Category: The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
Two items were included in the packet for Jason Cordova. The first is “Hill 142″, a short story set during World War I in a universe where giant animals are used as military assets: there’s a German unit riding enormous spiders facing off against Americans mounted on oversized lions. I feel like this premise would have worked better if the story had embraced its inherent silliness; instead it’s related with the same grim joylessness that characterizes many of the Puppy nominees. It’s ironic considering these are the people who claim to just want fun stories.
The other item in the packet is a full novel entitled Murder World: Kaiju Dawn and written in collaboration with Eric S. Brown. Since this is for Jason Cordova as best new author, it’s not clear how to judge a collaborative effort, but that would be more of a dilemma if this had been any good. It’s an Aliens-style plot where a team of soldiers go on a mission, monsters ensue, and the squad members get picked off one by one until a few survivors escape. The action takes place on the titular planet, which is infested with various deadly creatures—the word kaiju is used not in the usual Godzilla sense (although some in the book do qualify) but just synonymous with “monster”, which seemed unnecessary. The protagonists crash-land on the planet and have to fight their way through what amount to a bunch of random encounters before they can escape.
I generally like these kinds of stories (in addition to Aliens, see also Pitch Black, Cowboy Bebop‘s “Toys in the Attic”), but this one didn’t connect. The characters aren’t interesting or sympathetic enough for the reader to care when they get killed off, and the dialogue between them falls flat. The action scenes were muddled and the monsters, while certainly dangerous, weren’t presented in a particularly terrifying way. There’s a wholly unnecessary frame story in which various people are interviewed by the military after the fact, which breaks up the flow of the main narrative.
And then there was the fact that this book had never been anywhere near a copy editor. There was a typo, grammatical error, or jumbled sentence on nearly every page. I can only assume this was self-published, but there were two authors—weren’t they reading each other’s writing? Surely if anybody had taken a second look at what was written, these things would have been corrected. It makes the whole thing seem slapdash. I give my blog posts more attention than this!
Neither of the two stories in the packet make a strong case for Jason Cordova as a Campbell nominee. They’re both monster stories, but are lacking in the main elements that make a good monster story: a slow build-up of terror, imaginative creatures, characters that the reader cares about. At the same time, they have the seeds of a certain over-the-top gonzo style—Murder World! German hell-spiders!—but don’t embrace the spirit of fun that would really animate that kind of story. Combined with the laziness of the editing, it ends up a pretty poor showing.