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Thoughts on the Hugo Nominees - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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April 18th, 2006

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01:30 pm - Thoughts on the Hugo Nominees
Unlike many years, I actually decided to take a look at most of the Hugo Award nominees for best novel. The list is:

Learning the World by Ken MacLeod (Orbit; Tor)
A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin (Voyager; Bantam Spectra)
Old Man's War by John Scalzi (Tor)
Accelerando by Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit)
Spin by Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)

Here's the total list of all of the 2006 Hugo nominees

My thoughts in order:

Learning the World: I love Ken MacLeod's work – The Stone Canal, his entire Engines of Light series, and Newton's Wake were all excellent. There is nothing at all wrong with Learning the World, but there was also nothing particularly special or unique. It was another novel about a highly advanced STL-traveling human starship fleet that arrives at a planet to find aliens, in a universe where aliens are rare. It's a lot like Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky, and I didn't find enough new ideas or sparkling characterization to make it worth an award.

A Feast for Crows: I can't comment on this one, I've taken a look at the first book of this series, and wasn't at all interested. I love good fantasy, but I am definitely pickier about fantasy than SF, and the combination of not being all that into Martin's writing style, combined with the fact that the setting is very standard (in the gritty medievalesque, rather than the generic tolkienesque) manner, left me uninterested, especially in a series as grim as I've heard that one is. Andre Norton's earth Witch World novels, Kage Baker's Anvil of the World and all of PC Hodgell's work are fantasy novels I love and they are all far more inventive and interesting that any of this series was to me. YMMV.

Old Man's War: I heard good things about this novel, but found it vastly over-rated. The basic set up is that old people on a largely isolated Earth are given the opportunity to join the interstellar military, where they are rejuvenated by an unknown (to them or anyone on Earth) means and then sent out to fight hostile aliens. The first third of the book is all about the protagonist joining up and meeting the other characters before the mysterious rejuvenation (which as rapidly becomes obvious to the reader, but not the characters, involved cloned bodies and downloading brain patterns. The entire set up is exceptionally contrived, with the total isolation of Earth, the rules about immigration to the stars… I'm pretty free with my suspension of disbelief, and this setting was far too contrived. Also, the last 2/3s was a standard gritty SF war novel that bored me to the point that I skimmed it. I am puzzled that this book is even on the list.

Accelerando: I read and greatly enjoyed this book. I'm not at all certain that this is Stross' best work (I'd give that honor to Singularity Sky), but it's definitely the best of the books listed here.

Spin: I haven't finished this novel, but I've read enough to evaluate it. It's well-written as most of Wilson's work, with complex characters, but it's also just as cold and emotionally distant as the rest of his work. In many ways, it's similar to his earlier work Chronoliths - vast and mysterious events occur and humans explore and attempt to deal with it. It's too grounded in the present day for my tastes (I prefer both my SF and my fantasy to have fairly exotic settings) and also too cold, but I'd also say that it's likely the 2nd best novel on this list.

Personally, I would have nominated the brilliant novel Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds, which is one of his best yet, although not quite as good as his complex and emotionally powerful 2004 novel Century Rain. Also, I would definitely have nominated Cory Doctorow's amazing novel Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. This novel is by far his most powerful work yet, which features a protagonist who quite literally has a father who is a mountain, a mother who is a washing machine, and a brother who is an island. This novel is neither comedy (thank the gods) nor in the least bit silly, instead it is makes most other modern fantasy look distinctly second rate. As I see it, that novel should win, Pushing Ice, should come in 2nd, and several of the current Hugo nominees shouldn't even be on the list.

My only other comments about the Hugo nominees is about the Best Novella category. I've only read one of the nominees "Magic for Beginners" by Kelly Link, which is another (and very different) breathtakingly wonderful piece of modern semi-slipstream fantasy. It's one of the best pieces of fiction I've read in years and I highly recommend it. I also hope it wins, bother because of its intrinsic excellence, and because given the general hackniedness of much of Connie Willis' work and the typical dreadfulness of Robert J. Sawyer's work, I'm guessing that the only other story of worth in that category is "Burn" by James Patrick Kelly, and from what I've read about it, "Magic for Beginners" is better.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

(8 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:April 18th, 2006 10:35 pm (UTC)
Hi! I lurk your journal through jhkimrpg's friendslist. I agree with you about the books I've read... From the top; Ken MacLeod's _Newton's Wake_ was a good book (I read it the same week I read _Neuromancer_ and liked it better), but I don't think it had enough going for it for a Hugo, and if _Learning the World_ is at about that level, sounds like you've got a good estimation.

_Old Man's War_ definitely doesn't belong on the list. It's a very slight book. Even as entertainment it isn't much, given that it just barely has characterizations and a plot, and the plot is obvious. It's a readable travelogue Heinlein pastiche.

_Spin_ was interesting. Wilson did a good job with atmosphere, but I really prefer my main characters to be protagonists.

I'm glad Stross's book is worthy. I need to hit up my friends to see if I can trade them for it...

Have you read _9Tail Fox_? The guy at the Other Change of Hobbit bookstore said it was the best 2005 book he'd read...
[User Picture]
Date:April 24th, 2006 12:28 am (UTC)
I very much liked Newton's Wake, not a great novel, but quite good. Learning the World was noticeably inferior, largely because I'd seen everything in the novel done before, and most of it done better. It wasn't bad, just disappointing (and is the first of Ken MacLeod's novels I've felt that way about since his first novel The Star Fraction (which had many typical first-novel problems).

Have you read _9Tail Fox_?

I'd not heard of either the novel or the author (Jon Courtenay Grimwood) before. It looks quite interesting. I tend to prefer my fiction less connected to modern day Earth, but it definitely looks worth checking out.
[User Picture]
Date:April 19th, 2006 07:44 am (UTC)
In other news, the BSFA awarded Geoff Ryman's Air with Best Novel on Saturday.

If you haven't read it I highly recommend it - I suspect you'd enjoy it a lot.
[User Picture]
Date:April 19th, 2006 08:37 am (UTC)
Thanks, after a brief look on amazon I'm inclined to agree, it looks definitely worth reading.
[User Picture]
Date:April 19th, 2006 12:56 pm (UTC)
Yeesh. This really isn't helping with the length of my "To Read" spreadsheet... *grin*
[User Picture]
Date:April 19th, 2006 01:01 pm (UTC)
(I added Magic for Beginners and Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, in case you're curious)
[User Picture]
Date:June 4th, 2006 12:33 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this - found it very helpful when compiling my own thoughts.
[User Picture]
Date:August 28th, 2006 07:54 am (UTC)
Re Old Man's War and your comments I am puzzled that this book is even on the list. - it wouldn't have been, if Neil Gaiman hadn't withdrawn Anansi Boys!

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