Hugo Awards 2011: Best Novel

Novels are defined as stories of 40,000 words or more. The titles in bold are the ones I nominated.

2011 Best Novel Nominations (833 ballots cast)

125 Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (15.01%)
108 The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (12.97%)
102 The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (12.24%)
83 Feed by Mira Grant (9.96%)
78 Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold (9.36%)
74 Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (8.88%)
72 Kraken by China Mieville (8.64%)
69 Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal (8.28%)
64 Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks (7.68%)
60 Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (7.2%)
60 The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (7.2%)
58 How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (6.96%)
55 Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (6.6%)
50 The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross (6%)
48 The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (5.76%)
46 WWW: Watch by Robert J. Sawyer (5.52%)
43 Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds (5.16%)
39 Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis (4.68%)
39 I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett (4.68%)
36 Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente (4.32%)
28 Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (3.36%)
28 For the Win by Cory Doctorow (3.36%)
28 Zoo City by Lauren Beukes (3.36%)
26 Zendegi by Greg Egan (3.12%)

There were a lot of good books published in 2010 and I found it hard to narrow it down to five. It was nice to see some new authors receive consideration, showing that the Hugos aren’t always a good-old-boys club.

Best Novel Final Ballot Results (1813 ballots) 

My Ranking


Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5


Blackout/All Clear (WINNER)














The Dervish House











The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms



No Award


No Award Tests
• 1181 ballots ranked Blackout/All Clear greater than No Award; 208 ballots ranked No Award greater than Blackout/All Clear – PASS
• ((1813 – 37) / 2100) * 100 = 85% – PASS

The remaining places were then calculated to be:
2nd Place – Feed
3rd Place – Cryoburn
4th Place – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
5th Place – The Dervish House


Blackout/All Clear was definitely the novel to beat this year, having already won the Nebula Award and clearly outdistancing everything else in Hugo nominations. Feed made it a surprisingly close race, garnering more first-place votes and keeping a lead until the final two rounds. I think this is partly attributable to Seanan McGuire (the real name of Mira Grant) being a favorite fan personality, and that zombie fiction is a hot fad right now. But Connie Willis has been a darling of the Hugo voters for years, and Blackout/All Clear was definitely a tour de force. I was disappointed that The Dervish House dropped to fifth place despite receiving almost as many first-place votes as Blackout/All Clear. I guess it was a book you either loved or hated.


Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (Ballantine Spectra)
This two-volume behemoth totaled over 1100 pages. It’s a time travel story set in the same universe as several of Willis’s previous novels and stories, most notably the Hugo-winning Doomsday Book. A trio of Oxford history students travel back to study various aspects of the London Blitz of WWII, but become trapped when their retrieval portals mysteriously fail to open. Their problems become avoiding changing history and avoiding staying long enough to meet themselves in the future that would cause temporal disturbances that could destroy the universe. This is a meticulously researched book that has all kinds of tidbits about how the British people survived during this period. My gripes with the novel are that Willis plays a bit fast and loose with the information she doles out to solve the mystery, and that the characters are all afraid of confiding with one another and doing something proactive about their plight until it’s almost too late.

Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
This is the latest in Bujold’s immensely popular Vorkosigan Saga. This episode relates Miles Vorkosigan’s adventures on the planet Kibou-daini as he investigates a conspiracy to buy and sell illegal life-extending cryonic treatments. I’ve never been a big fan of this series, thinking it more of a well done mid-list space opera than a genuine Hugo contender. I do like the way Bujold sympathetically portrays Miles’s physical disabilities and the ways he copes with them. However, this volume is a weak entry compared to most of the previous ones; really being just a routine espionage thriller. Miles doesn’t face the challenging odds he has in previous books; the stakes never seem very high. Although a perfectly fine journeyman effort, it was probably nominated more on Bujold’s reputation than the actual merits of the book.

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Gollancz; Pyr)
This is the story of a week in the lives of six individuals in three interwoven strands that take place in Istanbul in 2027, five years after Turkey has been admitted to the European Union. McDonald uses Istanbul as a seventh character, exploring topics such as climate change, religious conflict, and world economics. I’ve found some of McDonald’s previous novels to be dense and not terribly interesting, but the pacing of The Dervish House keeps the story moving, and the characterizations are distinct and well wrought. Nevertheless, it is probably less accessible to the average reader than some of the other nominees, which helps explain why it did well in total nominations and first-round voting, but ultimately dropped to fifth place.

Feed by Mira Grant (Orbit)
Capitalizing on the zombie craze, Feed posits that a byproduct of the cures for cancer and the common cold mutates into a pandemic that turns the infected into mindless flesh-eaters. Bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason are chosen to cover the 2039 presidential campaign of Senator Peter Ryman, but are soon embroiled in mysterious zombie attacks that begin to hint at hidden conspiracies. Feed is a fast paced thriller that takes chances with its character development. Once you suspend your disbelief about the zombie infection, the rest of the book is a fairly realistic extrapolation of life under those conditions; sometimes too realistic, as there are many laborious descriptions of decontamination procedures.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
This debut fantasy novel received well-deserved critical acclaim. Although rough in places, it presents an original concept with intriguing characters. When her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, Yeine is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, her grandfather the king puts her into a power struggle with her two cousins by assigning her to be his heir to the throne. Yeine finds potential allies in the gods who inhabit Sky. Monstrous Nahadoth and childlike Sieh aren’t quite what they appear to be, though, and Yeine must use all of her “barbarian” skills to find a solution that will save her people while not becoming a human sacrifice in the complicated politics of Sky. Jemisin is a major new talent who weaves intrigue, humor, thrills, and plot twists into a satisfying and challenging read.

2 responses to “Hugo Awards 2011: Best Novel

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who Christmas Special | axolotlburg news

  2. Pingback: 2011 in Review | axolotlburg news

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