Ever since the Hugo Award nominees for 2012 were announced I can't tell you how many people have asked my opinion about them. Ok, I can tell you: zero. However, I won't let a silly number like that stop me from sharing with you, my Internet friends.
This is one of the first years I've read a majority of the Hugo nominated novels before they were announced (3 out of the 5 beforehand) mostly because of my participation in the Incomparable book club (listen to the episode where we discuss 2011's nominated novels). Since the nominations have been announced I've managed to read the other two novels (I owned one and the library provided the other).
Now, last year I read almost all of the nominated novels, with the exception of Connie Willis' Blackout/All Clear (two novels that were considered as one for some reason). I bet my hat that The Dervish House was destined to win since it was the best novel I had read in a long time (I was also fairly certain that Feed's inclusion was some sort of clerical error).
I tell you all of this so you can get a feel for my track record. Last year not only did Connie Willis walk away with the award (she's a great writer, and since I haven't read her novels as of yet I can't say with certainty that The Dervish House was a better book, but I'm pretty sure it was) but Feed, which I hated, managed to garner more votes than The Dervish House.
That ain't right folks.
With all of that in mind, here are my thoughts about the nominated novels this year (here's the full list of Hugo nominees this year):
- Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor): This year's The Dervish House. A great book that is basically about a young girl who loves reading and happens to see fairies. Jo Walton is an amazingly talented writer and if she doesn't win the Hugo this year I'll think the thing has been fixed. The only problem I see with Among Others' chances is that while the book is about science fiction (check out this Pinterest board that lists all the novels mentioned) it's really a fantasy book. Sure, some fantasy novels have won but the Hugo is, at the core, a science fiction award. Plus, I want it to win and that is the kiss of death for any nominated novel.
- A Dance with Dragons, George R. R. Martin (Bantam Spectra): Here's the deal, this book is fine. It isn't the best installment of the series, but it is satisfying for those who keep plugging along with the books. If you were to start reading The Song of Ice and Fire (a.k.a The Game of Thrones) series with this book you'd have no idea what the hell was going on, and I doubt you would care. That being said Mr. Martin has two things going for him this year: The Game of Thrones is a legitimate cultural phenomenon. It has emerged from the ghetto of genre and has been embraced by the mainstream (I was at a birthday party for twin toddlers the other and one of the parents of an attending child told me her mother has read the whole series). That's some powerful stuff. Second: Martin has been nominated 4 times before in this category (3 out of those 4 times for previous installments in the Song of Ice and Fire) and he hasn't won once. The voters might decide it is time for George to get the award based not on this novel, but on the series as a whole thus far. I won't be too upset if George wins, but it'll be a shame since Jo Walton deserves the little rocket ship.
- Deadline, Mira Grant (Orbit): This was the last novel on the list I read (I just finished it a few hours ago) because I hated (really hated) the previous book in this series, Feed. Deadline is slightly better than Feed, but it is still a bad book. I honestly have no idea how Deadline ended up on the ballot, but clearly lots of people are into it. I found the first 100 pages to be awful, the rest of the book is just meh, and the "surprise" ending is both incredibly predictable and really undercuts a very powerful part of the first book.
- Embassytown, China Miéville (Macmillan / Del Rey): Oh, China Miéville. He's an inventive writer, and Embassytown is a fantastic novel (in that it is full of flights of fancy). I thought it a very interesting rumination on the nature of truth and language, but as a novel it was a little thin. The writing is spectacular, but the plot is pretty run of the mill. I enjoyed reading it, and I would recommend it to other fans of China Miéville, but I don't think it should take the prize this year.
- Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Corey (Orbit): Funny thing about this book, which I read after it was nominated: I bought it many months ago and attempted to start reading it over the summer but stopped after the first 10 or so pages. Oddly, the big twist that makes you want to keep reading happens about 15 pages in, so I really should have stuck it out on the first go-a-round. This is the most traditional science fiction novel of the bunch, and it is a fun read. I'm a little puzzled as to why it was nominated since I don't think it does much to expand the genre but sometimes a novel just needs to be a good read and Leviathan Wakes certainly has that in spades (and I love the minor plot point involving Mormons).
Generally, I'm a novel kind of guy but John Scalzi rounded up links to all the nominated short stories this year so I decided to read them. They are all worth your time to read, especially since you can read them for free, but there was one that really stood out to me.
Here are my thoughts, and my pick:
- “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”, E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld): This lovely, and beautifully written, story about some warmongering wasps expanding their empire gets my vote. Great writing which feels like it belongs in a literary fiction magazine which might turn some people off but worked for me. I choose not to linger on the fact that Yu is a recent college graduate (damned talented young people) and won't let that make me spiral into a depression about my own (nonexistent) fiction output.
- “The Homecoming”, Mike Resnick (Asimov’s): A great story about a young man visiting his ailing mother and estranged father and experiencing that wonderful tension that you get when visiting parents. Oh, and the son has voluntarily had his consciousness transplanted into an alien body which complicates things just a bit.
- “Movement”, Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s): This one didn't do too much for me, though I can see how other folks would really like it. The main character is a autistic girl who only becomes truly functional when she is dancing.
- “The Paper Menagerie”, Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction): This story came in a close second for me, just edged out by those darned cartographer wasps! A story about cultural assimilation, a parent's unconditional love, and how awful kids can be without even knowing it. Add in some animated paper animals and a wonderful story is born. How can you go wrong?
- “Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue”, John Scalzi (Tor.com): This is a parody of fantasy novels, and it is funny though I have a hard time believing there wasn't another non-jokey short story out there that could have been nominated. That said, it is fun.