Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Thoughts on Hugo Nominees 2008: Novels

The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon
Brasyl by Ian McDonald
Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer
The Last Colony by John Scalzi
Halting State by Charles Stross

When I first read The Last Colony earlier in 2007 I was quite enamored with the book. It was a chance to read about John Perry, Jane Sagan, and get another story in the OMW universe. Delightful. Time has been slightly less kind to my memories of The Last Colony than I am comfortable with. I need to trust my initial impressions, but unlike Scalzi’s other work (Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Android’s Dream), I have fewer warm fuzzies in retrospect. This is simply to say that I don’t think The Last Colony had quite as much meat as its predecessors. Or, maybe it is that the meat had a different flavor, because there was a bit more action and military interaction in the first two volumes, and this is colonists abandoned to their fate. But with everything that I am writing here about how my memory of The Last Colony does not hold up, I still need to go back to my initial review of the book last year. In that initial review, I was quite positive and full of praise.

Compared to The Last Colony, Robert J. Sawyer’s novel Rollback benefited from a much fresher perspective. I finished Rollback on May 5, and all the warm fuzzies I feel for Rollback are still fresh in my mind. This was the first novel from Sawyer I have read and despite having encountered negative opinions of both Sawyer and Rollback (along the lines of it being another damn Sawyer novel), I was quickly engrossed in the novel. Basically, Rollback is two stories in one. First is that of an elderly Don and Sarah Halifax. Sarah Halifax, 38 years ago, was the first to decode the first contact message from another planet 18.8 light years away. Now that Sarah is in her eighties, Earth has received a response to their reply. The man essentially bankrolling SETI believes that Sarah should continue to be involved in the communication, but she is nearing the end of her lifespan. Wealthy Man recommends a rollback procedure, and extremely expensive and relatively new procedure which can quite literally reverse the aging process and give the recipient another 60 years of life. Sarah insists that her husband Don, not a scientist, also receive the procedure. The procedure works on Don, but not Sarah. Now what? The other half of the story is Sarah’s first decoding the original response. There are big ideas in Rollback dealing with science, morality of aging, ethics, what sort of communication we would really receive from another planet, and family responsibility. While what the novel is about is important, it is less important than how Sawyer tells the story. Let me tell you that Sawyer tells it well. Rollback is smooth reading, flowing from chapter to chapter, idea to idea, until before you know it, you’re halfway done with the novel. Oh, and Rollback barely clocks in at more than 300 pages. Not only was I impressed with Rollback on its own terms, now I want to go find more of Sawyer’s work because I like what he’s doing here and I want more of it.

Usually, if I only read two of the five nominees in a category, I won’t write about that category. This is why I skipped the Novel category for my Nebula reviews. The Hugo Novels are different. I may only have finished two of them, but I attempted another two, and that gives me enough to discuss.

I previously posted about why I stopped reading Halting State and why I quit The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. The more I think about it, the less I want to go back and read Halting State. I knew I was done with that book when I closed the cover. I like maybe half of Stross’s work and this doesn’t fall into the half I appreciate. I still believe I need more time before I go back to The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. There have been books I came back to later and appreciated more the second time around, though, to be honest, I can’t remember when this occurred. Given that I gave both Halting State and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union a fair shake and came up empty on both, I’ll move on to the fifth and final book in the category.

Brasyl: How I shall never read thee.

Over the last couple of years I’ve read a couple of Ian McDonald stories due to the man’s frequent inclusion on award lists. The stories have so turned me off from reading one of McDonald’s novels that just about the only way I will ever read Brasyl (or River of Gods, or anything else) is if the book shows up in my mailbox for a review. I’ll finish any book I owe a review for, but otherwise, McDonald is out. The only other author with a single story that turned me off so much was Paolo Bacigalupi (“Yellow Card Man”), but his entry in the Wastelands anthology helped me to be receptive to more Bacigalupi stories. Ian McDonald? I’m on strike.

My choice: Rollback. I wonder if I had read both Rollback and The Last Colony a year ago if I would have the same opinion, but given that Rollback is fresh in my mind and my good vibes on The Last Colony are fading a bit, I have to go with the Sawyer. It’s a good read. If, among the Big 3 SFF awards, the Hugo is the award voted on by the masses (such as 500 Worldcon voters can be considered the masses), I think that Rollback plays well to a larger audience (as does The Last Colony, but my vote is still Rollback).

Previous Thoughts:
Short Stories
John W. Campbell Award


dragonb said...

I haven't read any of the nominated books, or authors, but plan to.

Thanks so much for not liking some of them. I've been reading through Hugo winners randomly, and sometimes I just don't like a book at all. I can see it had good qualities, but just doesn't appeal to me. So, thanks for validating that even though you're a fan, it doesn't mean you like every award winning novel.

p.s. One of my least favorite winners was Rainbow's End. Just couldn't get myself to care about any of the people. The creativity was there though.

Joe said...

No prob. Can't like everything, no matter how much you try.

I read Rainbow's End after it won. It didn't suck, but I wasn't crazy about it either.

Anonymous said...

I'm in total agreement with you. Rollback's the best of the bunch.