You might think that just because the Hugo awards have only six finalists, that means I should only review those six short stories. Bah! I’m a rebel, and I bow to no Law, no matter how clearly logical and sensical it may be. If I see a “No spitting here” sign, I spit on it, and if I see a list of six nominees, I metaphorically spit on it as well and then review the seventh story that wasn’t even nominated. That’s especially apt if that story is a kind of a review of some of the other stories. How more meta can you get? And isn’t that what Hugos are all about?
In any event, what short story deserves my Super Secret Easter Egg Short Stort Hugo Award? “HUGO BAIT” the latest work by E. Reagan Wright, the eh… special mind behind Shitlord the Triggering, an OSR retro-clone.
But while StT was as subtle as being repeatedly hit over the head with a hammer (and equally funny as long as you are not the victim,) Hugo Bait shows that Reagan Wright can excel at many styles and genres. Well, at two at least.
First of all, let’s get over with the required formal analysis. Although it’s not possible to separate the literary mannerisms the author used from its parodic purpose, I believe his writing is competent if not great. It’s not supposed to be a pleasant or straightforward reading (what are you, a reader of pulps or something?) though. If I have any complaint, it’s that I saw many unhyphenated compound adjectives. Also, perhaps the final paragraph is too much in-your-face and, in I had written it, I would not have broken character (well, narrator.)
On to more important things. If you read the Amazon blurb of the book, you’ll get a good idea of what the “””story””” is all about. Which is a pity, because I read this short story (novelette?) going blind, after having pre-ordered it without even bothering to read the description, something that made my reading experience even more disturbing and, therefore, good. Still, I presume most of you have better impulse control than I, and if you are reading this that means you probably want to know *something* about the book, so a slight explanation or synopsis might be expected.
It’s more than that, but the most obvious reading is that “Hugo bait” is a parody of the short stories that tend to be nominated for Hugo Awards. In fact, there are some allusions and references to this year’s finalists, most notably, The City born great (e.g. the idea of the protagonist being a homeless boy under the tutelage of a weird gay man,) “A first in permutations…“, and Our Talons can Crush Galaxies:
“A bright spark of hope -so alien and fiery- bloomed in your heart. You crushed it as you would as an insect or a galaxy.”
The story is windy, smug, nihilistic, drenched in misery porn and clogged with sentimental solipsism, with barely any real plot, and with a “God-like” protagonist with more emotional problems than a 16-year-old social-media-addicted teenager. Naturally, this makes it the more Hugo-worthy story of this year.
The protagonist, Hugo, is a mysterious and god-like alien —but who happens to look, think, and behave exactly like a human— who always forgets to use those hinted powers, a theme that appeared repeatedly in the other Hugo finalists. Meanwhile, the narrator has a strong affinity for overwrought sentences and nonsensical but poetic descriptions, with adjectives and nouns appended together with the sole purpose of giving the impression of lyricism and emotional depth:
“You were born in a maelstrom of fire and thunder that shook the foundations of the earth.”
What does that even mean? Who knows, but it’s deep, fiery, and powerful and, therefore, great.
It’s notable that, in my first reading, I was so engrossed by this thing that I failed to realize it was written using a second person narrator. That’s the first time that has ever happened. It’s a great choice, though, because any sophisticated writer knows that 3rd or 1st person narrators are for chumps, rednecks, and fascists. Only a second-person narrator can transmit the never-ending waves of smug arrogance, ennui, and narcissism that elevate vulgar sci-fi into Art.
Going back to the plot, Hugo, after the required and necessary descriptions of abuse, misery, and urban hopelessness, is adopted by a man described as a bulky “dark skinned man” with a “Santa’s beard” and “dead smiling eyes.” He isn’t mentioned by name, but we’ll call him Samuel D. No, that’s too obvious, let’s call him S. Delany. Yes, that’s better.
In any event, the big D introduces Hugo to a clique of leering and soulless science fiction writers that will use and abuse poor Hugo, literally, metaphorically, and symbolically (so many layers of interpretation!) Apparently, being the psychic and spiritual vampires that they are, they use the boy as a “source” of inspiration to write their award-winning pieces. But all good things have to end, and when Hugo becomes too old, and by old I mean “old” by the standards of your average Ancient Greek pervert, he is thrown out into the streets once again, where he will be tempted by the demonic teachings of that “man on the tree.”
Then, Hugo, still with a very twisted and broken mind (literature!) has to wander the wasteland of an uncaring world until… well, you’ll have to read the rest of the story to discover it. But, come on, this is a bait for a Hugo Award, we all know how this is going to end (protip: not well.)
“Wait a moment,” you might be thinking, “that looks like some sort of a plot, but does this story has any real and coherent plot, with character development, a beginning, a middle, and an end, or you know, a point, a challenge to overcome or at least something that merits the SFF label?” What a silly question! Science fiction or fantasy is not about fiction, science, or even fantasy! What kind of unimaginative and literalist dork are you? SFF is just another domain for literary souls to write about themselves, their feelings, and broadcast their own uniqueness to the world. A plot, characters, or even a “point” are artificial contrivances that limit artists’ creativity. The only thing you need to know about these stories is that they were written by, for, and about people with deep and damaged, and therefore superior souls.
And for that reason, I give this story with the most broken protagonist imaginable, the most incoherent plot devices, the greatest excesses of misery literature I have read in a long time, and the greatest number of meta and ironic layers, my Secret Hugo Award of Hugo Awesomeness.