Hugo Review – Best Novella – Silently and Very Fast

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 Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente.

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: Elefsis began “life” as a house control, computer system. When it links with Ceno, a young child, the two build a series of virtual realities, and Elefsis becomes sentient; a young Artificial Intelligence. As Elefsis’s bond is passed down, parent to child, over several generations, its virtual realities continue to grow and evolve, including mythologies of their own, as Elefsis matures. Now at an approximately late adolescent stage, Elefsis’s bond has been passed to Neva,who is yet to come to terms with it.

Plot: There’s not a huge amount of plot, it’s the birth and maturing of an AI, but it’s made up for in the way it’s subtly woven throughout the story.

Characters: The main character is Elefsis, and most (all?) descriptions and recollections are from its point of view. However, given it has been linked with several humans and shared virtual realities with them, it can often describe what humans were feeling, or take a third person omniscient point of view and describe the mythology of a virtual reality. We get Elefsis’s interpretation of how various humans have felt, and its emotions or syntheses of them. In particular, Elefsis’s interactions with Neva post link, and the way they explore each other and develop the link together is particularly poignant.

Scope: The scope of this is huge, a combination of Science Fiction and Fantasy mythology existing as a background for the birth of an AI, its interactions with human children and adults and its slow maturation. I’ve only read it once, but I’d recommend at least a second re-read to begin to understand all the nuances and mythology.

Writing: The writing is excellent, Valente does a brilliant job of describing the way an AI develops sentience and matures, particularly in hybrid with a human child, both learning and playing together.

Pacing: The first half of the novella seemed slow and disjointed, with apparently unrelated segments on  mythology. Whilst this makes sense later on in the novella, it may dissuade some readers from getting to that stage.

Other Comments: This novella definitely needs at least one re-read for the first half to make sense in the context of knowing the outcome, possibly two. I almost gave up about a third of the way in, but am very glad I didn’t.

Overall: Despite my general preference for plot driven rather than character driven stories, I think this has jumped to top contender for my Hugo vote. Whilst I didn’t find it as enjoyable a read as some of the other novellas, it has the scope, writing, and overall topic that makes it the most “worthy”, in my mind, so far.

Five Novellas reviewed, one to go. Last: Countdown by Mira Grant.



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)

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




Can robots do math? *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.