Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

Some sf books I read that didn't make the Hugo ballot: Bujold, Peter Brown, Vernon, Whitehead

The Hugo nominations took a lot of what would otherwise have been reading and blogging time so far this year, so I am only now beginning to catch up. Here are four Hugo-eligible books which I read as the votes were coming in, which did not however make the final ballot. It's some time since I read each of them, so my notes are fairly cursory.

Penric's Mission, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Second paragraph of third chapter:
“Now what?” he called up, not expecting a reply.
This is my favourite of the four I'm looking at here - Penric is emerging as a great Bujold character in the mould of Miles Vorkosigan, and the story is a fascinating one of political intrigue and healing from horrible injury which leans a bit on Zelazny's Amber.

I got it mainly because it was Bujold but also because it was close to the Hugo novel/novella boundary - in fact it is just over 45,000 words which is the current upper limit for novellas, though it was marketed as a novella by the publishers and mainly nominated as a novella by voters. I hereby give notice that, if I can find a seconder, I am going to propose that the novel/novella boundary for Hugo purposes set in paragraph 3.2.8 of the WSFS constitution should have a flexibility of 20% (ie 8,000 words rather than 5,000 as at present) like all other such boundaries.

The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown (did not finish)

Second paragraph of third chapter:
“Hello, I am ROZZUM unit 7134, but you may call me Roz. While my robotic systems are activating, I will tell you about myself.[”]
Another instance of the need for greater flexibility in the Hugo novel/novella boundary, this is a shade under 35,000 words, the current minimum for a finalist in the Best Novel category, but was marketed and mainly nominated as a novel.

I feel less strongly because I didn't like it and couldn't finish it; I have a blind spot about cute anthropomorphic robots, and the protagonist here is one of the most typical examples I have come across recently.

The Raven and the Reindeer, by T. Kingfisher [Ursula Vernon]

Second paragraph of third chapter:
“A hundred-year storm,” said Gerta’s grandmother. “The Snow Queen rides tonight.
Another one that I got because there seemed to be some confusion about its length, though in fact I found it was far into novel territory at over 56,000 words. It's a gritty, fleshy retelling of the Snow Queen story, which I admit gave me some sleepless moments in the middle of the night while I was reading it.

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

Second paragraph of third chapter:
He had a saloon partner named Tom Bird, a half-breed who took a sentimental turn when lubricated by whiskey. On nights when Tom Bird felt separate from his life’s design, he shared stories of the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit lived in all things – the earth, the sky, the animals and forests – flowing through and connecting them in a divine thread. Although Ridgeway’s father scorned religious talk, Tom Bird’s testimony on the Great Spirit reminded him of how he felt about iron. He bent to no god save the glowing iron he tended in his forge. He’d read about the great volcanoes, the lost city of Pompeii destroyed by fire that poured out of mountains from deep below. Liquid fire was the very blood of the earth. It was his mission to upset, mash, and draw out the metal into the useful things that made society operate: nails, horseshoes, plows, knives, guns. Chains. Working the spirit, he called it.
This one caught my eye as by far the best scorer on GoodReads/Librarything stats on the BSFA longlist. I found it fascinating - a combination of 19th-century slavery narratives (of which I have read a few) with steampunk; the "underground railroad" of the title is a literal subterranean rail transport system which the protagonists use to try and keep a step ahead of the vindictive slave-catcher Ridgeway. I am surprised I haven't read more about this in my usual sources.
Tags: bookblog 2017, pulitzer, sf: clarke award, writer: lois mcmaster bujold, writer: ursula vernon

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