Tag Archives: novels

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.

Do the Hugos Need a Young Adult Category?

The members attending the Chicon 7 business meeting voted down a proposal to add a Young Adult (YA) category to the Hugo awards. Perhaps the biggest objection was that the proposal didn’t adequately define what a YA book is. But like a lot of Hugo categories, it seems that the members’ votes determine what belongs in a category, whether it is really appropriate to be there or not. Another objection was that YA is a marketing artifact that could change in the future. This argument is silly, as there has been children’s literature forever, and it’s one of, if not the top, growing segments of the publishing industry. Another argument against a new YA category is that if a book is good enough, it can already be nominated in the Best Novel or Novella categories, as evidenced by the works of J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman. While true, this ignores the works by authors who write fabulous stuff but that doesn’t show up on Best Seller lists. About the only argument that I thought held any real weight was that adults who are not familiar with youth-oriented fiction might have a hard time choosing truly representative works. But this does not stop Hugo voters from voting for Best Editor (Long Form), Graphic Story, or other categories they’re not necessarily familiar with.

The underlying motive for adding a YA category is to put a spotlight on a subgenre that is somewhat neglected. As several members at the meeting pointed out, this kind of recognition would tend to pull in new readers and new convention attenders, and add to the overall positive public relations of the Hugos and Worldcons. The truth is that there is a wealth of great YA science fiction being published that deserves recognition.

It seems to me that there is a fairly simple solution. The Golden Duck awards already recognize science fiction in three age categories: picture book, middle-school book, and the Hal Clement Award for “Young Adult” book. The Golden Ducks are announced during a panel at Worldcon each year. My understanding is that a jury of educators and librarians select the nominees and winners. Why not just move the announcement of winners to the Hugo ceremony, and include the winners in the Hugo publicity and historical records? The heightened visibility and endorsement by the Worldcon membership would be beneficial to all involved. It would eliminate most, if not all, of the objections a separate YA Hugo category engenders.

With its three age group categories, the Golden Ducks address the problem of defining what a YA book is. And, if a book is good enough, it could win both a Golden Duck and a Hugo. As a juried award, it would avoid the problem of unsophisticated readers trying to guess what the best YA books are. It is conceivable that the Golden Ducks could be revamped to be similar to the John W. Campbell award for best new writer, i.e., a non-Hugo that is voted on by the Worldcon membership. I think that the Golden Ducks should remain a juried award to maintain its integrity.

Elevating the visibility and stature of the Golden Duck awards would produce a win-win result that I think should be given serious consideration. It would not need a change to the WSFS constitution. It would require the buy-in of the Hugo and Worldcon committees, but it’s hard to imagine them objecting too much. Yes, it would lengthen the Hugo ceremony, but not by much. Some might argue that this plan would open the doors to other awards to petition to be included in the Hugo ceremony. I don’t think this would be a serious problem.

The benefits of acknowledging great science fiction and fantasy aimed at children far outweigh the negatives.

Halting State

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Halting State by Charles Stross is a tour de force melding of police procedural and cyberpunk.  In the year 2018, Sergeant Sue Smith of the Edinburgh constabulary is called to investigate a virtual robbery in an online game space by a band of orcs at a dot-com startup company.  Jack Reed, a computer expert, and Elaine Barnaby, an insurance investigator, are quickly called in to spearhead the insurance company’s investigation.  They soon realize that there is more than meets the eye, and are caught in a web of high-power politics and finance, not to mention murder.  Stross creates a detailed world filled with wonderful gadgets, good characterizations, and plenty of action, not to mention some quirky humor.  Possibly the biggest hurdle in reading the book is that it is written in the second person.  This makes sense for a story centered on role-playing games, since that is how most game masters run their games.  I didn’t find this hard to comprehend (actually, it didn’t really register until about halfway through the book), perhaps since I have played enough D&D to be used to this style.  It’s a brave choice, but I thought it worked fine.  I’ve read several other Stross novels and stories, and have been delighted with all of them.  He has jumped onto my favorites list.

2011 Nebula Awards Nominees Announced

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) announced the nominees for the 2011 Nebula Awards, the nominees for the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and the nominees for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book.

Novel

Novella

Novelette

Short Story

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

  • Attack the Block, Joe Cornish (writer/director) (Optimum Releasing; Screen Gems)
  • Captain America: The First Avenger, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (writers), Joe Johnston (director) (Paramount)
  • Doctor Who: “The Doctor’s Wife,” Neil Gaiman (writer), Richard Clark (director) (BBC Wales)
  • Hugo, John Logan (writer), Martin Scorsese (director) (Paramount)
  • Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen (writer/director) (Sony)
  • Source Code, Ben Ripley (writer), Duncan Jones (director) (Summit)
  • The Adjustment Bureau, George Nolfi (writer/director) (Universal)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book

The winners will be announced at SFWA’s 47th Annual Nebula Awards Weekend, to be held Thursday through Sunday, May 17 to May 20, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. Connie Willis will be the recipient of the 2011 Damon Knight Grand Master Award for her lifetime contributions and achievements in the field. Walter Jon Williams will preside as toastmaster, with Astronaut Michael Fincke as keynote speaker.

The Nebula Awards are voted on, and presented by, active members of  SFWA. Voting will open to SFWA Active members on March 1 and close on March 30.

A Princess of Mars

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Guest review by Tommy “Slug” Togath, age 13

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Princess of Mars was first published 100 years ago in 1912. I was expecting an old-fashioned story that would be kind of boring. But the reality was that it was exciting and I only had to look up 2 or 3 words I’ve never heard of.

This book is the basis for the upcoming movie, John Carter. John Carter is a former Confederate officer who goes to Arizona to mine for gold after the Civil War. When his partner is killed by Apaches, he narrowly escapes by hiding in a mysterious cave. He goes to sleep and wakes up on Mars, known as Barsoom to the natives. My biggest surprise was how John Carter got from Earth to Mars—no rockets or anything logical, so that kind of detracted from the realism. I know there’s really no life on Mars, and I could suspend my disbelief about that part, but it was hard to look past the mysterious travel between planets. Maybe the next book will address that more sensibly.

John Carter becomes friends with a Martian warrior named Tars Tarkas. Tars Tarkas is a Thark, with green skin, 6 limbs, and very tall. I liked Tars Tarkas a lot, but he really didn’t have much to do. A domesticated Martian pet named Woola becomes John Carter’s companion. I loved Woola because he was brave and loyal to John Carter, just like my dog is to me. John Carter falls in love with a Martian woman named Dejah Thoris. She looks just like an Earth woman, except she has red skin. Dejah Thoris is mostly just a “damsel in distress” and doesn’t do much in the story.

I liked John Carter because he was brave and smart. He had to fight a lot of Martians because he didn’t know their customs. But it turned out all right because the Martians are all warriors who live by the sword and they respect the greatest fighters. John Carter had a big advantage because his muscles were used to the higher gravity of Earth, so he could jump really far and get away from danger.

John Carter made many enemies. The one I liked the least was Sarkoja, a female Thark. She was mean to everybody. Tars Tarkas finally made her leave, but I don’t think we’ve seen the last of her.

I liked the scenes with fighting and battles. The opening scenes in Arizona with John Carter being chased by Apaches were very thrilling. I liked the part where John Carter was captured in the city of Zodanga, then rescued his friend Kantos Kan and escaped. Although I knew he would escape, it was still exciting to read about how he fought against long odds and was able to get away.

I was a little disappointed that the story seemed to jump around a lot—more like a series of connected short stories than a coherent novel. But the book held my interest and I would recommend it to my friends. I will definitely read the next book in the series, and I am more excited than ever to see the movie John Carter.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon handily won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2008. As an alternate history, it gets lumped in with science fiction and fantasy, although there is a quasi-fantasy element that surfaces in the latter part of the book. As one would expect from a Pulitzer Prize winner, Chabon is an excellent writer who knows how to evoke mood and emotion. The story is a detective noir (more along the lines of Chinatown than The Maltese Falcon) set in Sitka, Alaska, where the Jews settled in 1948 and are now, sixty years later, in danger of being expelled when the land reverts to Alaskan control. Homicide detective Meyer Landsman begins what looks like a fairly routine murder investigation only to be drawn into a circle of intrigue, deception, and conspiracy. Along the way he must face his personal demons in the forms of his estranged wife, who is now his boss, and the mysteries of his sister’s death in an airplane accident years ago. Weaving colorful characters and settings together, Chabon paints a fascinating picture of what might have been, while keeping us enthralled with mystery and action. Chabon’s use of Yiddish, Yiddish-derivatives, and even Esperanto words and phrases may turn off some readers, but most of the words are contextually self-evident, and there is a glossary in the back of the book. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a marvelous feat of world building and linguistics.

Rollback

Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rollback opens in 2048 as Don and Sarah Halifax are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. Sarah is a retired astrophysicist who had decoded the first alien radio message almost forty years earlier, helped craft humanity’s reply, and now is asked to help figure out the aliens’ second message which for some reason is coded differently than the first message. In order to have more time to work on the message, a billionaire philanthropist agrees to pay for Sarah’s “rollback,” or rejuvenation of body. Sarah won’t do it unless Don is included in the deal, but it turns out that the process doesn’t work on Sarah but does on Don. A large part of the book is an examination of Don’s new life as a physically-fit 25-year-old with the mind of an octogenarian, torn between the love for his wife and his newfound virility. In the meantime, Sarah is in a race to discover the hidden meaning of the second alien message before she dies. Rollback is a journeyman effort by a fan favorite. This is the quintessential Analog story—lots of techno-babble and pseudo-psychology, but a bit short on characterization.

Brasyl

Brasyl by Ian McDonald

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Brasyl by Ian McDonald threads three separate tales spanning the past, present, and future of Brasil: Marcelina, a reality TV producer in Rio de Janeiro in 2006; Edson, a street hustler in São Paulo in 2032; and Father Louis Quinn, who is tracking down an errant Jesuit in a remote area of the Amazon River Basin in 1732 (very reminiscent of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness). At first, each story appears relatively normal, but as the action progresses, weird things begin to happen until the climax where the three threads converge. The first half of the book takes some fortitude to wade through, but the second half gets better, finishing with plenty of action. Part of my problem with the first half of the book is that it is interlaced with a lot of Portuguese terms that take a while to understand. The other problem for me is that it was hard to see how the three storylines were going to pull together. The science-fictional MacGuffin wasn’t explicitly revealed until late in the book, so I won’t spoil it. Brasyl is a lush, literate novel that will greatly appeal to some, and be a complete bore to others.

The Last Colony

The Last Colony by John Scalzi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Last Colony by John Scalzi is the third in a series depicting a future where senior citizens are shipped off Earth, reborn in enhanced bodies, and used to fight alien armies. This volume is self-contained, so you won’t miss much if you haven’t read the other books (I missed the second book in the series and didn’t have any problems with following this one). Here, retired soldier John Perry and his wife are assigned to lead a group of settlers on an uncolonized planet. Things quickly go wrong, and Perry finds himself in the thick of interstellar politics and war. The characters are not drawn especially vividly and the resolution depends a bit much on some coincidences and good fortune, but the story moves quickly; Scalzi knows how to write an enjoyable page turner. If you like Robert Heinlein or Lois McMaster Bujold, you will undoubtedly enjoy John Scalzi.

Scalzi rewrote this novel for young adults as Zoe’s Tale. If you read The Last Colony, don’t waste your time reading Zoe’s Tale, and vice versa, because there is very little difference between the two—certainly not enough to justify reading both.

Zoe’s Tale

Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Teenager Zoë Boutin goes with her adopted parents, retired soldiers John Perry and Jane Sagan, and a group of settlers to an uncolonized planet. Things quickly go wrong, and colony leader Perry finds himself in the thick of interstellar politics and war. If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is the exact same story Scalzi told in his 2008 Hugo nominee, The Last Colony. The only difference is that it is told from Zoë’s point of view. Zoe’s Tale is an enjoyable young-adult page turner that fills in a couple of plot holes from The Last Colony. However, if you’ve read The Last Colony, don’t waste your time reading Zoe’s Tale, and vice versa, because there is very little difference between the two—certainly not enough to justify reading both. Why this book was nominated for a Hugo over major works by Iain M. Banks, Greg Bear, and Ken MacLeod is beyond me. John Scalzi obviously has a passionate and vocal following.