“The Day the World Turned Upside Down”
Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator
Category: Best Novelette
The premise here is that the world has literally turned upside down: the Earth’s gravity has reversed and everyone falls into the ceiling or just out into space. It’s handled in a magical-realism way where there’s no explanation or even coherent scientific story. (Definitely don’t try to think about the physics of this.) It’s a neat idea for a story that leads to some cool imagery and moments of both horror and beauty. You can see why it was nominated.
Unfortunately, the author takes this premise and wields it as an incredibly unsubtle metaphor for the protagonist’s breakup with his girlfriend. We start to get hit with this two pages in when he says, “It was the second time in two days that the world had come to an end,” and from then on we’re wallowing in his self-pity and anger.
It’s not even a bad metaphor! I’ve felt loss after a breakup that was like a yawning void that threatened to swallow me. To be out on a literal limb over the endless depths of the upside-down sky is a reasonable approximation. If the story had been more subtle about it, I think this could have worked really well. But here it’s over-the-top. Our hero describes his ex as the love of his life, but never mentions specific qualities he liked about her. His feelings are very possessive; he is consumed with jealousy even imagining other men with her. He suffers from major abandonment issues and somehow blames her for this.
To paraphrase Rupert Giles, the subtext in this story became the text. The main character is so fixated on the breakup that it takes center stage over the extinction-level catastrophe that is nominally the subject of the story. All the interesting ideas get drowned out by the guy’s moaning.
This was the one piece of short fiction not to come from one of the slates. Unfortunately, all this proves is that it’s not just the Puppies who nominate sub-par stories with misogynist overtones. I expect it from the Puppies, but I’d hoped for better from the rest of the Hugo voters.