Hugo nominated Novelettes from Olde Heuvelt and Valente
Posted June 27, 2013on:
I’m slowly making my way through more Hugo nominations. The nominations for best novelette are:
- “The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
- “Fade To White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
- “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
- “In Sea-Salt Tears” by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
- “Rat-Catcher” by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)
Today I’ll talk about The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Dutch friends! Please help me with the correct pronunciation of his last name!) and Fade to White by Catherynne M. Valente.
The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Look is an especially odd child. He has no shadow. It’s not just that a shadow doesn’t form behind or under him, there isn’t one under his nose, or his chin, it’s that no darkness forms around him, as if the sun refuses to acknowledge his existence. He doesn’t have a reflection either, and can’t be filmed or photographed. The original invisible boy. Unless of course, you’re in the same room as him, and then there’s just a lonely child, seen by everyone but himself.
Look is the only weird kid at school until Splinter shows up and gives the bullies a new target. Splinter can’t help being the perfect fragile target for their verbal and physical abuse; he’s a boy made of glass, a child who reflects everything except himself.
From then on, this is a story about two high school best friends, who find trouble, goof off, tell their parents little white lies, and generally have a blast. Even though one is practically invisible and the other could be killed by a badly aimed softball. The boys finally have someone they can share jokes and secrets with.
Remember that one best friend you had as a kid? That person you could tell anything to, that person who would always have your back, no matter what? Within those conversations, there was no shame or fear, and no amount of real or assumed freakishness would push that person away. The best days our lives are the ones where we saw our best selves reflected in our best friends. Those are the days when anything is possible.
The Boy Who Cast No Shadow took a little bit to get going for me, but once it did I couldn’t stop reading it. It’s got some great twists and surprises, and it’s sure to make an impact on everyone who reads it. I like finding patterns in stories,it’s almost like listening for sound dynamics. Is there a pattern to the loud and the soft? How about a balance between action and slower times? It’s just a strange habit I have. The Boy who Cast no Shadow seems to follow a bell curve of sorts. Maybe you’ll get what I mean after you read it. On a related note, I refuse to believe Look is an unreliable narrator.
Fade to White, by Catherynne M. Valente
You can read this story for free, here.
In an alternate history America, President McCarthy has taken very good care of us after the terrible events of the War. If you’re not shuddering at that premise, I’ll take it you’re too young to know who McCarthy was.
Fade to White follows three related story lines: Martin, a young boy who enjoys sketching and yearns to grow up to raise a family of his own; Sylvie, a young woman who is mighty nervous about her upcoming betrothal, and a nameless advertising designer who is putting together notes and suggestions. There’s a lot going on in Fade to White.
Martin’s father’s work takes him far from home three weeks of the month, and Martin looks forward to the one week a month he has with his father. He knows his father’s work is stressful, so while dad is home there is no shouting, no horsing around with his morose older brother, just the best possible behavior. Martin needs to make a good impression, he is hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps. It won’t be long now before Martin is old enough to be a man. Not long now at all.
Sylvie still has hope she’ll be able to marry the young man she fancies. Doesn’t matter how they both test out, they both still hold out hope, as she and Clark sit in her garage watching old movies. But the day comes, when Sylvie has no choice but to put on the assigned white and red dress, use the assigned soap, do her hair the assigned and expected way, and line up with all the other young women her age.
Alternating with their stories, is that of the advertising designer, who leaves notes about what kind of people should be in the tv commercials or on the billboards (Fertile looking women, smiling caucasian children in sailor suits, husbands with pipes, the biggest garden cabbages you’ve ever seen. No, a bigger cabbage!)
I was uncomfortable reading this one, and it took me a little while to figure out why. Martin and Sylvie were born after the end of the war. They’ve been fed nothing but propaganda their whole life, and are so steeped in it that they think this life is normal. The propaganda isn’t the twist in the story, but serves as the worldbuilding. It doesn’t dawn on these kids to question what’s happening, they don’t think any of this is strange, and Martin is so looking forward to his future of servitude. A government that is so powerful and overbearing to turn people in this? And to make them come to enjoy it, look forward to it, and find it perfectly normal? That is what squicked me out.
Yes, it was the “government knows best” attitude of the children that freaked me out, not the real reason they each getting ready for a coming of age ceremony. Shouldn’t I have been more bothered by the huge chunks of the American West that are seas of radioactive glass? Shouldn’t I have been bothered when the advertising designer insists only Caucasian children be on the billboards? Shouldn’t I have been paying attention to the subtle references to Sylvie and Martin’s parent’s occupations? Shouldn’t the twist have hit me like a ton of bricks? Oh yes, I noticed all of that, and it was quite a brilliant twist. But I was most freaked out by children who had been trained from birth that this life is normal, by the entire society’s subservience to a totalitarian government.
I wouldn’t tag this one as a post 9/11 story, but it’s not that far of a leap, especially with the drastic cultural changes America has been through in the last 10 years. Like Martin’s father and Sylvie’s mother, we tell ourselves and our children this is just a means to an end, that it’s to protect our way of life. There is a good chance I may have read far more into this than Valente intended, but maybe not.
Stay tuned for more reviews of Hugo nominated works!