takes to construct the bridge.

Johnson sets the right tone and pace to this story, but in the end I’m not sure if it all has much of a point.  The mist is implied to have some sort of water underneath it, so why not just have it be a river instead of mist at all, other than to make it more “fantastical”?  The locals are surprisingly welcoming to Kit considering his job is to completely change their way of life, and it doesn’t seem to occur to him until well into his relationship with Kasali that he is effectively putting her and the rest of her profession out of business.  Kit also feels personally responsible for any casualties that are a result of the bridge construction, even though everyone who works on the bridge gets paid and does so willingly.  The Big Ones serve no other purpose than to make the mist crossing more perilous, they only claim one victim during the course of the story, and that happens offstage.

So while this story sets up an interesting tableau with a well-defined setting and some decent characters, there’s really not much conflict, it feels like the first couple of chapters of a larger story.  There is some attempt to draw parallels between the physical bridge building and the societal connections facilitated by those who build it, but it’s not very convincing.   Overall a pleasant story, I just wish there was a little more to it.

  • “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu (Panverse 3)
  • Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente (WSFA)

Best Novelette

  • “The Copenhagen Interpretation” by Paul Cornell (Asimov’s July 2011)
  • “Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse Four)
  • “Ray of Light” by Brad R. Torgersen (Analog December 2011)
  • Six Months, Three Days” by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com)
  • “What We Found” by Geoff Ryman (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction September/October 2011)

Best Short Story

  • “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld April 2011)
  • “The Homecoming” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s April/May 2011)
  • “Movement” by Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s March 2011)

A story this short and with such a non-descript title is in danger of being overlooked before it is even read. Much like when reading poetry the reader has to make a conscious effort to devote the time and space to focus on the story to make sure he is giving it the proper attention.  With these conditions, however, this story is very rewarding and thought-provoking.  Told from the point of view of teenager Hannah, who is afflicted with “temporal autism”, a greatly heightened sense of the passage of time, Fulda goes for several different points from the opening, drawing the reader in immediately so that you’re engaged in the story right away.  First is the ongoing debate over whether “curing” things like autism is good for the patient or not, in this story, from several years in the future, it’s a potential experimental treatment with no guarantee of success that Hannah’s parents are considering.  This will make her “normal”, but at the cost of taking away her special ability and perception of reality.  This ties into the next point, that the technology we use as a means of either escapism or controlling our environment are in fact artificial means of achieving what something like autism may already be doing, perceiving the world in a heightened, specialized and personal way that may be hard for others to understand.  This includes not just virtual games and social media, but the hilarious example of Hannah’s own father, who wears a laser-equipped mosquito zapper, which the mosquitos have already evolved to avoid, such that it mostly now only annihilates dust mites.  And while this arms race of greater immersion in virtual cognition has its detractors, such as Hannah’s grandparents who long for the simpler time when kids all played together around one tv game console, Hannah also finds solace in dancing, which has not fundamentally changed, and yet is different every time she does it.  Fulda takes substantial scientific and moral essay questions and encapsulates them succinctly in her characters and their thoughts and interactions, all in a couple of thousand words, really an impressive piece of work.

  • “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction March/April 2011)

Liu has appeared seemingly from nowhere to capture both the Hugo and Nebula award for this story, along with a bunch of nominations for other awards.  And it shows a tremendous amount of craft, what struck me the most about it was the seamless integration of a fantasy element into what otherwise reads like normal literary short fiction.  Jack is the first person narrator, growing up in the 70’s as the half-Asian child who is trying to come to terms with his racial identity at a time when he was very much in the minority, and grows to resent his Chinese mother who tries to make him happy but doesn’t speak much English or have much enthusiasm for assimilating into American culture.   The title refers to little origami animals that his mother creates which have the extra ability of coming to life, although they keep their paper-based limitations.  I was a little less satisfied with the ending, years later after Jack’s mother is gone he comes across a letter she wrote to him as a child, which should lay a huge guilt trip on him, and if fact would seem to have been written with that intent, but at the end of the story we don’t get any insight into his reaction, or lack thereof.  So I’m not sure then what was the point of such a long note, if he is truly unmoved by it why bring it to light?  But maybe the ambiguity is part of the point, he at least has some reverence and nostalgia for the remaining origami animals, as a connection to his own childhood as well as his mother.  Liu combines elements of his own background with a clear and economical writing style, resulting in a nicely done story, probably unfair to the other nominees that are more overtly genre, but sometimes a well-told tale will out.  It’s not one I would have singled out for nomination due to my own story preconceptions, but a worthy winner.

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