Friday, May 27, 2011

"Plus or Minus": Best Novelette?

The second Hugo nominee for Best Novelette is "Plus or Minus." This one weighs in at 11,000 words, which implies that most novelettes are around 10,000 words or so based on my enormous sample size of two (2) novelettes.

A thirteen year old girl who hates her mother (big shocker, I know) decides to become a ship maintenance worker so as to spite her. While out on her first yearlong trip, she realizes that working sucks and is awful, while also still hating her mom. Then a big emergency happens that I'm not going to spoil because I'm not a heartless jerk.


"Plus or Minus" is very well-written, but is mostly interesting because of how detailed its setting is, especially for something as small/almost-medium as a novelette. A lot of details seemed to have little importance to the plot, yet enveloped you more snugly into the realism of what is technically a fantastical setting.

In the future:

- Muscles are pointless because on the Moon and in space they don't help
- Nobody reproduces naturally anymore because of radiation poisoning
- You can hook up with dream feeds that are like intense virtual reality
- You can essentially IM your thoughts into other people's heads (Could you imagine the horror if teenage girls could do that today?)

Combining the virtual reality and social media with the lack of muscles or sexual reproduction, it appears that World of Warcraft players are going to do just fine in the future.

So what you basically get is a survival thriller that takes place in an amazingly detailed sci-fi setting. The whole running-out-of-air shtick applies a clear story arc to an awkwardly defined medium, such that you're never going "Hmm, this short story has been going on for awhile now," or "This novella sure does feel short," or even "what the heck kind of a poem is this."

My only qualm is that I get a little too invested in the main character. Allusions to her past and her issues with her mom are flying around everywhere, and yet I don't think that any of that gets resolved, or hardly even addressed by the end of the story, even though you get the sense that it's her main conflict in life right now (apart from, you know, breathing.) It feels as if this is merely a single episode of a larger story, kind of like Ender in Exile or The Berenstain Bears Visit The Dentist.

But if we're going to decide whether to give it a Hugo, we need to count the robots. There were technically three robots here, but they lacked any AI and were controlled directly by humans, which doesn't make them much different from RC cars, or voters in Montgomery County. Also, these robots are named after fruit, and the only things that should be named after fruit are probably, well, fruit.

So the Robot Rating for "Plus or Minus" is Three Stupid Fruity Robots. (I mean no offense, of course, to fruit.)

You can read "Plus or Minus" by James Patrick Kelly here. The novelette I reviewed yesterday, "Eight Miles" by Sean McMullen, is available here.

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