Because this relates to my reading experience, I’m going to ask for your indulgence before I get into the review. Sometimes, I beta read novels for people. Since getting my Kindle, I absolutely abhor reading long manuscripts on my actual computer, so I request rich text documents, and I have a very specific rule: no headers, no page numbers, no NOTHING but the actual text itself. Because what happens when I convert it to the Kindle format, otherwise, is that while I’m reading, my reading is interrupted with those headers, those footers, and those page numbers, and if I’m going to be critical in the beta read, the last thing the author wants from me is my bitching about the format being distracting.
So when I had the ability to convert the .mobi file from my Hugo Voter’s packet to my Kindle, I jumped at the chance. Novellas are just LONG, and I don’t want to read them on the computer screen. However, I was barely into “Kiss Me Twice” when I thought Kowal was using the word “Asimovs” as a clever verb. I thought this because for some reason, I was convinced this story was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It didn’t take long for me to correct that assumption. Every few “pages” my reading would be interrupted with a page number, the publication name, the author’s name, the name of the story, and/or the date of publication. Which was a real jerk out of the story.
And then there were the hypens. You know, when a word isn’t going to fit on a single line in a document, but because of the full justification alignment, words get hyphenated where they wouldn’t be. Words like “en-trance” or “in-clude” and SO MANY OTHERS. Also? Line breaks between paragraphs, so I didn’t know if I was jumping to a new section or staying in the same one. Oh, and sometimes the sentence just stopped in the middle and moved to a new line.
So before I conclude my first world “problems,” let me clarify something: 1) I’m grateful for the Hugo Voter’s packet that allows me to read the nominations and vote accordingly. However, 2) it is NOT a free thing. Yes, it’s wildly discounted, but I still paid money for it. Furthermore, 3) I know I could have read this story for free online, and I know I could’ve opened the voter’s packet and chosen another format. But that would mean reading what’s essentially a 50 page story on my computer, which I’m trying to avoid. I can do it in shorter spurts, but longer pieces that I was to sit down and curl up with? Not cool.
Asimov’s didn’t have to offer the .mobi version of this story. But they did. And damn it, if they’re going to offer it, for the love of everything pure and good, please format the thing correctly. I’m not complaining because I couldn’t just enjoy this story: I’m complaining because I’m reading critically in order to determine what deserves the Hugo. The least you can do is make sure the story is formatted in a pleasing way that reduces distraction. Because if you aren’t going to format it properly, why offer the format?
Sure beats me.
At any rate, my brain was not a happy camper while reading. How negatively did it affect my enjoyment of the story? Honestly, the story is well-written (minus HORRIBLE FORMATTING ERRORS), and there were lines that caught my eye for their interesting description. This is only the second piece I’ve read by Kowal, and it’s been so long since I read the first that I originally forgot that “Kiss Me Twice,” wasn’t my first Kowal. At any rate. There’s some good stuff, craft-wise. In regards to world-building and themes, there were a lot of things that Kowal teased me with that I’d rather chase than the somewhat convoluted story I got instead. I don’t know if Kowal has any plans to expand this into a novel or at least use this story as a starting point for one, but there’s a love story here, an impossible one, and Kowal does a masterful job at showing us this without shoving it in our faces and going “Look! Impossible love story! Behold my genius!” and I’m glad for it. It also raised some interesting questions: Metta has a different relationship with every officer in the force, and how interesting is it that she’s likely a rather different person for each of those officers? Not just a different persona, but there’s that too. What a thing to explore, especially since others seem to be as obsessed with Metta as Huang is, but treat her quite differently.
My problems with the story itself happened as I kept getting lost in the case and how it related. Don’t get me wrong: I get it: that’s the mystery. But I’d be reading names and such and not remembering who those names belonged to: fellow cops or suspects or both. Or the deceased. That’s a problem. There’s also a distinct lack of setting in this tale. I don’t have a really good sense of place, and while Kowal’s not writing in a white room by any means, I don’t have a good sense of atmosphere, nor setting that influences it. It’s a dialogue-heavy story, which I don’t protest out of principle. It just left me lacking. I really expected this to be a stronger noir/SF mystery, and I don’t feel the story really lived up to that potential due to the lack of setting-influenced atmosphere. In some ways, I felt as though Metta’s and Huang’s short hand with classic film stars and movies was supposed to fill that blank, but if you’re like me and not really picking up on all those cues, you’re missing a larger chunk of the story, and that’s unfortunate.
So this is another novella where a reader’s mileage may vary. I like the premise and some of the themes of the piece (loved some of the police tech too. The ability to draw a composite sketch on site? AWESOME), but as a whole it didn’t work for me, and while I’m not sure how badly the format contributed to my inability to connect, it didn’t help. But let’s end this review on a good note, shall we? Quotes are good, especially so you can see one of those descriptive passages that stood out to me:
Even with six centimeter heels, Mrs. Patterson stood no more than 165 centimeters, but with the confidence of a much taller woman. She paused in the doorway, regarding Huang like a cat. Then she smiled and flowed forward with her hand extended.
Her blonde hair was almost white; even her eyebrows were so light they almost disappeared. The only color on her face was her eyes. They were like bruises, red with weeping, and ringed with dark circles.