Tuesday, August 16, 2011

2011 Hugo Nominee: Novel Wrap

At first glance this was an extremely poor set of nominees, but I think they turned out stronger than I expected. If I could replace Cryoburn with Super Sad True Love Story, and Feed with Zoo City, and force Connie Willis to edit five hundred pages out of Blackout/All Clear, it’d be an even stronger slate than last year.

But, I’m told I can’t do that. So, I guess I have to decide who should win out of the nominees, which are clearly not as strong as a whole as in 2010. As I said last year, I think a Hugo winner should have three qualities: 1) it should explore speculative ideas, 2) it should build a compelling world, and 3) it should be of high literary quality. Super-Sad True Love Story did these things really well, and so did the Hunger Games trilogy…okay, okay, I'll move on to the actual nominees for real this time. Actually, now that I have grades, unlike last year, this is probably pretty darn obvious.

Anyway, ascending order: Feed didn’t work for me on a number of levels. It leaned too heavily on zombie tropes and a rather generic conspiracy plot. I was intrigued by some of the world-building, but I didn’t buy the “blogger’s truth over the lamestream media” concept at the crux of the world. The writing could have been better. A crowd-pleaser like Boneshaker, but probably not as good.

Cryoburn was a fairly forgettable entry in a series that was always a little ridiculous and is probably past its prime. Then again, I read four other books to catch up, and I never really regretted it. Bujold is still great at putting well-rounded characters in pulpy situations, but only a brief epilogue prevents this volume from being completely skippable, even for diehard Vokosiganers (? - I don’t know what the fans call themselves).

Blackout/All-Clear was better than I expect. In fact, it was almost really good, and portions of it were fantastic. And, it meets all of my criteria – a very detailed world, some exploration of time travel’s consequences (though there could be a lot more of that), and strong prose. I wouldn’t mind if it won the Hugo, as it did the Nebula and Locus. But, it’s just too damn long.

One-Hundred Thousand Kingdoms presents an interesting, layered fantasy world with very strong characters. The world could use some elaboration, and I could’ve done without the “tortured-dangerous-sexy man” romance sub-plot, and I’m just not quite sure Jemisin has realized her full potential as an artist yet. There’s so much potential there to realize though.

Which leaves McDonald’s Dervish House. I don’t think this is McDonald’s strongest work, but it does seem to have the richest ideas out of the nominees, and it has beautiful prose that really evokes an ancient city in wondrous detail. I'd put it third behind last year’s dual winners, but it kind of wins by default for me this year.

And, that makes me a horrible sexist for voting for the one man in a year with four female nominees in the midst of a serious female-winner drought. Honestly, I’m kind of rooting for Jemisin to pull off an upset and break the penis-streak, even though McDonald deserves a Hugo for a strong body of work over the past decade. Either way, I think that they’ll both have other chances.

Here's a summary of my Hugo coverage:


Cryoburn, Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
Feed, Mira Grant (Orbit)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
The Dervish House, Ian McDonald (Pyr; Gollancz)
Blackout/All Clear, Connie Willis (Spectra)


The Lifecycle of Software Objects, Ted Chiang (Subterranean)
‘‘The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon'', Elizabeth Hand (Stories)
‘‘The Sultan of the Clouds'', Geoffrey A. Landis (Asimov's 9/10)
‘Troika'', Alastair Reynolds (Godlike Machines)
‘‘The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen's Window'', Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Summer 2010)

‘‘The Jaguar House, in Shadow'', Aliette de Bodard (Asimov's 7/10)
‘‘Plus or Minus'', James Patrick Kelly (Asimov's 12/10)
‘‘Eight Miles'', Sean McMullen (Analog 9/10)
‘‘The Emperor of Mars'', Allen M. Steele (Asimov's 6/10)
‘‘That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made'', Eric James Stone (Analog 9/10)


‘‘Ponies'', Kij Johnson (Tor.com 11/17/10)

‘‘For Want of a Nail'', Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov's 12/10)
‘‘Amaryllis'', Carrie Vaughn (Lightspeed 6/10)
‘‘The Things'', Peter Watts (Clarkesworld 1/10)


Finally, if you want to see how I line up with other blog reviews, Nicholas Whyte did a cool comparison here, and I was happy that he included me. I'm in the minority on "The Things," which I already knew, but otherwise, I seem to be with a pretty strong consensus except in that pesky novelette category (which also happened to be my favorite this year).

I'm sure I'll have more to add this weekend after the ceremony (which will be streamed live).

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