This was a much harder category to sort out than short stories because I didn’t love any of the novelettes, but I liked three of them and all five are at least adequate stories. I might rearrange those in the top three places before I actually finalize my vote, but at the moment, here’s how I sort them out:
1. And You Shall Know Her By the Trail of Dead by Brooke Bolander. This story has an extremely gritty tone. The main protagonist, Rhye, is a cyborg street-fighter whose vocabulary consists largely of variants of the word “fuck.” This suits the character, who has had a pretty tough life, and it sure gives a clear idea of the world she lives in, though for all we know the world itself might be generally pleasant if you move in different circles. On the other hand, while Rhye was clearly a total sociopath in her earlier life, she has actually come to care about her partner (Rack), which has made her a better person, although definitely no one I would want anywhere near me because she’s perfectly fine killing everyone else in the entire universe as far as the we can tell. Though as far as that goes, the two partners are surrounded by people whose deaths probably improve the world, so that works out. Rhye and Rack wind up sacrificing everything for each other, after which they pull off a surprisingly upbeat ending. I liked the story quite a bit.
2. Obits by Stephen King. This is a good, solid story that avoided all the things that normally annoy me about King’s writing. The story involves a guy who finds out that when he writes an obituary for a living person, they drop dead. The collateral damage that results is unforeseen — at least, I didn’t see it coming. If it had been me, though, I might have managed to come up with a little list . . . well, anyway, I liked the story. But when two stories are basically tied for me, when voting for the Hugo, I’ll tend to prefer a SF story over a fantasy story. So I’m inclined to put this one second.
3. What Price Humanity by David VanDyke. This story didn’t do anything unexpected imo — it’s a story about space warfare using human minds to guide missiles, and the people being so used don’t know they’re just brains in a box being sent on suicide missions. I’m pretty sure very few readers are surprised to find that out at the end; it’s obvious. But the story is also well written enough to be something of a page-turner.
4. Folding Beijing by Hao Jinfang. Okay, I see why this story got so much interest. It’s entirely a setting story, though. Hao Jinfang builds a unique dystopian setting for this story, which I was relieved to find has a happy ending. Nevertheless, I found the writing flat, the characters uninteresting, and the story anything but compelling.
5. Flashpoint Titan by Cheah Kai Wai. The Chinese certainly don’t get to be the good guys in Hugo stories this year, considering “Seven Kill Tiger” in the short story category and now “Folding Beijing” and “Flashpoint Titan.” Anyway, in this novelette, the Chinese attack Titan in a bid to become dominant in the solar system; the heroic Japanese and Americans defend Titan and prevent the Chinese from establishing economic and possibly political dominance. It’s a military action story with essentially no characterization; I couldn’t really get interested and might have missed some nuances.
I’m pretty sure that’s the order I’m going with, though if you disagree, feel free to argue! Maybe I’ll change my mind.