As a reminder here are the nominees (you’ll note that they’re a little different to the nominees that were originally announced with Marko Kloos deciding to pull his novel for consideration. More props to him).
- Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK)
- The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
- The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
- The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)
- Skin Game, Jim Butcher (Roc Books)
Let’s start by saying something a tad controversial: This years Hugo Novel category is far better than what was served up in 2014.
Last year the finalists included Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice – a book that seemed to win every genre award available in 2014 – Charles Stross’ Neptune’s Brood – decent, but well below his best work – Mira Grant’s Parasite – a dull, predictable and overlong novel about mutated tapeworms – Larry Correia’s Warbound – I read the first book of the trilogy and found it to be a series of “will they ever end” battle sequences – and finally the entirety of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time – the less said, the better. Not the most inspiring of ballots and it was no surprise to anyone when Ann Leckie walked away with the rocket ship. That’s not to damn with faint praise, Ancillary Justice is a fantastic début novel that provides a fresh coat of paint to New Space Opera, following on from the work of writers like Paul McAuley and Alastair Reynolds (two writers who have never been honoured with a Hugo nominee. Just saying – Edited To Add: Jonathan Strahan has pointed out to me that Reynolds was nominated for the novella “Troika” in 2011. ). But in a year that also featured Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria, Christopher Priest’s, The Adjacent and The Machine by James Smythe, the 2014 ballot could have been so much better.*
Where 2015 easily trumps 2014 is that Ancillary Sword, the sequel to Ancillary Justice is clearly not the best book in the category**. It may still walk away with the rocket, but at least this time the book faces real competition from two very fine novels, Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem and Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor. Both these books engaged with me emotionally, whether it was wiping away tears or picking my jaw up from the floor. And frankly, any fiction that has this sort of visceral impact, that actually bypasses the cynical nerve bundles in the brain and evokes a smile or a laugh or a giggle of surprise*** should be celebrated. So yes, 2015 far, far better than 2014. And this, in spite of the elephant in the room.
And it’s one big elephant. Two of the novels featured above were on the Sad and Rabid Puppy ballot – the Kevin J Anderson and the Jim Butcher. If Larry Correia had not declined his nomination and Marko Kloos had not pulled out, I would be talking about a very different Hugo slate, one that would probably included the Leckie.**** And I doubt very much that I’d be as enthusiastic about this years finalists.
As it is, I didn’t enjoy having to read the Butcher or the Anderson. Actually, that’s not entirely true. The Butcher was mildly entertaining even if it the plot was derivative and I was exposed to Harry’s smug voice (AKA witty banter) and his sexist attitudes. The Anderson though was offensive. A bloated novel, filled with featureless and unremarkable characters where nothing happens for page after dreary page. I gave up a third of the way through and frankly it took much brain stamina and discipline to get that far.
The Anderson in particular led me to question this whole notion purported by the Sad / Rabid Puppies that good SF has big ideas and entertains. Having read two examples of this sort of SF, both the KJA and Charles Gannon’s awful Nebula nominee, Trial by Fire (review forthcoming) I can only conclude that my idea of entertainment and big, high concept ideas lives in a very different Universe than what the Sad Puppies are aiming to promote. This isn’t snobbishness***** on my part, I just struggle to see the appeal of novels that are so poorly written.
But let’s get back to the point of this blog post:
Who Do I Want To See Win – I tossed and turned about this, but I’ve finally landed with The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette)
Who Do I Think Will Win – I might not have been so keen on the novel, but I believe that Ann Leckie will take home her second novel Hugo for Ancillary Sword.
* Yes, I know, in reality neither the Priest or the Smythe ever had a chance of making the 2014 Hugo ballot. But a guy can dream…
** Obviously, this is a very subjective use of the term “clearly”
*** Doesn’t everyone giggle?
**** We won’t know until the Hugo’s are awarded whether it was the Leckie or the Addison that took that fifth spot. Based on popularity alone I’m assuming the Leckie.
***** I thought it was laughable that Nick Mamatas was accused of being snobby and elitist for comparing a snippet of Raymond Chandler with a snippet of Jim Butcher. I’m sure Chandler would be overjoyed to know that a niche group of SF fans thinks he’s a literary writer.