Edward M. Lerner
Category: Best Novelette
As I read this story I began to wonder how the author was going to wrap up all the plot threads in novelette length. Sabotage, disappearances, two separate alien conspiracies—could they all connect at the end? And then, just when things were about to happen, it just stopped. Realization dawned as I looked up the author’s other work—there’s a novel out this year incorporating this material. It’s basically a Kindle sample chapter for the full-length version.
And what we get here is mostly exposition, delivered by long conversations between characters in which nothing else happens, or by fake future-Wikipedia entries. (Sourced from “Internetopedia”, which, come on.) This latter device is almost as bad as As You Know, Bob. It doesn’t have to be this way! Look at the first few chapters of Ancillary Justice for how to start a space opera without resorting to giant infodumps.
All the world-building and setup for a plot that never arrives doesn’t leave much room for characterization. When it does occur, the traits displayed by the characters sometimes directly contradict what we’re told about: one person described as a “flaming extrovert” speaks only a handful of monosyllabic words at a time; an alien spy who’s been in deep cover for centuries takes no cautionary measures once he appears in the story, and is almost immediately in danger of capture as a result.
The writing is competent, and I think I would have enjoyed the full novel better than, say, The Dark Between the Stars. But this is literally the minimum possible praise, and what we got here wasn’t even a full story, just a fragment of one. If it was really intriguing or brimming over with fresh ideas, I could see nominating it for a Hugo anyway. But it looks like a standard space opera, and since I’m not interested enough to seek out the rest of the story, it fails even as a teaser. Mainly I’m just annoyed by the cliffhanger ending. I guess I can always go read what happens on the Internetopedia.