You know, I don’t think I’m going to nominate this one. And I’m glad I didn’t pay any money to purchase it, either.
“Flow” is the story of a young Arctic tribesman, who accompanies a trading mission to the “Warm Lands” and sees many fascinating sights – quite an accomplishment, apparently, since the Arctic people are all so farsighted that they cannot see anything clearly up close, and thus their written language consists of a form of Braille carved into sticks. And not a standardized form either – each family of “Readers” has its own distinct dialect for their “archives.”
The only science fiction involved is firmly in the background – the world is apparently post-Apocalyptic, and there are inhabitants on the Moon – not that the people on the Earth know about that, since they’re stuck on some kind of Medieval-ish technology level, worshiping the Sun and Moon and making up stories about how the Moon bases are necklaces that the Sun gave the Moon goddess.
So that’s the real big strike one. I’m sorry, but post-Apocalypse with sci-fi flavoring in the background doesn’t reeeeeeeeeeeeally count, to my mind, as science fiction any more than the pasted-on bits of fantasy in Wakulla Springs qualified that work as fantasy in last year’s Hugo reading. But I could overlook that issue if it weren’t for the part where the plot sucked. This novella is not actually a story – it’s more like a bit of polished-up world-development notes for some other story that the author decided to publish. Or conceivably, it’s the slow beginning to a larger novel.
There’s a lot of “Omigosh! Look at that! A different culture!!!!! It’s so amazing!” from the main character, who is definitely Curious Country Bumpkin Visiting City, and then remarkably, nothing actually happens. Oh, there’s a pretend plot there, wherein Country Bumpkin Tourist and his Trader pal steal a high-tech relic from the Sun priesthood, and get into trouble; Country Bumpkin gets separated from the trading mission with no way to find them or to find the Super Sekrit Traders’ Way Home, and nearly falls off a gigantic cliff to his death. The resolution is apparently for Country Bumpkin to decide to be A Brave Explorer! and use his stolen high-tech-relic rope-of-the-Gods to climb down the cliff. I’m not entirely sure we’re supposed to think he makes it, because (a) the Sun Priesthood’s forces refuse to go anywhere near that cliff, presumably for a good reason, and (b) when Country Bumpkin/Brave Explorer! signals into the mist of the waterfall with a mirror, he gets a signal in return… that appears to be delivered via sniper rifle laser.
The plot starts out by promising something along the lines of Explorer-Returns-Home-And-Shares-Knowledge. It doesn’t deliver. There’s no satisfying resolution at the end of the story. Just a lot of Country Bumpkin making discoveries, handing his archive-stick to his Trader friend, and then haring off into the unknown. Pointlessly, and with a large probability of getting himself shot to death shortly after the story ends.
I feel cheated. I do not read sci-fi or fantasy for Slice of Life. Which is what genre this novella actually belongs to. Just like Wakulla Springs. I could understand that sort of structure for one of the shorter story categories, but at novella length I expect actual plot with a resolution and not some kind of mutant daytime soaps type story with no actual tying-off of plot threads at the end of the thing. I mean, it’s so bad, the story ended with a literal cliffhanger, and I found my “caring for the fate of the main character,” which was already quite low, suddenly dropping to zero. Does he live? Does he die? I really don’t care; reading “Flow” was a waste of my time.
The Rabid Puppies slate has two more works in the Novella category than the Sad Puppies 3 slate, both by John C. Wright. “Pale Realms of Shade” is excellent, and “The Plural of of Helen of Troy” is very good, though I think it’s better when read as part of City Beyond Time – it plays off of “Murder in Metachronopolis.” (Just as Opera Vita Aeterna from Sad Puppies 2 was better when read by someone who’d also read Summa Elvetica.)
That means I have four out of five potential works already lined up: with “Flow” getting kicked off my ballot because I really, really didn’t like it. (I liked parts of it, sure, but as a whole it is distinctly lacking.) I’ll have to see what other works are getting mentioned for that category and give them a look-see if I’ve got time. I picked up The Dark Between The Stars at the same time as the relevant issues of Analog, and that thing is a doorstopper! I’m probably going to read the shorter works from Analog first, though.
EDIT: After having read “The Journeyman: The Stone House,” I figured out why I really hate “Flow.” It’s a failed Bildungsroman. The main character experiences no significant growth by the end of the tale. Ergo, my feeling that the entire thing was pointless after having read it.