Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Hugo Review: Best Novella - This Census-Taker by China Miéville

This Census-Taker by China Miéville is about a boy and a history that created a horrible future for him before he was born.

My first reaction after reading this was annoyance at the dangling plot threads that I felt hadn't been addressed properly. Then I thought that maybe they'd been addressed, but I'd missed them and would have to reread to find them. Then I thought that I really didn't want to reread this story, since I didn't like it much in the first place. Then I spent a difficult night of restless sleep, and every once in awhile my thoughts turned back to the story and started to oozily fill in the blanks, until by morning I felt like I'd read a different story than the one I didn't like.

The good: There's almost a murder mystery, and I think by the end we know it's solved. But more than that, there's a mystery about what exactly this world is and how the father does his work. Is this a world of magic? Is there some advanced technology involved? What, exactly, is the job of the census-taker (who only shows up toward the end, really)?

The bad: The bad about this is exactly the same as the good. There's a lot of mystery because we're being told a tale sideways by a person who was a child when the biggest parts happened, and who doesn't have a completely clear memory of it all. And while there is a lot of mystery, it feels like huge chunks of the story and of the world-making are missing - maybe not deliberately - which pulls me away from the tale and frustrates me.

Conclusion: This is a story that really ought to be discussed with others. It's a story that leaves itself open to interpretation. I can't say I love it, but it grew on me despite myself. Still, it's earned the bottom spot on my ballot for now.

Best Novella: I've read Penric and the Shaman, Every Heart a Doorway, This Census-Taker, and The Ballad of Black Tom. I need to read The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, and A Taste of Honey.