Hugo 2014: The Novels

This year for the first time I’m making a real effort to read all the Hugo nominees. First up: the novels.

There are five nominees, and I can’t say much for the nomination process. Of the five, I think only two rise to the level of what should be a nominee. I haven’t read a lot of other (maybe any?) SF novels published in 2013, but still it’s hard to believe these five represent the best of the list. Of the five nominated only one was also on the Nebula nominees list for 2013, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, and it’s also my pick for the Hugo. But overall the Hugo nominating process feels seriously broken for novels, if these are the best they can come up with.

Besides Ancillary Justice, the only nominee I think is worthy of being on the list is Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross. Ancillary Justice and Neptune’s Brood are both page turning, rollicking hard SF space operas. I think Ancillary Justice is slightly the better and more ambitious book, or maybe I’m just getting fooled because it’s the darker and more serious of the two, and I’m confusing that with depth, but either way it’s close. Both of these are highly recommended. Ancillary Justice is the first in a series. Neptune’s Brood is set in the same universe as Saturn’s Children, but many centuries in the future. It is a standalone novel. There’s no particular reason to read Saturn’s Children first.

After that, well let’s just say that my third pick is “No Award.” Parasite by Mira Grant is almost there. It’s got strong characters, clearly drawn. It’s well-written. It’s hard SF, and the science is clever and interesting. Unfortunately almost every character in this book is holding the idiot ball. Why wouldn’t a doctor who has learned a new test for a potentially fatal illness post on the internet, “Hey guys, if you wave an ultraviolet wand over a patient, you can quickly see if they’re infected or not.” Similarly the idea that in the 21st century a single corporation, even with government collusion, can cover up multiple zombie outbreaks in the United States is ridiculously implausible. And worst of all, there are multiple points at which the entire plot would fall apart if two characters who are allegedly on the same side did not pointlessly withhold information from each other. The plot does not hold up in a post HpMoR/TV Tropes world.

In fifth place is Warbound. This is essentially a superhero novel set in the 1930s with elements of diesel punk. Much like many comic books, it postulates a ridiculous world that makes no sense, even if superpowers really did exist. Much like Parasite, many characters are holding the idiot ball. Plus J. Edgar Hoover is a good guy fighting for freedom. (Yeah, right.) Larry Correia can write fight scenes well, and he knows how to make a page turn; but as best of the year, this book isn’t even close.

In sixth place, I put the entire Wheel of Time series. This is the one I’m least certain of. A lot of people like this series enough to read it even past the author’s death through 15 long volumes, but I can only ask “Why?” I tried to read this. I really did. But I couldn’t stomach more than a few pages. It was just too awful. There may well be something about these books I’m not getting. A lot of people seem to really like these books. and I do like most extremely popular series, at least a little. Maybe the books change completely a chapter or two in? If so, tell me and I’ll try again. But until then, The Wheel of Time gets no stars from me.

2 Responses to “Hugo 2014: The Novels”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    I got slightly further than you, to the end of Part I of the first book of WoT. Then I said “Do I give a damn about any of these people?” Answer: No. Up against the wall!

    Never could get into Game of Thrones either.

  2. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    I dropped A Song of Ice and Fire after a chapter or two the first time I tried it. However I picked it up again a year or so later at my wife’s insistence, and this time it grabbed me and I read all the way through to the (current) end. That’s one reason I’m not totally sure that Wheel of Time is as bad as I think. IMHO, Game of Thrones doesn’t really get going until the group leaves Winterfell for the first time.

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