May 10th, 2015

The Hugo Ballot, Part 6: Novelettes

I feel like singing.  Really, I'm giddy.  I found a story on the ballot that's pretty decent.  Oh, what a beautiful morning….

Ahem.  Where was I?  Right, "The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale," by Rajnar Vajra.  It's from Analog, and it's a typical Analog story -- three EE (Exoplanetary Explorers) cadets get into a bar fight, and as punishment they are sent to a distant planet to help the scientists there dismantle their camp.  The scientists are returning home because they failed to establish contact with the planet's intelligent species.  On the journey over one of the cadets, Priam Galanis, asks for a chance to salvage the project, and his superior grants him his request but with one condition: "If you can offer nothing new and useful… I will consider your triad as having failed this mission… Upon our return to Earth, you will all be discharged from the EE."

This is how you do it, people.  Raise the stakes.  Give the characters something to be invested in.

On the way to their assignment the three of them study reports from the planet.  The narrator, Emily Asgari (sometimes Asari, so I'm not sure which one is correct), learns that the intelligent species looks something like a six-sided cow (she calls them hexacows), and that they're thought to be intelligent because they wear metallic bracelets that pick up and receive radio signals.

I'm about the farthest thing from a hard-science writer, but if there are microelectronics on this planet wouldn't there be mining operations and metal smelting and power plants and factories, some kind of obvious infrastructure that would give the scientists a clue as to what's going on?  And if the hexacows have gotten as far as electronic technology, wouldn't they make other things besides the bracelets?

Still, like I said, the story isn't bad.  The cadets solve the mystery, and are put in even worse danger, and then figure a way out of that as well.  As the subtitle says, this is a Golden Age Tale, the kind of thing that could have been published in Analog sixty or seventy years ago.

Well, with one exception.  The main character is a woman with Iranian parents, and John W. Campbell would probably have sent the would-be author home with instructions to made her a white male, and to change his own name while he was at it.  (Campbell is on record as rejecting the serialization of Samuel Delany's Nova because it had a black protagonist, so I don't think this is speculation is terribly far-fetched.)

There are other non-white or non-male characters here as well, and I can't help but wonder why the Sad Puppies, with their dislike of stories featuring diverse casts, selected this one out of all the stories published last year.  Even stranger, the story turns on a Persian parable Cadet Asari's (Asgari's?) father told her.  In it, someone who has been to heaven and hell reports that in both places there are tables filled with fabulous feasts, but that the people only have long forks, so long that no one can feed themselves.  In hell, the people starve, but in heaven, the people have learned to feed each other.

Cooperation?  Altruism?  Isn't that sort of, well, socialist?  I can't get a grip on these Puppy choices.  There doesn't seem to be any pattern, any guiding philosophy.

"The Triple Sun" is competent, even fun, but I don't think it's Hugo-worthy.  It's not extraordinary, it  doesn't do anything that hundreds of other Analog stories haven't done over the years.  If we're using the sock metric, well, I have to say my socks were definitely loosened, but the story didn't manage to knock them off.