Hugo Awards 2012: Best Novel

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

2012 Best Novel Nominations (958 ballots cast [compared to 833 ballots cast in 2011])

175 Among Others by Jo Walton (18.27%)
163 Embassytown by China Miéville (17.01%)
130 A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin (13.57%)
81 Deadline by Mira Grant (8.45%)
71 Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (7.41%)
——————————————————————–
70 The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (7.30%)
69 Rule 34 by Charles Stross (7.20%)
66 Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (6.89%)
62 The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemison (6.47%)
61 Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge (6.37%)
60 Zoo City by Lauren Beukes (6.26%)
58 Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine (5.74%)
52 Deathless by Catherynne Valente (5.42%)
49 11/22/63 by Stephen King (5.11%)
49 The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (5.11%)
48 Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi (5.01%)

Best Novel Final Ballot Results (1664 ballots [compared to 1813 ballots cast in 2011])

My Ranking

Title

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

3

Among Others (WINNER)

421

424

493

585

769

2

Embassytown

324

324

392

492

608

6

Deadline

311

312

367

418

4

A Dance With Dragons

316

317

360

1

Leviathan Wakes

260

261

5

No Award

32

No Award Tests
• 1164 ballots rank Among Others higher than No Award, 107 ballots rank No Award higher than Among Others – PASS
• ((1664-32)/1922)*100 = 85% – PASS

The remaining places were then calculated to be:
2nd Place – Embassytown
3rd Place – Leviathan Wakes
4th Place – Deadline
5th Place – A Dance With Dragons

Analysis

The Best Novel category is very strong, with 16 books making the 5% cutoff (Hugo rules stipulate that nominees must have at least 5% of the nominating votes to help indicate widespread support). Two books came within 2 votes of making the final ballot. I tend to nominate well-reviewed books that are nevertheless underdogs—why waste nominations on sure things like A Dance With Dragons? Although the number of nominating ballots went up considerably from last year, the number of final ballots dropped significantly.

Among Others, by a widely respected author and blogger, won the Nebula Award and had appeared on a lot of best-of lists, so there was little surprise that it won. Embassytown garnered a lot of critical praise, but was not an easy read. Leviathan Wakes is the first in a new space opera series, written under a pen name by a duo of George R.R. Martin’s protégées. It managed to climb from fifth to third in the final results, which demonstrated weak support for Deadline, the second book of a series, and A Dance With Dragons, the fifth book of a series. Hugo voters wisely rejected these two books as being incomplete stories.

Mini-Reviews

Among Others by Jo Walton (Tor)

This coming-of-age story of a teenage girl reminded me in tone of To Kill a Mockingbird, except with fairies. The book is an episodic semi-autobiography of Walton’s struggles with an abusive mother, the death of her twin sister, and discovery of science fiction fandom. As a love letter to fandom, it’s not hard to understand the reciprocal love the book received. The prose is beautifully written and evocative, just don’t expect a highly plot-driven adventure. The fantasy elements, to me, were secondary, especially since the protagonist was the only one who could see the fairies. Was she an unreliable narrator? That’s left for the reader to decide.

A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin (Bantam Spectra)

The fifth chapter of Martin’s epic fantasy saga A Song of Ice and Fire, the first half of A Dance With Dragons recounts the adventures of the characters that Martin cut from A Feast for Crows seven years ago. Everyone eventually gets back in sync, just in time for another cliffhanger ending. Let’s hope that it won’t be seven years until Volume 6! When Martin finally finishes this story, I hope he wins every award imaginable, but in the meantime it’s hard to justify voting for a story that is far from complete.

Deadline by Mira Grant (Orbit)

This second volume of Grant’s zombie trilogy was underwhelming. It begins in the middle of the story and ends with not one, but two major cliffhangers. The writing is serviceable, but nothing special. The book is full of plot holes, too. For example, on a cross-country drive the protagonists stop at a service station for gas. Even though the station is closed tight, they have no trouble pumping their gas and going on their way. In another instance, they infiltrate a well-guarded government installation, making their escape only because it has the exact same floor plan as another facility on the other side of the country. Plus, the “surprise” ending is flashed in neon early in the book with the ham-handed revelation that cloning exists in this world. Grant (pen name of prolific podcaster and filker Seanan McGuire) obviously spent a lot of time researching how viruses could produce zombies, but she needed to think a little harder about a plausible plot and more realistic characters.

Embassytown by China Miéville (Macmillan / Del Rey)

Miéville is one of my favorite authors, with his boundless imagination and magnificent use of language. Embassytown’s central theme is how language shapes our perceptions. On a distant planet, aliens and humans try to find commonality, despite fundamental differences in communication styles. When some of the humans interfere with the aliens’ societal customs, conflict is inevitable (where is the Prime Directive when you need it!). Miéville is never one to shy away from an eloquent and rich vocabulary, often inventing words to suit his needs, but Embassytown goes even further in testing the reader’s tolerance for made-up language. This isn’t a quick and easy read, but the astute reader will undoubtedly reap much from this well-crafted parable.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (Orbit)

Corey is the pen name of Daniel Abraham, a long-time collaborator of George R.R. Martin on the Wild Cards books and adaptor of Martin’s works for comics (as well as a respected solo author), and Ty Frank, one of Martin’s personal assistants. Leviathan Wakes is the first in a new space opera series. The story wraps up nicely, but there are definite plot threads that will lead to interesting complications in future volumes. The authors paint a detailed and action-packed universe, with protagonists that are well-developed. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and look forward to more in this series.

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