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Painted Space

Hugo Reviews 2021: Novelettes and Short Stories

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

Note: I'll try to avoid major spoilers here, and will talk generally about the stories nominated for the 2021 Hugos. You may intuit some plot points as I do so.

Current Novelettes List:

#1 - The Pill – Meg Elison

#2 - Burn, or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super – A.T. GreenBlatt

#3 - The Inaccessibility of Heaven – Aliette de Bodard

#4 - Monster – Naomi Kritzer

#5 - Two Truths and a Lie – Sarah Pinsker

#6 - Helicopter Story – Isabel Fall

Current Short Stories List:

#1 - Metal Like Blood in the Dark – T. Kingfisher

#2 - Open House on Haunted Hill – John Wiswell

#3 - A Guide for Working Breeds – Vina Jie-Min Prasad

#4 - The Mermaid Astronaut – Yoon Ha Lee

#5 - Little Free Library – Naomi Kritzer

#6 - Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse – Rae Carson


The Pill – Meg Elison

I felt like this story was exactly what Hugo-worthy SFF should be: thought provoking, true enough to life to make you squirm, and with elements of both sadness and hope. The story revolves about a pill to almost magically make people thin, but with some side effects. The protagonist's inner thoughts about how being fat is regarded by society is spot on, and I was happy to read a solid stance on how all people can be regarded as beautiful. The last section of the story got a little weird, but I think only because we don't normally see stories about very large people and how they deal with the world when it's not made for them. For the protagonist to be able to enjoy what some might consider a restricted position was a very mature and resonating result.

Rating: 1 of 6

Burn, or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super – A.T. GreenBlatt

This is a great novelette about the real-life consequences of being a superhero. I really enjoyed the day to day ramifications and what was a far more likely response to people developing super abilities. Very nice character building in this as well.

Rating: 2 of 6

The Inaccessibility of Heaven – Aliette de Bodard

Another really cool story from de Bodard, about humans and fallen angels in a city where someone is murdering the Fallen. The execution and characters are really vivid in this story, but I felt a little thrown into things as this starts so much into the story that I stopped to look up if this was part of a larger series. There are references to past events that seem to beg for the reader to read that story, and some facts are introduced as if reminding the reader of a first book they'd read before. Still very enjoyable, however.

Rating: 3 of 6

Monster – Naomi Kritzer

This was an engaging story, but without many evident SFF elements until later on in the story, and even then, I think it could work as a pure thriller rather than a SF story. The presentation of the characters was well done, telling how the main character grew up, but I felt like reasons for the change when the antagonist was revealed were a little shallow. Still a good story, but not quite as good as several of the others in this category for the Hugo.

Rating: 4 of 6

Two Truths and a Lie – Sarah Pinsker

I enjoy almost everything Pinsker writes. Her stories are atmospheric, creepy, and thought provoking. This one however, took a bit to get off the ground, and for a novelette, there's even a whole page of repeated text, which I found a bit of a waste of space. Overall, I thought it was a little scattered in intent, and I didn't completely understand how the ending worked with the rest of the story. That said, the prose itself was clear and evocative, and the characters were well rounded for such a short story.

Rating: 5 of 6

Helicopter Story – Isabel Fall

I was tangentially aware of all the controversy surrounding this story, so tried to go in with a fresh perspective. I think the author does get the point across of describing a gender, which is a hard thing to do, but I also think the story could have been a lot clearer as an allegory. The choice of topic seemed to make the concept more difficult to understand, and several of the lines seemed to invite disagreement or at least involved discussion.

Overall an interesting piece, but I'm not sure it achieves the desired goal.

Rating: 6 of 6

Short Stories

Metal Like Blood in the Dark – T. Kingfisher

This was an amazing scifi short story about two robot AI's dealing with how they explore the universe and finding the difference between honesty and untruths. Awesome setting, great characters, and a very tight story with layered worldbuilding that left me wanting more in the universe. A very high contender for my top pick.

Rating: 1 of 6

Open House on Haunted Hill – John Wiswell

This is the more heartwarming horror story I've ever read. Told from the POV of a haunted house during an open house. I don't want to say more to not spoil anything, but the characters in this story (including the house) are excellent, conveying a lot of emotion in few words. Very enjoyable.

Rating: 2 of 6

A Guide for Working Breeds – Vina Jie-Min Prasad

This was a very cool and heartwarming story and robots and dogs. Pay no attention to the killing machines. I was chuckling to myself at the end, and I really enjoyed the whole thing.

Rating: 3 of 6

The Mermaid Astronaut – Yoon Ha Lee

An interesting science-fantasy take on The Little Mermaid, following the titular character's journey to the stars. The only small nitpick I have with the story was that it was sort of in the middle space between a short story and a novelette. I would have liked it to be either slightly shorter and tighter, or to expand on the story just a bit. Overall, very enjoyable, though.

Rating: 4 of 6

Little Free Library – Naomi Kritzer

This was a very cool little story about who you might entice to take your books, if you set up a little free library. My only complaint (trying to avoid spoilers) is the story ended without any real resolution on how the final twist would play out. I would have liked one or two more sentences on what might happen.

Rating: 5 of 6

Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse – Rae Carson

This is a gritty story about how life goes on in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. I hadn't really thought about childbirth if zombies are drawn by blood, but this was a cool concept with a rewarding ending.

Rating: 6 of 6

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