Friday, June 02, 2017

A Hugo Review: Best Novella - The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle

The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle is about helplessness corrupting a good man.

This past summer I finally finished reading the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft. I found most of his works to be overblown and a bit silly, with lots of good bits and an unhealthy dose of early twentieth century racism. The racism was annoying, as it marred what were otherwise pretty fun horror stories. This tale takes "The Horror at Red Hook" and turns it around, making the main character a young black man just trying to get by in a difficult world through his unique form of busking. Through a series of connected events, the hero is pushed beyond the limits of human endurance and into blind hate.

The good: Turning the racism around is an excellent way to deconstruct Lovecraft. The protagonist is compelling, he talks a good talk and seems like a good man that folks wouldn't mind hanging out with - until the murder. His change is understandable but terrifying. I also liked the time jump, which wasn't pushed too hard, but tied the beginning and the ending together nicely. The whole story is a powerful parable about racism, without being preachy, in my opinion.

The bad: I found the eyelid thing to be a bit too much for me. I don't know why that was where I draw the line, but that was the only bit that really made me cringe.

Conclusion: I liked this story, just not quite as much as I enjoy the Penric tale. I can't say this was mind-twisting, and it didn't give me joy (in fact, I found myself wanting to beat up the corrupt murdering cops myself), but I did like it. It's currently second on my ballot.

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