Best Novella, 1941 & 2016

And here are the Best Novella finalists!

Next week, we will slow it back down and have a thread for each of the Best Novel finalists (a 1941 and a 2016 pick) each day.

Until then, let’s discuss the short fiction finalists (and semiprozine) in the various threads that just appeared!


  • “Coventry” by Robert A. Heinlein
  • “If This Goes On…” by Robert A. Heinlein
  • “Magic, Inc.” by Robert A. Heinlein
  • “The Mathematics of Magic” by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt
  • “The Roaring Trumpet” by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt


  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
  • The Builders by Daniel Polansky
  • Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson
  • Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

So, who is at the top of your list and why?

As always, keep in mind the Comment Rules, and let’s discuss the Hugo finalists!

5 thoughts on “Best Novella, 1941 & 2016”

  1. I just finished dealing with the 2016 novellas over on my LiveJournal (sjwright dot livejournal dot com, in the unlikely event that anyone wants to know my mind at full.) It’s an interesting bunch, and I think there’s things to be said for all five of them. “Penric’s Demon” is a smoothly readable, impeccably polished, thoroughly professional performance from Bujold, as one might expect. “Binti” I’ve heard described as a Heinlein juvenile for the 21st century, and I don’t think that’s a bad description – or a bad thing. The plot might take a couple of twists too many, and the protagonist gets implausibly lucky in places… however, she’s a likeable enough character than I don’t mind her getting a few breaks! My first-place vote is probably going to one of those two. Probably. Unless I change my mind.

    “Perfect State” is Brandon Sanderson’s attempt to tell interesting stories in a Utopian society where meaningful conflict is all but impossible… and he doesn’t do a half bad job of it, to be sure. I wonder about some of his worldbuilding (like, who exactly is running the infrastructure of this world?), but the story moves along nicely and has a sympathetic protagonist… which is surprising, really, because he ought to be a sort of super-powered spoiled brat, and the reasons why he’s not are… worth thinking about.

    Alastair Reynolds’s “Slow Bullets” was… OK, I think, but it didn’t really grip me, and it felt vaguely incomplete in some ways. Apparently a novel-length version is coming out in January, so maybe Mr Reynolds agrees with me there. Daniel Polansky’s “The Builders”… um. “The Wind in the Willows” meets “Once Upon a Time in the West”. There’s a lot of action, and some pretty fine writing, but I didn’t think it really had a point to it – the action, by the end of the story, was literally just people smashing things up for the sake of breaking them. I think Polansky is a writer to watch, but this story didn’t do it for me.

    So much for 2016. As for 1941… well, my personal preference is for “The Mathematics of Magic”, here. All three of the Heinleins had one thing or another which made me go “hang on a moment” or “yes, but….” And “The Roaring Trumpet”, I think, is good fun but takes a little while to get into the swing of things. But in “The Mathematics of Magic”, de Camp and Pratt have really hit their stride, and the setting of “The Faerie Queene” helps them enormously, because it is full of absurdities for them to skewer. I suppose it helps that I’ve read – and loved – “The Faerie Queene”; it’s a great poem, but it does offer many, many targets for a skilled satirist. And de Camp and Pratt hit several of those targets dead on. Well done them.


  2. I haven’t read the 1941 nominees yet; here’s my list for 2016. I feel the bottom 2 achieve higher highs than the top 3, but also lower lows:

    1. Penric’s Demon by Bujold – Thoroughly charming tale; it’s got a very amiable and cozy feel to it and reminds me quite a bit of Robin Hobb. I could read a lot more of this. In fact my only problem is that it feels too short – I really want more. By the end I became quite fond of Penric and Desdemona and wanted to see more of the world… and then it stopped*. Grr.

    2. The Builders by Daniel Polansky – I love seeing a strong authorial voice, and Polansky’s is stylish and confident. The characters aren’t particularly deep, but they’re all amusingly quirky and each of them has a satisfying arc that stays true to their (quirky) personalities. RSR has more to say on this that I agree with.

    3. Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson – Intriguing premise, and the discussions in the middle section were quite interesting. The part with all the “hacking” sorely tried my suspension of disbelief – there seemed to be a lot of deus ex machina going on, and the “levelling-up” fantasy tropes felt out of place here – but I was pleased with the way it panned out. I liked the open-endedness and the way it leaves you mulling over the questions raised.

    4. Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds – The first half of this was pretty much excellent. It starts off as milSF and morphs into a tense space thriller filled with intriguing mysteries. And the first few reveals were really well done.

    But alas, it starts to taper off with the BIG reveal, which was certainly creepy – but Reynolds devotes one page to it and then completely forgets about it. Instead, the focus shifts to some random small-scale squabbles, followed by a very cheesy resolution. And then a rushed epilogue, with philosophical overtones that came out of nowhere. It might have worked if there’d been more space to flesh out the characters/themes, but here it just felt half-hearted.

    5. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor – I had severe suspension-of-disbelief issues with this, which is sad because it has some excellent character work. And the themes become very interesting once you know the German-Namibian historical context – this Strange Horizons review has an excellent overview. (I love his interpretation of the ending.)

    My main issue is with the “mathematical trances” that sounded like gibberish and totally broke my immersion. Quoting from the story:

    “My mind cleared as the equations flew through it, opening it wider, growing progressively more complex and satisfying. V-E + F = 2, a^2 + b^2 = c^2, I thought. I knew what to do now.”

    I mean, really? The Vertex-Face-Edge equation and Pythagoras theorem, no less. After seeing that, I mentally replaced all mentions of math trances with “mystic magic” and it was so much better.

    The other issue I have is with the response of the Oomza university faculty, which was just unbelievable. I understand it was all in service to the twisted metaphor, but surely Okorafor could have found a better way to plot it.

    *I was really happy to learn about Penric and the Shaman and can’t wait to start it.


  3. What’s good about this category is that for every story I’ve seen both supporters and constructive critiques – it’s one where you can almost ignore how some of the nominations came about. Personally I found Slow Bullets and Perfect State below par, thought The Builders to be incomplete (too much time on set piece intros and finales, not enough middle), and enjoyed the start of Binti much more than the end. That leaves me with Penric almost by default, but it’s a worthy choice – Bujold writes characters with such ease, although I find myself increasingly uncomfortable with taking her portrayals of cosy feudalism at face value.


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