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2012 Hugos: Best Novel

Fortunately none of this year's Hugo nominees is actually a bad book, an improvement on some previous years (no Willis, no Sawyer). Even so, I found it pretty easy to rank the nominees as follows:

6) Deadline, by "Mira Grant". I'm a little sorry about this, because it is an enjoyable book that kept me turning the pages. But the fact is that it's the middle book of a trilogy, in which the characters spend most of their time running around a devastated zombie-infested America and the plot isn't actually resolved. For me it fails the test of whether I would be embarrassed if it won the Hugo, especially given the quality of some of the competition, so with regret it goes bottom of the list.

5) No Award. I may be being a bit harsh on Deadline; on the other hand I may not be being harsh enough on some of the others!

4) A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin. I enjoyed this one very much as well, and it will almost certainly win the award as it is so far ahead of the field in terms of name recognition. But it's the fifth book of an ongoing series, and judged on its own merits (as opposed to the series as a whole so far) I reckon there are three better books on the ballot.

3) Leviathan Wakes, by "James S.A. Corey". The only traditional sf book on the list, with asteroid mines, spaceships, and evil businessmen exploiting alien tech and fomenting war. Not hugely adventurous in style and vision but a good old sensawunda romp.

2) Embassytown, by China Miéville. A hugely ambitious novel about language, aliens, war and revolution. Doesn't quite match the level of its ambition with unattractive central characters and a plot that gets derailed towards the end. I expect it won't do as well as it deserves in the vote as it is a difficult (but rewarding) read.

1) Among Others, by Jo Walton. A superb novel about being an sf fan in a hostile world, something many Hugo voters will relate to, though perhaps fewer will have had to deal with an evil sorceress mother into the bargain. Particularly grabbed me because of the late 1970s setting in a liminally Celtic environment, not very distant from my own. I expect it will lose to A Dance With Dragons, but I do hope that those voters who take the trouble to read the entire shortlist respond to it as strongly as I did.

NB that three out of five of these feature dead girls in frequent conversation with central characters. In two cases it is the narrator's sister.
See also: Best Short story, Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 10th, 2012 01:25 pm (UTC)
So DEADLINE suffers for being the middle of an ongoing story that doesn't tell the whole plot, but A DANCE WITH DRAGONS doesn't fall to the same fate?
May. 10th, 2012 02:13 pm (UTC)
It does suffer from that problem, but not as much; the plot in Deadline really doesn't travel very far, A Dance With Dragons goes a bit further. But I suggest you read them both yourself and make up your own mind.
May. 10th, 2012 03:30 pm (UTC)
I read Feed as well as Deadline, and neither of them was particularly good. Um, actually so bad that I'm wondering how bad novels in general were that qualified to be nominated.

Arguably, Feed was somewhat worse than Deadline, (viewpoint character was obnoxious, bad case of unnoticed political whiplash), but both books were slow and repetitious, and to my mind, highly implausible. (Would people really give up on the mainstream media? Is it possible to maintain an modern tech level with that population loss and those security procedures?)

Is the list of novels that got nominating votes available?
May. 10th, 2012 03:54 pm (UTC)
I think it generally comes out along with the award itself.
(Deleted comment)
May. 11th, 2012 03:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I'll be looking for that for this year.

I'm saving a reread of Among Others for last because I want to end reading the novels on a high note.

I don't know if you've read _Feed_, but it does have one excellent detail-- zombies moan to attract other zombies to opportunities to feed. And there's an adequate related world-building detail-- news video of zombies is always silent because recorded moans would attract zombies. On the other hand, people should be carrying devices that play zombie moans which could be thrown (shot?) away from them to distract zombies-- or to attract zombies to make them easier to kill.

The more zombies you have in an area, the more intelligent they become, though there's no reason to think they ever get their human minds back. However, one zombie isn't smart enough to do an ambush. Twenty are.
May. 11th, 2012 12:51 am (UTC)
Deadline and Feed have the advantage of an absolutely fanatical personality cult surrounding their author. I haven't read either (I don't like horror, nor do I like much by the author in general, so I saw no reason to try), but I don't think it would matter what she wrote, it'd get nominated for any award for which it qualified which was chosen by a collection of anybody-who-chose-to-participate in SF fandom. We've had the same problem in the filk community; the awards are being dominated by a very few people the last several years, all of whom are part of the same clique, because they are voted for by every other member of the clique, and it's huge. It's not as bad there because everyone in question is actually a competent musician, but it'd be nice to see other competent musicians have a chance once in awhile too.
May. 11th, 2012 03:30 pm (UTC)
Oops-- I meant that I liked _Deadline_ less than Feed.

To be a little more specific, the main character bullied someone I identified with (short, female, not athletic). She remained loyal to the mission, put up with his crap, and died nobly. His bullying was never addressed. This is probably realistic, but it's not the sort of realism I read fiction for.

As for political whiplash, _Feed_ is the most partisan sf I've ever seen. It has a good intelligent Democratic presidential candidate, and an evil (though not especially stupid) Republican candidate.

There's somewhat (endlessly repeated) about security systems being overdone, but nothing clear about what a good level of security would be.

The argument against capital punishment is stupid but comprehensible. I couldn't make sense of the argument against gun ownership.

Basically, the tone is "trust the government, it's doing important things".

Then, we find out that the CDC is utterly corrupt at the top. Ok, fine... but I wish someone in the story had noticed the change from one cliche to another. The presidential campaign is completely forgotten in _Deadline_.

As for McGuire, I sort of like the October Daye stories-- even if some of the story drags, McGuire has a way of cranking up the emotional intensity for the big scenes that I appreciate. On the other hand, I'm getting tired of Daye achieving amazing feats of saving Fae, and then being shat on because she's a halfbreed.

Again, this can be realism (I think there have be a couple of generals in history who were treated like that, though possibly for political rather than racial reasons), but enough already in the series.
May. 12th, 2012 07:42 am (UTC)
Your critique of both Deadline and Feed is bang on the money, and I hope you feel the urge to go into greater length somewhere I can link to.

I'm aware of the author's other work but not inspired to go seek it out!
May. 12th, 2012 11:10 pm (UTC)
I'll probably be doing reviews of the nominees after the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society Hugo Nominees discussion panel in July.

Offhand, I can't think of much more to say about the novels.

I just read "The Rising", a prequel to the novels, and it's a solid but conventional piece of techno-horror.
Jul. 26th, 2012 07:07 am (UTC)
My vote:

Best Novel
1. A Dance with Dragons George R.R. Martin
2. Among Others Jo Walton
3. Deadline Mira Grant
4. Embassytown China Mieville
5. Leviathan Wakes James S.A. Corey

Alan Heuer
Jul. 31st, 2012 06:49 pm (UTC)
We agree pretty much on these, too. Though I would put Miéville on the "dislike" side of the divide.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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