I just returned from a weekend trip from Las Vegas and on the plane ride home, I had a chance to catch up on a few short stories. Two of these are Hugo nominees:
- “Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld, June 2012)
- “Fade To White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
“Immersion” is one of the three nominees for best short story. Only three stories were nominated, with all others failing to meet the 5% vote total threshold. It tells of a woman named Quy who is recruited to help make a business deal with a Galactic customer. A second viewpoint is of Agnes, the wife of Galen Santos, who Quy assists in making a business deal.
The story is not focused on the deal, but rather on the two women. Avatars are worn like makeup, often thin layers to enhance one’s features. Agnes, however, wears an avatar so thick that she is unrecognizable. She wears it because she feels inadequate for her husband and it helps her to be more cultured — more artificial. Quy recognizes this and urges Agnes to take off her avatar during the meeting. Her actions threaten the business deal, but she considers the risk worth it if she can reach through to the Agnes.
“Immersion” is a good story and it was interesting to read the viewpoint of Agnes told in the second person. I’m often turned off by so many short stories written in either present tense or being experimental with writing in the second person, but it worked well here. Agnes is a vulnerable woman and the writing adds to the empathy the reader gets for her position of not fitting in with her Galactic husband. Her avatar is a hyperbole for the wall she has built around her and it takes a stranger to empathize with her in order to break down the walls. I am yet to read the other stories in this category, but “Immersion” would definitely be a suitable pick. Having already snagged the Nebula, it is a leading candidate to win the Hugo.
The second story I read was “Fade to White,” which is up for best Novelette. Catherynne Valente has earned a reputation for writing great stories with beautiful prose. “Fade to White” is no exception. It takes place in a futuristic 1950’s American dystopia. Corporations rule the culture and fear of Soviet attacks are bolstered by President McCarthy. The population has been decimated from the war and marriages are arranged based on fertility to restore the country to greatness.
The story’s central characters are Martin, a young boy with a low sperm count who dreams of being a husband, and Sylvie, a young lady who fears that she will not love the man she is betrothed to. “Fade to White” is an artistic telling of the culture and the events that precede the announcement of Martin and Sylvie’s fates.
“Fade to White” was also a Nebula nominee and Valante is successful in revealing her alternate history. I struggled to connect with the characters who lived in a culture that treated people as objects. There was little agency in either of them, just emotions as they awaited their fate. Where the story was successful was in the world-building and narrative voice. The copy editing notes for commercials helped emphasize the superficial culture and showed how people were treated merely as props to achieve a certain goal. From this perspective, I found “Fade to White” to be enlightening.
I plan on trying to make my way through as many Hugo nominees as I can get my hands on. Based on the novel selections, I am noticing that there is a diverse set of nominees. 2312 is a hard sci-fi utopian novel where Redshirts is a commercially attractive comedy. One cannot compare the two — they are written for entirely different audiences. I guess some of these selections will come down to what each individual believes the award should mean.