Crazy Hugo Project: The Novellas

Well…I read the Novellas. One of them I borrowed from the Grad way back in the spring, one of them I borrowed from Badmovie, three of them only exist as parts of books of short stories and one of them is a book unto itself that I have digitally. So because the Grad book went back and the badmovie book went back and I never had the third book in an actual book form and the rest I read digitally, I photographed Little Kitty at the computer. I set the computer in front of her and went to get the camera, the cuteness pose was all her doing.

In order of reading, here are the novellas.

Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow
This book I read even before the Crazy Hugo Project was a twinkling in my eye because it was featured on Scalzi’s site and the title and cover looked cool. Plus the Grad had it so I ordered it up. Then I read it.

The story is set in mid 1980 but it’s about Sims Thorley, a washed up 40s horror actor writing his memoirs about his best acting job that he can never tell anyone about. Then he plans on jumping out of the 20 story hotel window, which is humorously addressed given the fact that the whole thing is written in first person. Supposedly, near the end of World War II, the government had two projects going to bring about the surrender of the Japanese. One was “The Physics project” which wasn’t going well and the other one is the “Knickerbocker project” which involves giant genetically engineered Kaiju. The Godzilla project has fewer glitches, however the powers that be would really rather scare the Japanese rather than unleash the reptilian horrors so they need to stage a demonstration with the dwarf Godzillas they’ve also bread. Sadly, the dwarfs are puppy dog friendly so they need a rubber suited actor to play the part convincingly so the Japanese will surrender. Enter Thorley.

What I liked about this story is that it’s very human. Sure the premise is a little crazy but at the heart of it all is Sims, who is a monster actor with some ego pride and a touch of irreverence towards the government. He has a rival, with whom he has a bit of a dust up that almost costs him the kaiju gig, and he also has a girlfriend, with whom he practices working out with the suit. This pleases the government people not as they really would like to keep the whole Godzilla project under strict secrecy.

The God Engines by John Scalzi
Speaking of Scalzi, here’s his contribution to the nominations. The first line of the book pretty much sets the tone: It was time to whip the god. In this futuresque theocracy, space travel is handled by enslaving gods and building star ships around them. The gods are coerced into bending space and getting the ships from point A to Point B (safely). The main character is a captain of a ship that is driven by a rather rebellious conquered god who occasionally has to be brought back in line. Unfortunately, the captain is tasked with the “great honor” of getting new souls for his god as his god needs more worship power to keep the gods it has enslaved under control and to fend off the gods it hasn’t enslaved who are not happy with the present power distribution. This can only be obtained by fresh souls that have never worshiped a god before. Handily, the high priests know of a fallow planet that the god has been keeping in reserve for just this instance. Sadly, this is also the event that makes the whole story go pear shaped.

I enjoyed how Scalzi played with religion in this story. Also, the story is darkly, darkly creepy. I had to think many happy thoughts after reading this (and drink beers as I started and finished it in one sitting at the brew pub). It’s good but CREEEEPY!

“Palimpsest” by Charles Stross
The good palimpsest! I read this at the same time as the book Palimpsest and what a difference. This was a time travel story about a particular branch of time travelers who are tasked with making sure human life never goes extinct on Earth. As is true to bureaucracy, they stick to their charge and go to great lengths to ensure life does not fizzle out on Earth, including moving the whole planet out a few orbits when the sun expands into its red giant phase, gutting and coring the sun to replace its inefficient fusion system with a black hole for more efficiency, moving the whole dang solar system out of the way of a galactic collision and of course plucking “seeds” of humanity from one time and reseeding a barren Earth at a later time. Why don’t they just colonize other planets? Because that’s not their charge!

Krazy. Anyway, the story follows a new recruit through his initiation (you have to kill your great grandfather), to graduation (just after graduating you have to go back to just before graduating and kill yourself) to the day job. Along the way he begins to wonder about little things that the time agency would rather he really not wonder about.

“Act One” by Nancy Kress
In the story Jane, an actress in the decline of her career, has got a lead for a role about someone who works with Arlen’s Syndrome children (children who’s genetic makeup has been tinkered with to make them more empathic). She and her dwarf manager go about doing research for the part, which includes interviewing the children affected by the gene engineering. They also visit the radical underground gene (terrorists) hackers whose goal is to produce as many Arlen’s Syndrome children as they can. Unbeknown to Jane and Barry, the agent, the undergound group also has another agenda involving gene therapy and normals.

This was a really short story that is obviously part of a bigger thread. It has some interesting issues of what is OK to tinker with and what isn’t OK to tinker with but it just didn’t grab me like the first three books did.

The Women of Nell Gwynne’s by Kage Baker
This story is a nice neat little Victorian plus (they have some scientific advances which are clearly not Victorian) intrigue dealie which I found amusing to read. It’s clearly an intro to the world of Nell Gwynne’s women through Beatrice, who is an aristocratic young tomboy British lady. Beatrice’s family is stationed in India as her father is a ranking member of the army. Her mother eventually goes back to England and stays there. Beatrice chooses to stay with her father even when things go badly. She is captured, escapes and returns to England since everyone else has died and the only family she has left is in England. Unfortunately, her survival is a blotch on the honor of the house (obviously she was a prostitute since no lady of any standing would have stayed in India) so they throw her out. Thus, the Lady Beatrice actually has to become a prostitute to support herself. I hate the Victorians.

Beatrice gets noticed by a member of the Gwynne fan club and invited into their secret circle to become a prostitute spy. The Gwynne’s use their feminine charm to entice secrets from high ranking men and then pass them on to the Gentleman’s club.

This was a fun read and I enjoyed it but it was also kind of…borderline? It reminded me a lot of a D&D game I played in where one person made these characters that we all just rolled our eyes at:
“Oooo! I am going to create a courtesan spy!”
“So your character is a prostitute?”
“NO! A Courtesan! Who is really good at her job! And a Spy!”

I think with a slightly less talented writer Nell Gwynne would have easily devolved into something like the Courtesan! Spy! and lots of people would have rolled their eyes and said “Whatever, hooker” and gone on. Perhaps some people might still roll their eyes at Nell Gwynne but I liked the read for whatever reason.

“Vishnu at the Cat Circus” by Ian McDonald
This was my last Novella and I just couldn’t get into the story. It is about future India, genetically enhancing children and the progression of artificial intelligence. Vishnu’s parents decide to have him “augmented” before he is even born with the genes for super intelligence, disease resistance, and longevity so when he is finally born he is one of the Indian super elite gene programmed children. This does not please his older brother, who was the golden child until super perfect Vishnu was born.

Shiva, the older brother, eventually goes into computer programming building tinier and tinier (and smarter and smarter) AIs until they are almost atomic level tiny and ubiquitous. Eventually, everyone who can afford it is connected digitally through these nanoAIs and “uploaded” into giant building sized memory banks to live virtually. Vishnu, on the other hand, focuses on social engineering and realizes that the haves and have nots will eventually clash. The current situation can not be allowed to continue and the story is mostly told in flashback up to the turning point of the situation.

I enjoyed the social introspection and the look at genetic tinkering and interdependence on AIs and it was a really well written story but it just didn’t click. I might have been a bit distracted while reading it so sorry if Vishnu didn’t get my best attention.

1. “Palimpsest”
2. Shambling Towards Hiroshima
3. The God Engines
4. “Vishnu at the Cat Circus”
5. The Women of Nell Gwynne’s
6. “Act One”

2009: JSFR: Men’s Bitter Chocolate Pocky

2008: I could get a decent used car for that price with enough change left over so that I could drive myself to an art museum to look at art.

2007: At about 9am, my sister called me saying “Hi!!!! Call in and play hooky with me today!! Let’s do Art Fair!!!”

2006: There was a short span of time in which I thought we were going to witness a blimp-cident. OH! The HUMANITY!

2005: Taking a breather here.

2004: JSFR: Chocolate Orange Pocky

2003: It’s the film degree. Really, it taught me to convincingly come up with sound arguments for the most ludicrous things.

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