Hugo Nominees: Best Novella

I've never really understood the distinction between "Novellas" and "Novelettes"-- I know it's a length thing, but I don't have a good feel for where the dividing line is, and I can never remember which is longer. And, as far as I can tell, the only place this ever comes up is in SF awards.

Anyway, there are two Hugo categories for really long short fiction, and this is one of them. The nominees are:

  • "The Walls of the Universe" by Paul Melko
  • "A Billion Eves" by Robert Reed
  • "Inclination" by William Shunn
  • "Lord Weary's Empire" by Michael Swanwick
  • "Julian: A Christmas Story" by Robert Charles Wilson

This is, on the whole, a much stronger field than the short story nominees. The comments below the fold may include SPOILERS, so read on at your own risk.

"The Walls of the Universe" by Paul Melko. A well-thought-out alternate universe story, with a pair of protagonists who are really just two versions of one protagonist. The details of the universe-hopping are very well done, as such things go, and there are some nice twists on the obvious schemes for what you would do if you had the ability to hop between universes.

It spends a little too much time hammering home a couple of points, and there's a little too much poetic justice in the ending, but on the whole, it's an excellent story.

"A Billion Eves" by Robert Reed. Another alternate-world story, sort of. It's set in a universe where humans have spread to thousands if not millions of worlds, though the start of the colonization process is rather creepy. He does a really nice job with the atmosphere, even if the religious stuff is a little over the top.

This is probably my favorite of the lot. It got into my head in a much stronger way than most of the others, enough so that I read a whole bunch of it in the car on the way back from a wedding last weekend.

"Inclination" by William Shunn. A story about the Space Amish, more or less. This was the most "enh" story of the lot. The setting is very clever, but the story really didn't do much for me.

"Lord Weary's Empire" by Michael Swanwick. This is very much in the mode of The Iron Dragon's Daughter, and might even be in the same world. It's a little hard to tell, mostly because I can't figure out what the hell was going on. Of course, I'm not sure what the hell was going on in The Iron Dragon's Daughter, either. Or most of his other books, for that matter.

It's got some nicely evocative passages, but really, I just don't get it.

"Julian: A Christmas Story" by Robert Charles Wilson. This is hampered by the fact that it feels like the first section of a much longer work. That's deliberate-- it's written in the style of a memoir about growing up with somebody famous-- so I suppose it's an artistic success, but knowing that doesn't really help with the basic problem.

It's very well done, despite being set in a type of theocratic dystopian future that I generally find annoying. If he wants to write a much longer work with this as the first bit, I'll gladly read it, but you knew that already.

At the moment, I'm inclined to vote for the Reed first (which would give the Short Story nod to Tim Pratt's "Impossible Dreams"), followed by Melko, Wilson, Swanwick, and Shunn, in that order. On the whole, this is a much stronger batch of stories than the Short Story field, or at least, they grabbed me much more effectively than the short story nominees did. This might be more a reflection of my preference for longer works than anything to do with the relative quality of the stories, but the difference is great enough that I doubt it.

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Per the WSFS Constitution:

3.3.1: Best Novel. A science fiction or fantasy story of forty thousand (40,000) words or more.

3.3.2: Best Novella. A science fiction or fantasy story of between seventeen thousand five hundred (17,500) and forty thousand (40,000) words.

3.3.3: Best Novelette. A science fiction or fantasy story of between seven thousand five hundred (7,500) and seventeen thousand five hundred (1 7,500) words.

3.3.4: Best Short Story. A science fiction or fantasy story of less than seven thousand five hundred (7,500) words.

Re. "... and I can never remember which is longer." the obvious mnemonic is that the length of the object varies inversely to the length of its name, hence novels are longer then novellas, which are longer than novelettes. This rule also applies in theoretical physics and explains why strings are longer than particles.

Also, typo alert! You misspelled "Charles" in the last item of your nominee list.

The other thing I always wonder about these things is who counts the words? I don't read any SF magazines on a regular basis, but I don't recall ever seeing stories identified by category. I assume they have to have the count, since after all, they pay by the word, but I'm not sure how fans who read and nominate stories get that information.

Also, typo alert! You misspelled "Charles" in the last item of your nominee list.

Thank you.
Fixed now.

So far as I know, in the magazine world (which includes Science Fiction magazines);

"word" means, in the context of word count, from the history of hot type, and column inches, "6 alphanumeric characters including space."

It has been held by the Nebula Awards gurus at SFWA that a screenplay can be a novel, the example being Harlan Ellison's famous unproduced screenplay of Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot." This is essentially unrelated to the movie of the same name. The screenplay was published in, I believe, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. Then later, in illustrated annotated book format. I recommended it for a Nebula. Isaac Asimov seconded my recommendation. SFWA went into convulsions, claiming that Isaac Asimov had violated the rule against recommending one's own work. He (correctly) insisted that it was Harlan Ellison's work. Then it was decided that, as it exceeded 40,000 words, it must be a "novel."

SFWA currently refuses to apply the same logic to poetry (which they never formally defined), by word count. They have refused to accept for membership application even a science fiction poem from a major market (Analog) that won a major award and was then published in the Nebula Award Anthology which is published by, yup, SFWA.

Definitions in Literature are not as crisp as definitions in Physics.

(Of course) there's a New Yorker cartoon that illustrates this:


By AsYouKnow Bob (not verified) on 21 Jun 2007 #permalink

The major SF magazines, anyway, identify the category of each work in their tables of contents.