Hugo Review – Best Novella – Kiss Me Twice

As I previously mentioned, I’m attempting to consume as much of the 2012 Hugo Short Listed works in order to make an informed vote.

I  am now on to the category of Best Novella.

This is my review of Kiss Me Twice by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Note, this review is obviously subjective and most definitely biased, based on the topics and style of writing which interest and entertain me.

This review may contain SPOILERS.

Synopsis: Detective Scott Huang and his AI partner, Metta (who presents to Huang with a Mae West persona), are investigating a murder, when Metta’s chassis is kidnapped. Restored from backup onto a new chassis, Metta and Huang attempt to solve both cases, whilst someone uses the original Metta chassis to try and corrupt the new Metta and throw Huang off the scent.

Plot: Kiss me Twice is at heart a police procedural, and the plot is formed around the investigation of two apparently separate cases which end up being related. Despite the simplicity and almost formulaic nature of the plot, it’s executed well, with an unexpected twist or two along the way.

Characters: We follow two main characters, Detective Scott Huang, and the Mae West persona of Metta, the Police Department’s Artificial Intelligence. Both are well written, and the interaction between the two gives us useful insights into both. Despite being a short novella, we’re also given insight into a couple of Huang’s colleagues, and his mother whom he lives with, for no real plot reason, but to provide an opportunity to see Huang and Metta interact with others, and develop their characters.

Scope: The novella has a fairly narrow scope, it’s set in the near future with the addition of AIs. Kowal makes the most of this, with the occasional reference to AI rights, and some of the technology which allows the AIs to communicate, from earbud & glasses, to stand alone display nodes. Despite this narrow scope, there’s never a real sense of it in the novella, we’re left with the impression that this is just one detective on a couple of cases in a single city, and there’s a world full of other stuff going on elsewhere.

Writing: The writing worked well, nothing jarred me out of the novella, and I found myself wanting to read just another page before taking a break, which I consider the sign of a good story. In particular, the writing of  the Metta and Huang conversations is well done, with Metta’s use of Mae West quotes adding a nice touch of humanity to the AI and some needed comedic relief to the story.

Pacing: The story was well paced, it opened with the approach to a crime scene, took us straight into it, then hit us with Metta’s kidnapping before we had time to get bored. It was then a progression of investigation and leads building the suspense until the final encounter and resolution.

Other Comments: Without going into too much detail, I thought the resolution of the case relied a bit too much on good luck, rather than thorough investigation and insight. That’s apparently not unheard of in police investigations though, so I’m willing to give that one a pass. Kudos also have to be allocated for the last line of the novella, from which it derived its name, and the way it ended the story with a chuckle.

Overall: I’m  a bit of a sucker for a police procedural, and very much enjoyed Kiss me Twice. Other than the investigation itself, the Huang and Metta interactions were well written and entertaining to read. Although disappointed when the novella finished, it was from a desire to read more, rather than any dissatisfaction with what I’d read. Although this is only the second of the six novellas I’ve read, the others have a high bar to meet!

Two Novellas reviewed, four to go. Next: The Man Who Bridged the Mist by Kij Johnson.



Best Novella Background Material:

Short listed in the Best Novella category for the 2012 Hugos are:

Countdown, Mira Grant (Orbit)
The Ice Owl, Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
Kiss Me Twice, Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s)
The Man Who Bridged the Mist, Kij Johnson (Asimov’s)
The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary, Ken Liu (Panverse 3)
Silently and Very Fast, Catherynne M. Valente (WSFA)

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