July 14, 2017

Hugo Voting: The Campbell for Best New Writer (or, The Infamous Not-A-Hugo)

The finalists for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer:

Sarah Gailey (1st year of eligibility)
J. Mulrooney (1st year of eligibility)
Malka Older (2nd year of eligibility)
Ada Palmer (1st year of eligibility)
Laurie Penny (2nd year of eligibility)
Kelly Robson (2nd year of eligibility)

My ballot:

7) J. Mulrooney

What the...? Yuck. And that's all I have to say about that.

6) No Award

5) Malka Older

Her stories didn't impress me, unfortunately.

4) Kelly Robson

Kelly Robson seems to have more of a science-fictional edge to her writing (at least in two out of the three stories--unfortunately, I couldn't get into "Waters of Versailles"), and "The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill" was the best of her offerings. However, I didn't like her stories as well as the top three.

3) Sarah Gailey

Sarah Gailey has written some good short stories in the past few years, ranging from funny to sad to tragic. She's also the author of the Women of Harry Potter series at Tor.com, which in some ways serves as a better showcase of her writing than her stories. However, she doesn't yet have Laurie Penny's dark rapier edge, or Ada Palmer's skill at juggling multiple plot, character and theme threads like spinning dinner plates, keeping everything in the air when by all rights it should come crashing down.

2) Laurie Penny

I thought Laurie Penny's novella, Everything Belongs To the Future, was just so-so. But I took a look at the short stories included in the Hugo packet, and I'm glad I did. They were surprisingly good. One of them, "The Killing Jar," was a taut little horror thriller about English Fine Arts serial killers (which is a seriously bonkers idea, but she makes it work), and another, "Blue Monday," was a sly behind-the-scenes satire about all those cutesy YouTube puppy, kitten and baby videos. There is an idiosyncratic sideways twist to these stories, sort of a dark bloody version of Emily Dickinson's "Tell the truth but tell it slant," that makes you want to keep reading.

1) Ada Palmer

I think if there's one thing that's a shoo-in on this year's ballot, it's Ada Palmer. Her novel Too Like the Lightning made too big a splash, and had too many people talking about it, whether or not they liked it. I'm not sure I liked it myself; it was a dense, difficult, hard-to-understand read, bursting at the seams with philosophy, swelling with infodumps, and possessing a glacially slow plot and an unreliable narrator who not only frequently breaks the fourth wall to argue with his hypothetical future reader, he also turns out to be quite the monster himself. But while I think her book was an ambitious sprawling mess, I can't deny Ada Palmer's skill as a writer. She knows her Enlightenment history and her philosophers, and she took my hand and guided me through her mess of a novel, by writing one more scene I had to finish, and one more...until I turned the last page of the book.

Next up: Deep breath. Tomorrow is the last day of voting, and I've got to get it done.

No comments: