This is the final nominee (Disregard that, I actually forgot not just to review another one, but actually to read it! There’s still one more story left) for this year’s short story Hugo Awards, A Catalog of Storms, by Fran Wilde. If you were expecting a roaring end to this review series, you are going to be disappointed.
Fran Wilde wrote years ago one of the few Hugo stories I actually liked, mostly due to its raw, angry energy and somewhat autobiographical content, but A Catalog of Storms has none of those things as far as I can see. To me, it feels like a by-the-book Hugo finalists: wandering, dreamy, with florid language, oozing with magic realism, and with barely any plot or real tension.
Basically, there are storms that threaten a town (or THE town because as far as I know it’s the only community in that world,) and there are people who can stop them, seemingly by becoming one with the weather, and these people first display such powers as children, so they have to leave their families and become clouds or whatever. The story follows two characters: a mother who doesn’t want to lose another child to become weathermen, and one of her daughters, who is starting to display such powers.
Despite how “unique” this story seems when described as such, I cannot but feel I have read it many times. The style, the beats, the language… even that thing about the weathermen becoming one with what they control. I have read that many, many times; it’s how most magic stories seem to go in the Hugos. In a Hugo story, one does not prepare a spell using arcane knowledge or forbidden, ancient formulas, one:
“When storms come, weathermen name it away. Yelling works too. So does diving straight into it and shattering it, but you can only do that once you’ve turned to wind and rain.”
It’s like I’m reading the same story all the time. One of the first stories I reviewed some years ago involved a boy yelling at a city and seemingly then bending it to his will by becoming one with it (whatever the hell that means.) And in here, which may very well be the last Hugo short story I will ever review, the same thing happens. But at least it’s not a woke allegory written by and for ethnonarcissits. And that’s a positive. As far as I can see, this is a lit-fic-bait Hugo story, not a woke-bait Hugo story.
Reading this one, I almost feel like I can see the list of items a Hugo-worthy “fantasy” story has to check:
-Mystical magic/Magic realism
-People waving their arms around and becoming one with what they wish to control. Or shouting/renaming at reality until it changes:
“the Mayor’s son shouted to the rain to stop before one of her speeches. And it did. Mumma’s aunt at the edge of town yelled back lightning once.”
-Adscription of human traits to natural phenomena or man-made objects:
“The storms got smarter than us… The wind and rain got used to winning. “
-Lack of normal punctuation and comma usage (too many to chose from)
And so on.
It’s a formula. I don’t know where they teach it, but since at least half of the nominees are Clarion Workshop students, you can take an informed guess.
I don’t want to say bad things about this story because it’s not “bad”, just dull.
And so end the Hugos for me, not with a bang, but dozing off. I feel drained. I’m going to take a nap.
One thought on “Reading the Hugos (2020): A Catalog of Storms”
“[T]he Mayor’s son shouted to the rain to stop before one of her speeches. And it did. Mumma’s aunt at the edge of town yelled back lightning once.”
When shouting at the rain doesn’t work, I heard that you can riot on the streets of the rain’s hometown or chase it with an Armalite rifle.
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