Tuesday, July 24, 2018

2018 Hugo Ballot, Part One (Novel and Novella)

This year's voting for the Hugo awards is due on July 31, 2018, which means (as usual) that I'm scrambling to read as much as I can before the deadline.  So far I've read enough of the novel and novella categories to come up with a ballot.  You (yes, you!) can still sign up to vote with a supporting membership even if you aren't going to San José, CA for Worldcon.  Sign up here.

Last night I took a break from reading one of the novella finalists, JY Yang's The Black Tides of Heavenand had a look at Twitter.  Yikes!  It turns out that the Worldcon website had misgendered a a panelist and Hugo finalist, some Hugo finalists were not on the program or barely on it, some incredibly rude and dismissive emails were sent in response to reasonable queries, and more.  You can read more about the controversies on one of the Hugo finalists for Best Fanzine, File 770.

As someone who is planning to participate in Worldcon this year (on the academic track, where things run a bit differently), I'm not sure what to do.  In the meantime, if you want to do an academic track talk and didn't get on the program, let me know.

However these controversies play out (and it seems like at least some of the Worldcon people are working to address the issues), I'm definitely going to vote for the Hugos.

Last year I came up with Three Principles of Hugo Voting.
  1. Works that are more ground breaking in the field in their construction, plot, characters, setting, ideas, etc. are to be preferred as are works that are neither sequels nor works by authors who have won Hugos in recent years.
  2. Works that delve more deeply into philosophical content are to be preferred.
  3. Works that are just plain fun and enjoyable are to be preferred as long as such preference does not conflict with the first or second principles
I also pointed out that, as with Asimov's three laws, it may not be possible to apply these without contradictions.  Also, I've loosened up on the bias against sequels (at least if I liked the first one).

So here we go!

Best Novel

Arguably the most important category.  This year there were some solid finalists, but nothing that I felt necessarily went far ahead of the pack   I also happened to have read some of them over the course of the year, which gave me a false sense of completion that made me put off cramming for the Hugos until way too late this year.  Here are my rankings.

1.  The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
  • And so my bias against sequels goes out the window from the get go!  This is the third in a groundbreaking (literally!) series.  The previous two volumes both won Hugos.  I initially didn't want to see one author win three years in a row, but this series is just so good that a hat trick for Jemisin is fine by me.  From my review: "This third volume does more with the world building than I was expecting, including quite a bit of back story of how the world got to be the way it is. I don't want to give any spoilers, but it's really cool. We even find out what the deal is with the Stone Eaters (sort of) as well as the Moon ... In these stories [post-apocalytpic stories] it is often the "rogue loner" who is willing to do anything, who sheds the oppressive tenets of morality, that survives. But if you look at human history, we have always survived in groups through cooperation. We, as the Beatles might say, get by with a little help from our friends. In fact, Jemisin thinks (and I agree) that the fantasy of the rogue loner makes absolutely no sense."

2.  Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty (Orbit)
  • There's a lot to like about this one, even if it's not quite as ground breaking as Jemisin's entry, but it scores extra points for its philosophical side (even if it wasn't developed as much as this philosopher would've liked). From my review: "This is a well-constructed mystery narrative set aboard a spaceship with clones, mind mapping, and heavy doses of personal identity thought experiments. It's not perfect, but I really enjoyed it. ... There's plenty of good philosophical SF to chew on in this novel.  Are the clones really the same person as their previous clone?  Or are they illicit copies?  Do they have souls?  What is a soul, anyway?  What if two clones of the same person are alive at the same time?  Which one is the *real* person?"

3.  New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
  • Kim Stanley Robinson is one of my all time favorite authors, so it pains me to rank him at #3 (seriously, I'm actually feeling a little pang of guilt pain right now).  I wish his 2015 novel Aurora would've been nominated, because I felt that was a masterpiece, right up there with his classic Mars Trilogy.  I liked New York 2140 more than I thought I would, but it's maybe a middling KSR book (which still of course puts it well ahead of most other books).  From my review: "... it may be surprising to hear that I couldn't get too excited about New York 2140.  It doesn't take place in space or on another planet, for one thing.  ...  While the climate change aspect sounded interesting (if depressing), much of the rest of this 600+ page novel is about... finance? Really? ... This historical sense reveals, I think, KSR's deeper optimism (perhaps even utopianism).  Climate change is going to suck for our descendants.  A lot.  Human-made economic disasters seem almost as inevitable.  But through it all, humans will continue to love, laugh, form bonds with one another, and maybe even engage in a little treasure hunting (did I mention the treasure hunting?)."

4.  The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi (Tor)
  • John Scalzi may not be doing anything extremely ground breaking here, but you've gotta love Scalzi (or don't, he doesn't care).  From my review: "The patented Scalzi Snark is turned up to 11 on this one, but behind it is an interesting story that's a melange of Asimov's Foundation, Herbert's Dune, and Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga ... with of course several heaping teaspoons of that aforementioned Scalzi Snark to spice things up.  If you've never read Scazli before, imagine a novel in the form of a snarky, clever, foul-mouthed twitter account, but somehow with characters, plots, and ideas.  And then imagine this somehow actually being pretty good."

5.  Provenance, by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
  • Ann Leckie is one of those authors I feel like I should like, but for some reason can't get into.  I'd be totally fine if she wins the Hugo based on support from other fans, but this just isn't my cup of tea.  From my review: "Overall, it was hard to be interested in or care about the plot because it was never entirely clear what was at stake.  This isn't to say this is a bad novel.  As with Ancillary Justice, I love what Leckie does with pronouns and gender in this one.  I also liked the Geck aliens, and the vast far future space opera setting is always cool.  There are some interesting things to think about with regard to personal identity, citizenship, and punishment.  ... how much do legal, political, and social factors determine who we are at a very basic level?  What does it mean to be a citizen or part of a group?  Who gets to say?  Are there humane ways of punishing people who break the law?" 

Unranked: Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris).  
  • This is a sequel to Lee's Ninefox Gambit, a book about which I had mixed feelings.  While I ranked that book #3 on my Hugo ballot last year, mostly because of its uniqueness, I just couldn't bring myself to read the sequel.  If the sequel finally explains what calendrical rot is, please let me know.  Am I being unfair?  Maybe.  Am I a bad Hugo voter?  Maybe.  Oh, well.

Best Novella

The novella renaissance, led by Tor.com publishing, is still in full swing. Here's what I thought about this year's excellent finalists.

1.  Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing)
  • Did I mention my bias against sequels was out the window? The other novella finalists are all great in their own ways, but I love the Binti series so much. From my review: "... Binti is homesick after a little while at the interstellar university where she's studying mathematics, not to mention the ordeal she endured en route there from Earth (detailed in the first one). So she returns home, now part alien, with an alien companion. As if this isn't weird enough for the folks back home, she discovers that home is far more complicated than she thought, which is a nice reminder that, galactic politics aside, Earth is a pretty complicated place in itself." 
2.  “And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017)
  • The lone non-Tor.com finalist and shortest of the bunch.  I really loved this one.  From my Goodreads review: "Sarah Pinsker attends a SarahCon full of her selves from other universes. And there's an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery! Probably a Sarah did it, but which one?  Fun and deep thoughts ensue.  ... How do we shape our worlds and how are our identities shaped by our worlds?  How do events and choices, whether momentous or seemingly insignificant, shape who we are?  Does this picture require a libertarian theory of freedom? Or is it deterministic?  Compatibilist?"  

3.  The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang (Tor.com Publishing)
  • The novella finalists are all so good this year, I'm a bit sad about having to rank them at all.  I was also sad that the controversy I explained above broke out right as I was reading this one (coincidentally, the author was one of the people involved).  But what about the novella itself?  From my Goodreads review: "What I love most is the world building: a pan-Asian fantasy setting drawing on East and South Asian cultures and mythologies.  (Some people erroneously say this is "non-traditional" - it's very traditional, but from different traditions).  ...  It's nice to see more fantasy that is neither European-derived nor Tolkienesque.  The story revolves around two siblings making their ways in the world.  You don't see enough close and healthy sibling relationships in fiction. ... Another interesting part of the world is that the kids don't have to choose their gender until they're adults, leaving them plenty of time to figure out who they are."  

4. All Systems Red, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)
  • Another novella I really enjoyed and hate to rank so low. I suppose there are worse problems to have, like those of Murderbot. From my Goodreads review: "Snarky protagonists are nothing new in the Nerd Age of Whedon, Scalzi, et al., but this protagonist is pretty funny. And interesting. Muderbot (the protagonist's self-applied name) is not a robot per se, but some sort of cyborg. And in the future giant corporations have only gotten giant-er, so they send these types of cyborgs along with their standard human crews as security, but mostly to keep tabs on them (kind of like the Alien movies but with better jokes). ... Are these cyborgs slaves to the corporations?  ... Does Murderbot have free will? What is "free will" anyway? Would free AIs want to murder all humans? Or would they make us laugh? Or would they just want to be left alone to watch TV?"

5. River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing)
  • I liked this one a lot, too, but maybe just for being fun than for having much depth. But hippo capers sure are fun.  From my review: "It's about as fun as you'd think a hippo caper (or operation) in alternate 1890's Louisiana would be. I particularly love the tender relationships between the tame hippos and their owners (imagine something like 2,000 pound dogs). The setting of a "Wild South" in which hoppers (basically hippo cowboys and cowgirls) roam an often lawless expanse of marshland is really cool. It's a great example of alternate history made interesting - rather than asking boring old questions like, "What if someone else had won this war?" it asks, "What if a crazy scheme to import hippos to the southern US had reshaped that part of the world and its inhabitants?" ... And if you're not in it for the deep thoughts on the contingencies of history, at least you've got the hippos."

Unranked: Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.Com Publishing)
  • I couldn't get into the first one, and never got around to reading this. I apologize to McGuire and her many fans. Sorry.

So there you have it.  Stay tuned for the rest of my ballot in a few more parts!  And if you're inclined at all to vote yourself, please consider signing up to do so!

No comments:

Post a Comment