Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Hugo Review: Best Novelette - "The Tomato Thief", by Ursula Vernon

"The Tomato Thief", by Ursula Vernon is about a woman determined to help others in the desert.

Ah, Ursula Vernon. One of my favorite writers now. This story revisits a character from Jackalope Wives, a great story if you haven't read it. However, it stands completely on its own with references to the events of the former story lending a little flavor. Quite a few of Vernon's stories are like folk tales you might tell around a fire late at night - you aren't expected to take it too seriously or believe every word, but on the other hand, you know the events happened because the story is being told. It feels very real and American to me. The Grandma Harken stories are set in a desert which hasn't quite left the Old West behind, and a world in which the environment plays a much bigger part of life than in ours.

The good: This story is tightly plotted, with Grandma just wanting a ripe tomato fresh from the vine, only to fall into an adventure when the ripe ones disappear. The train-gods were just... wow. Amazing history and oddly fun. Or course a universe that has jackalopes would have trains that are more than trains. I love the way they are capricious gods, but very good about delivering letters, which they consider to be prayers. As usual, Grandma herself is a fantastic character who knows a lot about a lot of different things, and the introduction of Anna was more perfect than I expected. I also liked the big bad and was amused how Grandma finally dealt with the problem - it always pays to follow the rules of the desert.

The bad: I suppose, if I'm really reaching for a nit to pick, then I'd ask why the big bad wanted the tomatoes. However, that's a seriously silly nit.

Conclusion: An excellent story, as is usual from Vernon, and definitely at the top of my ballot now. We'll have to see if either of the other two I'm going to read can knock it out of first place.

Best Novelette: I've read "The Art of Space Travel", "You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay", and "The Tomato Thief". I need to read "The Jewel and Her Lapidary" and "Touring with the Alien". I do not plan on reading the sixth finalist.