Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Hugo Nomination Thoughts: Long Fiction (and some notes on Dramatic Presentation)

Hugo Nomination Thoughts, Long Fiction (and Dramatic Presentation)

In past years, “Long Fiction” just meant “Novel”, but this year there is one new category to  consider, a Hugo for Best Series Perhaps we should also start thinking about another new award, likely to come along next year (if ratified in Helsinki), for Best Young Adult Fiction (which would not officially be a Hugo Award, but would be voted on by the same population using the same rules (as with the Campbell Award for Best New Writer). It does not yet have a name, the best option (Andre Norton Award) already being taken for the similar award given by SFWA. (And thanks to Andrew M., commenting at File 770, for reminding me that the YA Award will not be given this year.)

So this is the point where I confess that I read so much short fiction that I’m not qualified to rule on Best Novel. I’ve said this every year for the past few years. I always end up reading my favorite novels a bit too late – so, for instance, I think the best SF novels of 2014 were Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and William Gibson’s The Peripheral, but I didn’t read them until 2016. Likewise, for 2015, I didn’t read Jo Walton’s The Just City until after the Hugos were awarded, and I didn’t finish my favorite 2015 novel, The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, until early 2017. There are, thus, plenty of 2017 novels I think might be excellent that I haven’t yet read, including The Gradual, by Christopher Priest; Everfair, by Nisi Shawl; Necessity, by Jo Walton; The Winged Histories, by Sofia Samatar; Central Station, by Lavie Tidhar; and Crosstalk, by Connie Willis are six that I already have on hand, and definitely will read, perhaps very soon. I am sure there are many more. And all that said I can only recommend two novels from 2017 that I liked a lot, both, as it happens, first novels. (I suppose technically there are two more pretty good novels that I read and marked as novellas, but both are eligible as novels: Penric’s Mission, by Lois McMaster Bujold; and The Last Days of New Paris, by China Miéville. One more pretty good novel, also pretty short but longer than novella length, I think, is Walter Jon Williams’ Impersonations, his latest Praxis story, though as I note below, I don't consider it quite Hugo-worthy.)

The two first novels I mentioned are All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders; and Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer. Both are fairly seamless mixtures of SF and Fantasy (though Palmer’s novel reads like pure SF with a difficult to explain fantastical intrusion, while Anders’ novel reads like Fantasy set in a pretty SFnal near future.) All the Birds in the Sky is the story of Patricia, who can talk to birds, and Lawrence, who has invented a two-second time machine, as they grow up, both somewhat dysfunctionally, and end up friends and sometime lovers in a near future facing imminent collapse due to global warming. Both promote solutions – Patricia’s fantastical, Lawrence’s science-fictional, and both make terrible mistakes, before a literally earth-shaking conclusion. It’s funny – Anders is always funny – and serious as well (Anders is usually serious too). I really liked it. Too Like the Lightning is set several centuries in the future, in a world divided into “Hives”, cooperative family-like organizations with different strengths. The narrator is Mycroft Canner, who, we slowly learn, is a criminal (and the nature of his crime, only late revealed, is pretty appalling), but who is also quite engaging, and an important mentor to an amazing child who can bring inanimate things to life. This novel introduces a conflict – a threat to the world’s balance of power – and also intricately sketches the complex background of this future, and introduces a ton of neat characters. Then it stops, which is its main weakness – it is but half a novel. The sequel (Seven Surrenders) is due in March 2017. In the end I was impressed but unsatisfied – leaving a novel perhaps not quite Hugo-worthy (though the author is surely Campbell-worthy!), but a novel which will compel me to read its sequel, which, if it sticks the dismount, might be Hugo-worthy itself.

Speaking of first novels, one that I haven't read but definitely need to get to is Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee. Lee has been doing really outstanding work for a long time -- I've used a few of his stories in my anthologies, and in a way it's a surprise that his first novel is only coming out now. But it looks very interesting indeed.

Best Series

Considering this brand new category reminds me of one novel that I have just read, Impersonations, by Walter Jon Williams, a new pendant to his Praxis (or Dread Empire’s Fall) series. It’s a fun story, and I’m glad I read it, but I don’t think it’s Hugo-worthy by itself. I am strongly considering nominating the entire series for a Hugo, however.

And, indeed, that hints at one of my misgivings about the Hugo for Best Series. The most recent entry in a series may not be particularly representative of the series as a whole, nor as good as the rest of the series. The same comment, obviously, applies to Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, represented in 2016 by the rather pedestrian Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen. I would say personally that both Bujold’s Vorkosigan series and Williams’ Praxis book are worthy, over all, of a Best Series Hugo, but that the best time to award them that Hugo has passed. (Which, to be sure, is primarily a function of this being a brand new award.)

At any rate, I was wondering what the possible candidates for Best Series, eligible in 2016, might be, and I was delighted to find that JJ, over at File 770, had done the heavy lifting, producing this page with a good long list of potential eligible series:

Of those my personal favorites are:
Dread Empire’s Fall, by Walter Jon Williams (note that JJ lists Impersonations, the 2016 entry, as a novella, though it seems more of a short novel to me, and Jonathan Strahan tells me it's about 55,000 words long)
The Vorkosigan Series, by Lois McMaster Bujold
The World of Five Gods, by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Expanse, by James S. A. Corey
The Fairyland Books, by Catherynne S. Valente
The Laundry Files, by Charles Stross
The Liaden Universe, by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee
The RCN Books (Leary/Mundy), by David Drake
Riverside, by Ellen Kushner
Temeraire, by Naomi Novik
Thessaly, by Jo Walton

And immediately I see a problem – common to series, I think. While I’ve read and enjoyed many books in each of these series, I’ve fallen behind in many of them. I didn’t even know there were new entries in Ellen Kushner’s Riverside series or David Drake’s RCN books. (And, hey, speaking of problems with the Best Series Hugo, does Delia Sherman get a Hugo too if the Riverside series wins, as she co-wrote one of the major novels in that series, The Fall of the Kings?) Which, by the way, isn’t a bad thing from my point of view – I’ll be glad to grab the new books in both of those series.

There’s also a big difference in the types of these series. Some comprise several books with a fairly coherent story arc: certainly Jo Walton’s Thessaly books are a pretty tight trilogy; and the Temeraire and Expanse series, a bit more loosely, are still pretty coherent. Some represent mostly just a universe in which to set stories, with perhaps some sub-arcs: the Liaden books, the RCN books, the Vorkosigan books, for example. Dread Empire’s Fall is an original closely unified trilogy, followed by two much shorter pendants (one about each of the two main characters of the original trilogy). I suppose this isn't really a fatal problem – the voters can judge for themselves how to evaluate each of these types of series.

To be honest, I’m not sure what, or even if, I’ll nominate. I will see if I can catch up in a couple of the series I like but am behind in. There’s a good chance I’ll nominate Kushner’s series, because I think it deserves the attention. Beyond that, I just don’t know. I have enjoyed books in each of the series I listed – I wouldn’t be bothered by any of them winning a Hugo (though many of them – not that this is a bad thing, mind you – represent lighter entertainment than we often think of for the Hugos – possibly this is partly the nature of long series.)

Best YA Novel

This potential new award, as I mentioned, would not be a Hugo, but would be administered and awarded by the World Science Fiction Society. For this year, I have little to say – I really haven’t read enough books in this category to make any ruling or recommendations. I can recommend a look at the Locus Recommendation list, which includes a section on YA novels: I will say that I’m intrigued by the presence of Alastair Reynolds’ Revenger, which I didn’t know was YA. And I’m sure that many of these books are very good work indeed – but I haven’t read them, so further deponent sayeth not.

Dramatic Presentation

To my mind, this is one of those years in which the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, should be awarded by acclamation, to Arrival, an excellent film based on one of the very best SF stories of all time, Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life”. Of course, being based on a good story doesn’t guarantee a good film (as those who have seen the movie version of Nightfall can testify, or so I am given to understand) – but Arrival is a very good film (if not, to my mind, quite as good as the original story, which is hardly a complaint, as the original story is so great).

Beyond that, I will say that I enjoyed Rogue One, but didn’t love it – it will probably get a nomination, and deservedly enough I suppose, but it would be a disgrace if it won. I have seen suggestions that Hidden Figures could be nominated – that seems silly to me, but I suppose it would get the Apollo 13 exception. (If so, can I nominate Michael Chabon’s Moonglow for Best Novel?) I don’t really have any other obvious candidates.

As for Short Form, I don’t watch Doctor Who so I’m not allowed to nominate. (Joke!) Actually, I don’t watch that much TV – I just started on The Magicians, which I am enjoying so far, and I suspect I would like The Expanse, and I know there’s lots of other cool stuff out there. But I haven’t seen enough to judge.

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