My two least favorite of the novella nominees are both by writers for whom I have great respect, so I readily concede that I may have missed something. Memorare by Gene Wolfe started with an interesting premise, exploring asteroids carved into elaborate memorials, some of which are booby-trapped, but went off in a direction – the protagonist unexpectedly bumps into his ex-wife in space and they enter a surreal hollow asteroid together – that I found uninteresting and contrived. Recovering Apollo 8 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a little piece of nostalgia, centering on a rich man’s obsession with recovering the corpses of the Apollo 8 astronauts from space. This is alternate history, as in real life Apollo 8 returned safely to Earth. I somehow missed the point of the exercise, and found the whole story rather tedious.
The other three nominated novellas are all very good, although I have to put Lucius Shepard’s Stars Seen Through Stone third out of the three, because the science fictional element seems disconnected from the rest of the tale. It feels as if Shepard wanted to tell a humorous story about a music producer working with a talented but personally unappealing artist, but had to throw in some space aliens so he could sell the story to F&SF.
All Seated on the Ground, in which choir music is the key to communicating with aliens, does not rank with my favorite Connie Willis pieces, as I found the first two-thirds of the story overlong and repetitive. Still, it has Connie Willis’s trademark wit, and things come together so nicely by the end that the tale well rewards the patience required at the beginning.
My favorite of the nominees for best novella is The Fountain of Age by Nancy Kress. Kress is for me an inconsistent writer, producing some stories I enjoy very much and others that leave me cold, but she was on when she wrote The Fountain of Age, in which a wealthy old man searches for his lost love, whose blood was the key to creating a futuristic Hobson’s Choice: stop aging for twenty years, but with certain death waiting at the end of that period. I found this to be very much an award-caliber story, effective on both an emotional and intellectual level.
1. Nancy Kress – The Fountain of Age
2. Connie Willis – All Seated on the Ground
3. Lucius Shepard – Stars Seen Through Stone
4. Kristine Kathryn Rusch – Recovering Apollo 8
5. Gene Wolfe – Memorare