Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Eight Miles": Best Novelette?

I'm dutifully reading the material in my Hugo voter's packet, and I decided to start with one of the smaller categories, Best Novelette.

As you are probably already aware, a novelette is a novel that is fancy. Adding "-ette" to the end of things makes them fancier. Take, for example, the Corvette. Do you think anyone is going to go around bragging about their fancy new Corv? I don't think so. Thus, Corvette, pirouette, ninjaette, novelette.

Novelettes began when one author thought to himself, "Self, I think that I can write a story that is just as good as a novel, but significantly smaller in size!" He was like the Intel of authors. Then he realized that they already had that, and that it was called a Novella. So he decided to go even smaller. Unfortunately, that put him too far into Short Story territory, and we all know how they are.

Much like how netbooks are below desktops and normal laptops but still above tablets, novelettes settled two steps below a novel and one step above a short story. QED

The first novelette I read, "Eight Miles," is about a troubled white young man in Detroit who must battle his nerves, upbringing, and surroundings in order to escape his environment and one day become the world's greatest rapper.

Actually, sorry, that's the Hollywood version. The novelette "Eight Miles" rings in at around 10,000 words and takes place in 1840's London. A hot air balloon pilot receives a strange request from a rich man: to take his young furry female friend up to eight miles of elevation.

It turns out that this creature is an alien from another planet, and is, in fact, her race's Napoleon, exiled to a low-elevation planet with thicker air that will render her stupid. The higher she gets, the more lucid she becomes. (Note that the opposite is true of America's college students.)

The 1840's voice is probably the most interesting aspect of this story. It not only feels like something set within that time, but written within that time. The narrator's voice feels very honest to the era, and provides a very refreshing perspective on a typical sci-fi plot.

I have two grudges with this story. Like the Ursas, one is minor, and the other is major. Several instances of dialogue involve a character simply introducing themselves, their background, and motivations within several lines. It seems a little Hollywoody. I wonder if part of this is the constraints of this made-up medium -- with only so much space, maybe this is just an inescapable necessity in order for the story to move at the correct pace. And because it's longer than short stories, there has to be a complicated enough plot that involves enough moving parts -- so you can't just cut out some of these characters. I'll have to wait and see how the four other novelettes approach this same issue.

But my major concern is about what's missing: robots. I combed through the story to make certain, but there are exactly zero robots in this story. There is a foxy alien girl, but here I mean foxy in the literal sense, not the figurative one. A poor substitute for a robot in either case.

Final rating? Zero robots.

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