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Apr 30

Week 17: Don’t Look Away – it’s the HUGOOOOOS, oh and the Clarke Awards and a truly fantastic book

Books Read

Into Everywhere by Paul McAuley

The Shore by Sara Taylor

Currently Reading 

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

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This week saw the announcement of the Hugo Award and Clarke Award nominees – one rinsing the taste of shit left by the other.

As with 2015, Vox Day successfully took a massive crap all over the Hugo Awards, smearing his poo-stained fingers over 64 of the 81 nominees.  If you have no idea who or what a Vox Day is then GIYF because I honestly can’t be bothered explaining it.  The point is that depending on what side of the cultural wars you sit on, this year’s Hugo’s is either a compromised list of nominees peddled by a racist, anti-semite douche-bag or it’s another nail in the Social Justice Warrior coffin.  Whatever your thoughts here are the nominees for best novel:

  • Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
  • The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher (Roc)
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
  • Seveneves: A Novel by Neal Stephenson (William Morrow)
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik (Del Rey)

Observations

  1. The good news is that Vox Day’s impact aside the Best Novel category isn’t so bad.
  2. I’ve read three of the five novels on the ballot. This includes the exceptional The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, the very good Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie and the OK-but-found-one-of-the-central-characters-fucking-annoying Uprooted by Naomi Novik.
  3. I won’t be reading the Jim Butcher. The Dresden novel that was nominated last year cured me of all things Butcher.
  4. I also won’t be reading Seveneves, not because it appeared on Vox Day’s “this is not a slate” but because it’s close to 300,000 words and just at the moment I don’t have 10 days to spare.

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The nominees for the Clarke Award are as follows:

Observations

  1. I’ve read two of the nominated novels. People clearly liked The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet more than I did because while I can applaud the book for its treatment of diversity in terms of sexuality and gender and race the actual prose was clunk-tastic in its overuse of exposition.  Still this is the book’s second nomination.  Last year it garnered a Kitschie.
  2. I liked Europe of Midnight a shitload more. A genuine sequel to Europe in Autumn but also so very different in tone and approach.
  3. And I’m genuinely interested in reading the other four contenders. I’ve heard that this set of nominees lacks ambition, that it’s drawing from the genre ghetto rather than looking further afield.  While not specific to this set of nominees, Nina Allan discusses the current state of the Clarke Award in this fantastic post.   I am sympathetic to the argument that the Clarke should look further afield, but I’m personally not going to prejudge this set of books.
  4. Having said that I am sad that neither Ian McDonald’s Luna or Adam Robert’s The Thing Itself made the list. Especially the Robert’s which is a superb, astonishing, ambitious book.

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About four hours ago I babbled on about Into Everywhere by Paul McAuley for an upcoming episode of the Coode Street Roundtable.  The episode should be dropping any moment now.

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The Shore is a début novel from Sara Taylor but you wouldn’t know it because the writing is so assured in tone and structure.  The book is set on a small group of islands off the coast of Virginia and covers a three hundred year period that focuses on two lines of descendants stemming from Medora – half white, half Native American who was born on the islands in the mid 19th Century.  The novel bounces around in time, between the mid 1990s, to the late 1800s, to the early 20th Century, to a point 120 years from now.  As a result, there’s a strong mosaic flavour to the structure as we are introduced to a number of Medora’s descendants.

The opening chapter sets the tone of the novel, and it’s anything but twee or bucolic.  13-year-old Chloë – Medora’s great, great, great grand-daughter – is forced to protect her younger sister Chloe from their drug abusing and violent father after their mother disappeared to parts unknown.  It’s a gut wrenching piece of writing, with an ending that’s both powerful and upsetting and yet with a great deal of sensitivity.  And it’s only the beginning.  Starting with Medora’s awful treatment at the hand of her father and first husband, this is a book that takes a frank look at the pain men inflict on women.  And while some of the women in this book are able to stand strong against the sexual abuse and violence – Chloe and Medora are cases in point – this isn’t always the case and it’s all the more tragic as a result.

The book also explores a family’s connection to the land – especially with regard to the environment and a respect for the natural order.  The speculative element is that Medora’s second husband (or at least that side of the family) have the ability to manipulate weather.  Bring rain, deflect hurricanes, control storms.  But they use that power carefully, with great respect, and as a consequence gain insight into what’s coming for humanity.  And it ain’t good.  In the 2030s a sexual disease emerges that kills off most of the planet and leads to mutations for a number of the babies that are born afterwards.  The Lumsden’s – the side of Medora’s descendants that have power over weather – plan for the plague, and occupy a small island not connected to the mainland.  The upshot is that 100 years after the plague hits, the descendants live a relative peaceful, simple life.  In fact the last story of the collection is in complete contrast to the opening, not just because it’s set in 22nd Century, but because it’s about hope and love, rather than violence and pain.

The novel’s one minor stutter is the introduction of the plague.  While I understand that out of control plagues are simply reflective of the author’s concern for the environment and our general mistreatment of the natural world, as a plot device it’s lazy.  It’s not to say that a plague won’t come around and wipe us out, but that it’s now being used as science fiction short hand to get around the need for a more nuanced and thought out future.  However, considering everyone does it, and given the chapter that deals with the plague would make for a magnificent piece of horror short fiction, I can forgive Taylor this stumble.

Confronting and powerful and sensitive and assured – the way Taylor’s handle so many voices is wow-tastic  – The Shore is a truly fantastic novel.

2 comments

  1. Lindsay

    Seveneves is Stephenson doing what he does. It has long didactic passages, it’s very repetitive and when he wants to push a message he’s about as subtle as a brick (yay Elon Musk-guy, boo politicians). The structure is also really weird, in that it’s either a novel with a weird semi-related coda stuck on the end or it’s a gigantic prologue followed by a small novel at the end with nearly no plot.

    I liked Uprooted more than you did, but I still think the Fifth Season is by far and away the best thing on the ballot.

    1. Mondyboy

      Thank you for justifying my decision not to read Seveneves. And yes, Fifth Season is wonderful and hopefully will take home the Hugo. (Though I feel that Uprooted will win it).

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