The nominees for this year’s Hugo Award for Best Novel were actually a pretty difficult batch to rank. I was surprised to see that all of the nominees were written by authors whose work I have read and, for the most part, enjoyed.
In the end, my top-ranked Hugo novel is Among Others, by Jo Walton. I’ve consistently enjoyed Jo Walton’s novels, so I had high expectations coming in to this one. While I personally loved it, I think that it has a very specific target audience—fans of science fiction and fantasy who had to deal with some social isolation as they grew up and sought out people more like themselves. It also wouldn’t hurt if those fans had read a lot of the popular science fiction novels of the 1960s and 1970s, since the narrator brought up these works frequently. It is a ‘diary’ novel, and the possibly unreliability of the narrator left the reality of the story’s magical elements delightfully ambiguous.
The other two novels that came close to the top for me were Embassytown, by China Miéville and Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey. Both of these are decidedly science fiction, as opposed to the fantasy and sci-fi review aspects of Among Others, so I can see them as the more traditional winners of the Hugo Award. I loved the ideas in Embassytown, and I really enjoyed how the story of human-alien relations played out. My main criticisms of Embassytown would be about the stiffness of the characterization and feeling of detachment from the thoughts and feelings of the characters. Leviathan Wakes, on the other hand, was much more about entertainment than big ideas. I was pretty thrilled by the characters, the setting, the action, the humor, and the horrific turns the story kept taking.
A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, is another big contender for the Hugo, and it has already claimed the Locus Fantasy award and a few other nominations. I am a fan of Martin in general, and a fan of ASoIaF in specific, but I didn't think this was the strongest novel of the series. In my opinion, the series is picking up way too many unnecessary point-of-view characters, and it’s stalling out the story. I have high hopes for the remaining novels, though, once Martin starts killing a few of these characters off!
Deadline, by Mira Grant, is the final nominee, a sequel to the novel Feed, which ended up second for the Hugo Award last year. While I loved Feed, I was pretty disappointed by this sequel. The problems that I was able to overlook in the first novel—simplified politics, mustache-twirling villains, etc.—seemed more glaring the second time around. Furthermore, the plot seemed kind of unfocused, the new narrator grated on my nerves, and a surprise plot twist seemed to invalidate one of the most emotionally effective scenes of Feed. I ended up deciding not to read the final volume of the trilogy, though I may still go back and finish off the story one day.
What do you think about this year’s nominees?