July 10, 2019

Hugo Reading 2019: Best Novel

Now we come to what George R.R. Martin calls "the big one." For the past three years, of course, this has been won by N.K. Jemisin, for each volume of her remarkable Broken Earth trilogy. I'm sure the finalists in this category were a little relieved that she didn't have a book out last year.

My ballot:

7) Space Opera, Catherynne M. Valente

I almost feel as if I need to apologize for saying this, as I know this book is popular--but I did not like it at all. I couldn't even finish it. The over-the-top tone, stream-of-consciousness narrative, and hundred-word sentences just left me exhausted (I certainly didn't want it to be all terse one-syllable words a la Ernest Hemingway, but a little variation would have been nice), and I either didn't appreciate or couldn't get into the humor. It's not the author, either, as I enjoyed her novella The Refrigerator Monologues. This book is the quintessential definition of "marmite."

6) No Award

5) Record of a Spaceborn Few, Becky Chambers

For me, this book was just so-so, and I summed it up on Goodreads as "warm, fuzzy and plotless." It's a fairly deep character study, but it's also one where not much actually happens, and the quality of the writing unfortunately was not enough to make up for that. The best thing I can say about it is that it was nice, but to me, "nice" isn't "award-worthy."

4) Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse

Urban fantasy has never gotten much Hugo love, and I don't think this book will change that, despite the fact that it's a post-apocalyptic urban fantasy with a unique setting and characters. This is a first novel with some of the typical attendant first-novel problems, so I couldn't bring myself to put it on top. However, I am happy to report that I just finished the second book, Storm of Locusts, and the author has notably improved in her craft. I think she's going to have a very good career.

3) Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik is the author of the nine-volume Temeraire series, but with this book and her previous Nebula-winning novel Uprooted, I think she has really leveled up. This is a very loose reimagining of the Rumplestiltskin story. What immediately struck me upon reading it was her skill in characterization; there are several different first-person viewpoints used here, and unlike some books that switch characters by chapter headings, these characters switch POV within chapters with no differentiation except line breaks. Yet within a paragraph or two I always knew who was speaking and where we were. This book also has lovely, evocative prose and an intriguing setting.

2) Revenant Gun, Yoon Ha Lee

I've really gone back and forth with my placement of the remaining two nominees. I finally went back and read my Goodreads reviews, and realized when I reviewed this book after I first read it, I was more praising this book as the concluding volume in the Machineries of Empire series than an individual entry. Which is not to say this book isn't good; it is. I gave it five stars in my review. But this book, more than any other in the category, builds on what came before, and you need to have read the previous two volumes (Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem) to fully appreciate it. (Which you should absolutely do.)

1) The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal

I loved this book to pieces when I first read it, and I still do. This alternate history of the space race, set in motion by an asteroid slamming into the East Coast and precipitating a probable extinction event, brings all the sensawunda you could ever want from SF. This book is laden with the hard science of space travel, worked seamlessly into the narrative, and also deals with 50's sexism and racism. The last chapter, the launch of the Artemis 9 to the moon with the protagonist aboard, is a beautifully written triumph. This book just won the Nebula Award for Best Novel, and I suspect that Mary is about to make it a two-fer.

Next up: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

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