Hugo Nominations: Best Novelette

Continuing with my opinions on the Hugo Nominees, the Best Novelette nominees are:

  • “The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
  • “Fade To White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
  • “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
  • “In Sea-Salt Tears” by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
  • “Rat-Catcher” by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)

On the whole, I enjoyed reading all five of these.  But some, of course, I enjoyed more than others.

“The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” is a strong favorite for me in this batch, even though the titular boy isn’t really who the story is about.  It starts out giving a rather thorough description of what’s going on with him– for some odd reason, he doesn’t have any shadow, he doesn’t reflect in a mirror, nor can a picture be taken of him.  He can be seen, of course, but looking at him gives an uncanny-valley effect, as his face has an almost glowing-photoshopped quality.  He has a brief bit of celebrity as a child, but after a while, people stop caring, and he tries to live a normal life.  Until he meets another freakish boy, who is somehow made of living glass.  This is treated as an oddity, but simply one of those things that happens in his family.  Being living glass is not easy, as he’s not very flexible yet incredibly fragile.  In fact, of all the living-glass people there have been in his family’s history, he’s the first one to make it to the age of fourteen.  The work does a fantastic job of showing the friendship of these two outsiders, though it’s really about the glass boy.  The Boy Who Cast No Shadow himself is mostly an oddity in order to have empathy for the glass boy.  But the whole thing works well as a metaphor for children who are born with a condition that will damn them to a short life. 

“In Sea-Salt Tears” and “Rat-Catcher” have a lot of similar notes, which is not surprising, given they are written by the same person.  Both are stories of a fae-creature (a selkie and a cat-fae, respectively) who have to navigate the tragic politics of their fae-world.  Of the two, I preferred “Rat-Catcher”, but only a bit.  I have to confess, fae stories don’t quite click for me, especially with the tropes in play in “Tears”.  The set-up for “Tears” is interesting: the main character is a selkie by birth, but is still effectively mortal, since one doesn’t become a true selkie without a skin, and skins are in limited quantity.  You only get a skin when it’s passed on to you.  The main character gets passed over for a skin several times, and then gives up and starts up a romance.  The romance, of course, gets tested when she finally gets offered a skin.  My big problem with this one boils down to Secret Tropes.   This one has “I don’t want you to do X because I have Reasons that I won’t tell you”  “Well, if you won’t explain, I have to do X.”  Character does X.  Other character THEN reveals Reasons.  Why didn’t they reveal them earlier? BECAUSE SECRETS.  Yeah, I’m not crazy about that sort of thing.  “Rat-Catcher” is a bit more of a romp, and while it’s also tragic, it’s at least a fun path to the tragic.  It’s as fun as a story about the Great London Fire destroying the fairy world could be.

“Fade to White” is interesting.  It has the same DNA as “The Handmaiden’s Tale”, in that it depicts a world torn by mass infertility, and dealing with it in 50s-sitcom-morality methods.  However, in Valente’s version, both men and women are tested for their fertility, as the number of fertile men are one-fourth of the number of women.  Fertile men will get to become “Husbands” for four women, but with an overcomplicated system of spending one week a month in each wife’s home, and the wives living in separate communities, so there’s never any sense of embarrassment or impropriety or anything other than nice, normal nuclear families.  It’s well-done satire, though there are constant switches in form and voice, some of which worked for me and some didn’t.

“The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” was a frustrating read.  It was a piece that’s very deep in its own worldbuilding, and just hits the ground at full throttle and hopes the reader will stay caught up.  Now, I had no problem catching up, but the whole piece stayed at arms-length, emotionally.  The gist of the piece is in a future where the solar system is being colonized, most of the people out in space have their bodies completely altered– mostly to a squid-like form– and thus their sense of identity shifts from human to other.  The slang term for the altered forms is “sushi”, and thus making the change is “going out for sushi”.  Part of my frustration comes from these slang terms– the author couldn’t seem to pick a single one for what the altered call normal humans.  Three or four terms are used interchangeably, though the one that stands out for me is “featherless bipeds”.  This stands out because there’s never a feathered biped… so why the distinction?  I feel like the setting deserves a bigger story than Cadigan is giving it here.

So, to my rankings:

  1. “The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
  2. “Fade To White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
  3. “Rat-Catcher” by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)
  4. “In Sea-Salt Tears” by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
  5. “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)


  1. Thanks for posting these (as a reminder to read them). For the short stories, I loved Ken Liu’s.

    BTW Clarion folks were very nice, and gave their condolences that my schedule kept me from attending. But I did get to meet everyone Sunday when they were checking in.

Comments are closed.