Hugo 2014 Novelette Nominations

This year’s nominations are all very different and good in their own way, but only one really stood out to me and will get my vote (read them yourself and decide which one is worth your vote!). We’ll cover the others first:

“The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” by Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2013) at first threw me off because it reads like an essay–which is essentially what it is, but it’s merely another way to tell the PoV character’s story. Technology has made perfect memory available to every human being via a product called Remem that not only records one’s life, but you can instantly search for events and replay them. Had an argument with your wife and she swears you’re wrong? Simply run a search and find out. In parallel, Chiang tells the story of Jijingi, a young man from a simple village who learns writing from a missionary. Chiang’s prose is easy to read, the tone conversational. We follow the thought process as the PoV character works through the issues involved in instant memory and insists that sometimes it’s better to forget, otherwise forgiveness is difficult. But then he learns an important lesson about himself as a result of instant memory…and for most readers it’s that revelation that made this story nominatable, but to me it felt disingenuous and preachy. I finished it without the satisfaction I usually expect at the end of short works.

“Opera Vita Aeterna” by Vox Day (THE LAST WITCHKING, Marcher Lord Hinterlands) is a fantasy about magician-elf Bessarias who travels to an abbey to discover how men of faith obtain power to perform their miracles. He asks to stay and learn, but the abbot makes him promise not to use his magic while there. An unlikely friendship is formed as they discuss theology and other topics, and Bessarias discovers a love of illuminating sacred texts. But his stay there is interrupted once a year as his demon familiar attempts to convince his elf master to return home. Here the prose isn’t as clean as the other authors’, Day tends to wander in his story and wording, giving “Opera” a fairy-tale feel. While it was interesting, I didn’t find the story as compelling as it could have been, mostly as a result of a lack of attachment to the characters.

“The Waiting Stars” by Aliette de Bodard (THE OTHER HALF OF THE SKY, Candlemark & Gleam) was hard to follow at first, the plot not telegraphed early on–which threw me off since it’s a short work. Fortunately, the author is able to say a lot in few words, and the story begins to blossom when we meet Catherine, who is stuck in an institution, the circumstances unclear as to why she’s there or why she yearns to travel out into space. At the same time Lan and her cousin Cuc work to rescue their family spaceship from the Outsiders, who’ve captured the ships and the Minds that power them. De Bodard weaves a compelling story as we attempt to understand the mystery of Catherine’s situation and also the interesting culture of Lan and Cuc. I finished the story feeling like there’s so much potential in the world-building–the shortness of “The Waiting Stars” was a disappointment because there was still so much to learn about these fascinating people (not necessarily a bad thing!).

“The Exchange Officers” by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jan-Feb 2013) is about an American space station where the “astronauts” are avatar-like proxies that are controlled by military “Operators” from a safe distance on Earth. The Chinese have decided to try to take over the incomplete space station, and Chopper (Warrant Officer Dan Jaraczuk) and Chesty (Warrant Officer Mavy Stoddard) are the only Operators able to fight back after the initial EMP. Torgersen jumps from action to flashback–where they meet and begin training with the proxies. He has complete control of the story, it never lags, but still gives you the information you need to begin liking these characters and understand the delicacy of their situation. It’s a fun story with an unexpected ending–my second favorite of the nominations.

“The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (, 09-2013) tells us that humans have been settling Mars since the 1950s, all thanks to the lady astronaut Elma. Now Elma is in her 60s, long past the age for any more space missions, no matter how badly she wants to go. But even if there were to be a mission, her beloved husband Nathanial only has a little while longer to live. Then she’s approached by the director of the Bradbury Space Center on Mars for a solo mission from which she might not come back. Now she must make a painful decision: leave Nathanial before his death and feel guilt over it for the rest of her life, or turn down the mission and regret her one last chance to be in space again. Kowal is a beautiful writer, full of emotion, even if it’s not the grand epic variety–I think it’s the closer-to-home stories that touch us best. Here Kowal moves us to Mars where one would think that life would be different, but then shows us that no matter where we go the human experience remains the same. I teared up because the story so lovely.

So maybe I’m a sap for a sweet love story, even if it’s for a couple of geriatric astronauts, but “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” gets my vote for the 2014 Hugo.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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