Thursday, July 26, 2012
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (Orbit)
Deadline by Mira Grant (Orbit)
A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin (Bantam Spectra)
Embassytown by China Miéville (Macmillan / Del Rey)
Among Others by Jo Walton (Tor)
Starting from worst to best, here are my rankings:
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) reads like two novels mashed together. Story one: a hard-bitten detective pursues a missing person’s case across the asteroid belt. Story two: an idealistic space-ship captain and his faithful crew have a series of adventures across the solar system. Unfortunately, neither story is particularly interesting. The world building and the plot points are built from over-used parts. The prose feels rushed and hobbled with clichés. The characters are thin. The fascination with weapons and violence suggests that the novel is intended for 13-year-old boys. It features zombies, which scores negative points for lack of originality.
A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin is a category error. The Hugo Awards don’t have a category (thank goodness) for a middle volume of an unfinished and apparently endless series. This book doesn’t belong in the best novel category. It’s certainly not self-contained. It reads like a very long set of middle chapters excerpted from an incredibly long novel, which is exactly what it is. I enjoyed it, even though it is overlong and could use some editing. It comes from the more-is-better school of series fiction, so any complaint I have that it is too long is only a recommendation to those who like this sort of thing. It features zombies, which scores negative points for lack of originality.
Among Others by Jo Walton is a cleverly constructed character portrait of a teenage girl dealing with issues of arriving at a new boarding school, relationships with boys, a dysfunctional family, and grief over the unnatural death of her twin sister. It is also a fantasy novel that confounds reader expectations by being set entirely after the climactic battle between opposing magical forces. Along the way the reader encounters remarkably alien faerie creatures and a vivid and original magical system. Our main character spends much of her time in the school library and discovers a variety of science fiction and fantasy novels from the 1960s and ‘70s and offers her impressions of each reading experience. What could be seen as calculated fan-service instead provides a surprising depth of insight into the thoughts and maturation of our young viewpoint character. Among Others is an excellent novel with layers that reward close attention.
SF Strangelove’s ranking of the Hugo Awards Best Novel shortlist:
1. Embassytown by China Miéville
2. Among Others by Jo Walton
3. A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin
4. No award
5. Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
Anything after “no award” doesn’t matter in the voting. A Dance With Dragons only barely makes it above “no award” in my estimation.
It’s a relief to be able to say that two of the five best novel nominees are actually worthy of a best novel award. That makes it an above-average year for the Hugo Awards Best Novel shortlist.
Here are novels I’ve read that deserved a spot on the best novel shortlist:
The best science fiction novels published in 2011:
This Shared Dream by Kathleen Ann Goonan
Embassytown by China Miéville
The Islanders by Christopher Priest
Home Fires by Gene Wolfe
The best fantasy novels published in 2011:
The Uncertain Places by Lisa Goldstein
Among Others by Jo Walton
I’m sure I missed a few. Still, that’s more than enough to fill my ideal Hugo shorlist. Simply put, the Hugo Awards nominators missed several superior novels.