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My vote for Best Novel

I thought I might start by looking back at the last 15 years, which is the period in which I have really paying attention to the Hugo process year on year. My strike rate at choosing winners has been rather poor.

2000: Best Novel award won by A Deepness in the Sky. I preferred A Civil Campaign.
2001: Best Novel award won by Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I preferred A Storm of Swords.
2002: Best Novel award won by American Gods. I preferred The Curse of Chalion.
2003: Best Novel award won by Hominids. I preferred The Years of Rice and Salt.
2004: Best Novel award won by Paladin of Souls. I preferred Ilium.
2005: Best Novel award won by Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I voted for River of Gods.
2006: Best Novel award won by Spin, which I actually voted for.
2007: Best Novel award won by Rainbow's End, which again I voted for.
2008: Best Novel award won by The Yiddish Policemen's Union. I voted for Brasyl.
2009: Best Novel award won by The Graveyard Book. I voted for Anathem.
2010: Best Novel award won jointly by The Windup Girl and The City & the City. I voted for Palimpsest.
2011: Best Novel award won by Blackout/All Clear. I voted for The Dervish House.
2012: Best Novel award won by Among Others, which I voted for.
2013: Best Novel award won by Redshirts. I voted for Captain Vorpatril's Alliance.
2014: Best Novel award won by Ancillary Justice, which I voted for.
(And Retro-Hugo for Best Novel won by The Sword in the Stone, which I voted for.)

That's four out of fifteen years that the Best Novel Hugo went my way, though I've been doing better recently because I did support the winner two years out of the last three (and last year's Retro Hugo winner). I suspect everyone will agree that there are some poor choices in there - for me, those would be Hominids, Blackout/All Clear and Redshirts in particular, though at least the last of these is entertaining - and the fannish politics of every year's ballot can reasonably be queried and examined. The Hugos are not perfect, and I don't believe that anyone ever said that they were.

However, there are good ways and bad ways of addressing this, and we have seen bad as well as good recently. One of the good things that has come out of the nasty mess of the last few weeks is that a lot more people will be nominating next year, and I suspect that they will behave more like normal fans rather than following the lead of the slate organisers, both in voting this year and in nominating next year.

Matt Foster has made a good argument in favour of not only voting No Award above all slate nominees, but also voting No Award top in all categories where there are only one or two non-slate contenders, on the basis that the slate organisers have denied us a proper choice in those categories too. I find myself sympathetic to this line of thought. I was already planning to put No Award top in Best Novelette (because I was not impressed by the one non-slate finalist) and Best Fan Writer (because the one non-slate finalist has been nominated for a single piece of work rather than for a body of work over the last year), though in both cases I will rank the non-slate finalist second to minimise the chance of a slate win. 

I had been going to vote for Julie Dillon as the one non-slate finalist in Best Professional Artist, but I shall consider Matt Foster's's arguments carefully; if the choice is Julie Dillon or nobody, is that really a choice? I like her work in general, but I don't actually like the category anyway (which is a different argument for a different time), and this year's ballot is deeply flawed due to the intervention of the slatemongers. Again, she will get at least a second preference from me, to reduce the chance of a slate nominee winning. 

Anyway, for Best Novel these arguments no longer apply, since the honourable withdrawal of one of the (unwitting) slate nominees has given us three excellent books to choose from, each of which would be an acceptable winner in a normal year. Ranking them is difficult, but it's got to be done. My vote is as follows.

4) No Award. Two of the finalists in this category are on the ballot because of an organised campaign by a racist misogynist whose declared aim is to destroy the Hugos, rather than because of their ostensible literary merit. No blame attaches to the two authors in question for this situation, but I am not giving either work a preference Vote. I would add that one of the nominated works is the 18th novel in an ongoing series which I'm unfamiliar with, and I have to say that even if it had reached the final ballot legitimately I suspect I'd be unlikely to vote for it for that reason alone, though I did give a previous book in the series a decent ranking in the 2009 Best Graphic Story category (and also happily vote Vorkosigan). 

3) The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison [Sarah Monette]. This is an excellent Bildungsroman of a youth who unexpectedly becomes Emperor of a fantasy kingdom (though with more airships than magic) and has to deal not only with court intrigue and messy dynastic politics, but also with racism and homophobia, a neat revisiting of sword and sorcery tropes, well told. I don't think I had read much of Monette/Addison's work before but I will look out for it in future.

2) The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu. China is of course the coming nation in the global economy, and I think we'll be seeing a lot more Chinese SF in the years to come. (I also strongly recommend The Fat Years, by Chan Koonchung.) This is a novel about contemporary Chinese scientists dealing with alien contact, video games and the legacy of the Cultural Revolution. It's very neatly constructed and convincing. Ken Liu's footnotes on Chinese politics and history inform without intruding. It slightly lost me when the aliens actually appeared, but I still really enjoyed it.

1) Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie. This is the sequel to last year's multiple award winner, Ancillary Justice; I voted for it for the BSFA Award, which it won, and I'll vote for it for the Hugo as well. I actually liked it more than the first book in the series; it's self-contained and fuelled by righteous anger, forensically directed at planetary and sexual politics. It's several months since I read it as one of the Clarke submissions, but I think I still like it best of the three.

(Apologies for the length of this post. Since LJ has gone so quiet these days, I feel under less obligation to deploy cut-tags.)

2015 Hugos: Initial observations | Voting No Award above the slates | How the slate was(n't) crowdsourced | Where the new voters are
Best Novel | Short fiction | Best Related Work | Best Graphic Story | Pro and Fan Artist | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form), Best Fan Writer, John W. Campbell Award


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 15th, 2015 10:38 am (UTC)
One of my friends really loves Sarah Monette's stuff as Sarah Monette, but it's different enough that I was a bit o_O to find out they're the same writer.
May. 15th, 2015 02:12 pm (UTC)
Still reading the Three-Body Problem, so currently my vote would be The Goblin Emperor at one, with Ancillary Sword at two. I'll be happy if either of those wins the Hugo, but found Addison's novel just a mite better.
May. 16th, 2015 03:01 am (UTC)
The Three-Body Problem Is great!
I am a newbie to Hugo voting. So, even though I am opposed to the Puppies and think that their tactic of using slates to dominate the Hugo nominations was tacky, misguided and obnoxious, I am glad that it has led to the information that all it takes is $40 to have a vote for the 2015 Hugo and nominate for the 2016 Hugos.

Anyway, so since the only category I really care about is Best Novel (like a large percentage of the Hugo-voting population, as Chaos Horizon's analysis has shown) I have tried to read all 5 nominees regardless of how painful it might be.

I had heard about Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor mentioned as one of the best fantasy books of the year (and it was nominated for a Nebula after all) so I was happy to try it. I got through the first 50 pages or so and found that I just did not care about ANY of the characters and found it just painful to continue so I stopped. I may try and pick it up again later in the summer for completeness, but right now I simply do not understand what people are seeing in this book as the best of the year.

I bought and loved Ancillary Justice last year and thus was very excited about the sequel Ancillary Sword, which I agree is almost as good as the first book. That being said, it is very similar to the first book and doesn't really expand the story in significant ways.

I read The Three-Body Problem and to me this is the only book of the 2015 Hugo nominees that got me excited and that I think "fits in" to the historical list of previous winners. The story has rich elements and the Cultural Revolution stuff is very very interesting.

I also tried to read Kevin J Anderson's The Dark Between The Stars and found it to be absolutely atrocious. It is very reminiscent of the numerous horrendous "XXX of Dune" books co-authored by Mr. Anderson and Brian Herbert. I did give it a try but after the first 50 pages or so I could see that it was not going to get any better and gave up. It probably didn't help that is is Book 8 in a 7-book series (or the first book of a new trilogy).

I currently have Jim Butcher's Skin Game on my mantle (borrowed from the library) but the fact that it is #15 of an ongoing series makes it unlikely that the book will stand on its own merits. But I will give it a fair shot to impress me. If someone put a gun to my head and said I had to submit my Hugo ballot I would say:

1. The Three-Body Problem
2. Ancillary Sword

May. 16th, 2015 06:04 am (UTC)
Re: The Three-Body Problem Is great!f
Another newbie, but I care passionately about the short forms. So far *shudder* they are almost uniformly awful.

Yours is a really interesting reaction compared to mine. I bounced off The Goblin the first go, thinking it was a bit too YAish. Tried again a bit later and got sucked into a) Maia's character development, b) the world building and c) the slight trope bending of the overlooked, mistreated heir coming to power and single-handedly kicking a&& and taking names who instead overcomes his disadvantage by empathy and kindness.

In contrast I am really struggling with 3BP. Am only 1/3 thru on 2nd attempt but keep bumping into not being able to accept or care about the characters. I read that you may need to get further to encounter the cool science stuff to carry over characterization issues (and the science stuff usually does get first place with me).

Hadn't read AJ so about 1/2 through and loving it. Will then read AS.

I tried Dark and just can't get past the really choppy vignette style and cardboard characters. I have tried previous Anderson books and was never able to sink into the stories far enough that the problems didn't yank me back out again.

Will try Skin Game later.

I don't have an order yet, but Dark will not be ranked, even below NA.
May. 16th, 2015 06:39 am (UTC)
Re: The Three-Body Problem Is great!f
Welcome! I guess I've been File770'd.

You are very brave to struggle through the short fiction. I have read only the one non-slate finalist, but reports of the others from elsewhere are not encouraging...

Edited at 2015-05-16 06:39 am (UTC)
May. 16th, 2015 05:03 pm (UTC)
Re: The Three-Body Problem Is great!f"l
Yeah, I found you at File770.

I'm one of the new members who've relied on the Hugos for years to lead me to new authors and works to explore. Feel kinda like I let a friend down. I love the short stuff but also bought anthologies after the awards were over. I'm determined to be more proactive.

On this year's short fiction, I feel somewhat obligated to try to read it in case something should be listed below NA to prevent something worse from winning. So far the only one is "Totaled" by K. England. She has some talent and the story's average. I haven't decided, yet.

Everything else I've read is drek and won't even get rated after NA. Still have 2 or 3 from each category to go. Of course, with John C. Wright hogging so many slots and writing such miserable drivel, I may save myself the pain and just deep six his remaining candidates.

May. 16th, 2015 05:58 pm (UTC)
Re: The Three-Body Problem Is great!f"l
There were a couple of years that I bought "Best of" anthologies which came out before the awards deadline. Haven't had time in the last few years, and like you I now feel I must be a bit more proactive.
May. 16th, 2015 06:37 am (UTC)
Re: The Three-Body Problem Is great!
Thanks! I think a lot of the new voters are coming from a similar direction to yourself, in that they were always vaguely aware of the award (and generally comfortable with it) but only now realise how easy it is to participate. I was the same until the 2005 Worldcon, but have voted every year since.

Clearly reasonable people can disagree about the relative merits of the nominees. The Goblin Emperor would be an unusual winner - the last obvious fantasy novels to win were in 2004 and 2005 - and I think that each of the other two probably has more momentum; my sense is that Ancillary Sword has the edge.
May. 17th, 2015 03:01 pm (UTC)
Re: The Three-Body Problem Is great!
The Goblin Emperor would be an unusual winner - the last obvious fantasy novels to win were in 2004 and 2005 -

I'd classify Among Others and The Graveyard Book as fantasies as well.
May. 17th, 2015 03:46 pm (UTC)
Re: The Three-Body Problem Is great!
Er, yeah.
May. 25th, 2015 10:02 pm (UTC)
Re: The Three-Body Problem Is great!
Now that I have finished Skin Game I will rank it. I haven't decided whether it should be ranked above NO AWARD, yet, but I will not leave it off my ballot (even though it was Puppy-delivered).

So far my ballot looks like

1. The Three Body Problem
2. Ancillary Sword
4. Skin Game
5. The Goblin Emperor

The big question for me is whether to put books I don't think deserve the Hugo at all above No Award. To me that's the point of the No Award option (but this is my first time voting). I would be fine with 3BP or AS winning the Hugo for Best Novel. I wouldn't be sad if SG won, but I don't know that I want to contribute to it doing so. I understand a lot of people admire TGE but I can't get my head around it, even though I have it for free now in the Hugo packet.

Funny you think Sword has the momentum, I think the Hugo is The Three-Body Problem's to lose this year and Liu is starting to show up a lot more in mainstream places. With Leckie winning EVERYTHING last year, she seems less inclined to campaign for this one and people seem less inclined to give it to her (no Clarke nomination, for example)
May. 16th, 2015 09:32 am (UTC)
I finished Goblin Emperor last night, and I'm slightly surprised by how much I liked it. I very nearly bounced off it because of the use of language, but the thees and thous thankfully got a lot less frequent once he was emperor: I don't think I'd have managed to finish it otherwise, even if the replacement (you know, we have different words for singular and plural numbers of people for a reason) was also rather irritating. I very rarely knew who any of the characters were, because my brain just goes 'meh, made up name' and doesn't take it in (but it was pretty easy to tell from context most of the time, after they'd been in the page for a little while), and the other bits of made up language were even worse, particularly because half the time they were only translated on the third or fourth use, if ever, and when they were translated most of the translations were perfectly good phrases that could just as well have been used instead.

So I'm really surprised by how much I liked it: I got to a point where I either needed to give up or just stop caring that I didn't know from one page to the next who was being discussed, what their position/rank/job was, or where the discussion was happening, and I stopped caring and it was still a fun romp*, although if it's actually the best book of the year then that's rather sad.

* It did cross my mind that this might be the intended effect, to give the reader an insight into how confused the main character was, but the presence of an appendix explaining (I presume: didn't read beyond the first few lines) how terribly clever the author's made up language was made that unlikely.

(I haven't read the others, yet, although I suppose I should. Ancillary Justice was ok, but also played annoying language games from what I remember. I've been putting off Three-Body Problem because it's the first in a trilogy and I'd rather read them all in one go. I have read the Jim Butcher, because I enjoy the series, but it's not award-worthy: the first half dozen or so of the series stood fairly well alone, but the later ones don't.)

Edited at 2015-05-16 09:43 am (UTC)
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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