I didn’t vote for the Hugos this year, which like voting for the US president, should take away my right to complain if my preferred candidate doesn’t win. But I did want to offer a short commentary on the novel I think that absolutely should win the Hugo award.
The candidates for best novel are:
- 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
- Blackout, Mira Grant (Orbit)
- Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
- Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, John Scalzi (Tor)
- Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW)
I should note that there are two novels that I didn’t read: Blackout by Mira Grant (third in series) and Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (189th in series). For each of these, I read the first book in the series, but have not read further.
What I find in common with four of these novels is that I would call them good commercial fiction. Now that’s not a bad thing. A book that appeals to a broad SF audience embodies much of what SF is about. Redshirts is a comic parody and is worthy of attention, but it doesn’t do anything to advance the genre. The story and characters are not particularly complex, closer to what I would call a beach read than a selection for a book club or classroom discussion.
Mira Grant’s Newsflesh Trilogy is also an engrossing read, doing for zombies what Richard Mattheson did for Vampires in I am Legend. It takes a scientific look at the outbreak and almost has a YA feel to it in terms of characters and pacing. The first novel was respectable, but it didn’t grab me enough to keep on reading.
Lois McMaster Bujold’s fourteenth book in the Vorkosigan series has as big of a following as Jim Butcher’s double-digit long series. I really struggle with such a long-running series being on the ballot. Like Butcher, Bujold has a large following of fans that like the adventures in her fiction, but I am surprised it is under consideration for best novel of the year. Without reading the novel, I may be missing something that is completely new with this particular volume, but my guess is it reached the top of the pile based on its fandom.
Saladin Ahmed is a fellow Michigander, so a part of me wants to support his sword and sorcery novel for the Hugo. He wrote it at the right time, when non-western fantasy has gained a lot of traction. I would compare it in esteem to Paul S. Kemp’s latest sword and sorcery series, Tales of Egil and Nix. Enjoyable? Absolutely. Good writing? Yes. Substantial merit worthy of a literary award? Not what I think of when I read these books.
This brings me to the final novel — 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. Stan does so many good things in this novel that I feel advance the genre. Even though I think his Extracts and Lists are a bit strange, his writing does take risks and has some literary merit for doing so. He is inventive in his ideas with an absolutely fascinating layout of how Mercury could be habitated by humans. His use of dual sex organs can serve as a commentary of our society and its movement toward gender neutrality (a different word from equality). It also builds on his Mars trilogy, taking it to the next logical level in our solar system.
While there are fantastical elements in the novel (an alien wombman and very unplausible habitats), Stan’s work stays true to our world. It is intelligent in its use of science and even though the plot is fairly straight-forward, it carries a good story from beginning to end. In fact, it is the story’s lack of complexity that prevents me from giving it the highest accolades.
2312 has already won the Nebula Award for best novel and without hesitation, I strongly am hoping this novel wins the Hugo as well. There has been a lot of criticism of recent nominations, but this novel is quite deserving of its nomination and perhaps even of winning. I am hoping those better than me who actually got the voter packet will agree.