Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Thoughts on the Hugo Award Nominees: Novel

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos (47North)
Skin Game: A Novel of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (Roc Books)
The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)
Marko Kloos declined his nomination after the ballot was announced. The Three Body Problem was added.

Even though Kloos declined his nomination I intend to read his debut novel, Terms of Enlistment. A copy of it is sitting at home, next to my laptop.

When I submitted my final Hugo nomination ballot, two novels which eventually received nominations were on it: Ancillary Sword and The Goblin Emperor.  I thought they were two of the best novels of the year and none of the other nominees has been able to scratch that perch.  Of the five nominees, they slot in at #1 and #2.

While I think that in any other year, Jim Butcher would not likely have been nominated, I do have a significantly positive takeaway from this year's Hugo mess: Skin Game was really damn good and I have every intention of starting with Storm Front and reading all of Butcher's Dresden Files.  There's no way to predict that if I had read the previous fourteen books if I would have been quite excited for Skin Game or if I would have decided it was "just another solid entry from Butcher" - because that is a thing which happens in long running series, you can enjoy a book and even love it, but it starts to fade in the overall impression of comparative excellence because it isn't new anymore, it's not shiny. Coming in fresh to a series at book 15, however, is equally dangerous because I have no idea who these characters are, how they relate to each other, or what I might be missing and how that would change my impression of the book. So, straight up, Skin Games works on its own. I just don't know what I don't know. A very solid entry.

The Three-Body Problem is the first novel here where I have a problem: the science and overall concept of the novel is fun and exciting and something I want to know more about. The characters and the writing feel dated and clunky and almost as if they are a deliberate stereotype. Perhaps some of this is part of Ken Liu's translation, perhaps some is my lack of cultural understanding of Mao era China and how individuals might have spoken in slogans. I don't know. But that aspect of the novel felt more like it was coming from a sixty year old novel and not so much like one originally published in 2007 as this novel was. With all of that said, I kept reading and Cixin Liu held my attention. I wanted to know more and see where he was taking this story. Having completed the novel, I want read The Dark Forest. In the end it came across more as a fascinating yet flawed novel that isn't quite something I would hold up as the best of the year.

The last time I attempted to read a novel from Kevin J. Anderson's which was not part of either the Star Wars or Dune Universes, it was The Edge of the World, the first volume in his Terra Incognita series and it did not inspire me to read any of his other books. The Dark Between the Stars is the first volume of his new Saga of Shadows trilogy (which is a sequel to his 7 volume Saga of Seven Suns) and I am happy to report that it is significantly better than The Edge of the World. It is just not up to the level of the other nominated novels.

My Vote:
1. Ancillary Sword
2. The Goblin Emperor
3. Skin Game
4. The Three-Body Problem
5. The Dark Between the Stars

Standard 2015 Hugo Disclaimer:
In a typical year, I just jump right into whichever category I'm writing about and let my thoughts sort out the whole mess. This is not a typical year, so I'd like to start by talking a little bit about how I'm going to work through the various Hugo Award categories and how I am going to vote. Simply put, I am going to read everything. If I feel the work is strong enough to merit a ranked vote, I will vote for it in whatever order feels most appropriate. If I feel the work is not strong enough to merit ranking it above No Award, I will not do so.  But at no point am I making a blanket statement about Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies or that I've heard Thomas Heuvelt may have been campaigning for a nomination or anything else that I am not aware of.  The ballot is what the ballot is and I will treat it as such.

I am also working with the same methodology as I have in the past, which is to say that there are frequently works and writers on the ballot that I simply and strongly disagree with. In most cases, I have still ranked those works above No Award. I don't believe I have always done this, and I know if I had participated last year, one novel would have been below No Award because I bounced so hard off of the first book in that series that I really can't understand how the second also managed a nomination - and that writer is a Hugo favorite. Most stories compare to works that have previously been on the ballot, so those works that meet my low-bar criteria will secure my vote.

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