Friday, August 8, 2014

Hugo Ballot 2014: Novels

Continuing on with talking about how I voted this year:

Nominees: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie / Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross / Parasite by Mira Grant / Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia / The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson 

I've posted before about my deep irritation with Orbit's decision to not release the whole novel for the three novels that it published.  This is...very bad play on their part, imo.  Particularly when for the other two nominees, one got the entire series of novels.  Fortunately, through the magic of inter-library loans, I was able to get all three of the works missing from the Hugo packet in hand well before the voting deadline.

Further thunks below the cut:

Selection as a whole:

I am not entirely clear if it was a publisher thing, or a Righteous RightThinker thing, but I found the three Orbitz books to be very similar in style, tone, and pov.  In other ways, they were each very distinct from each other, of course.  However, the repetition of first person female pov, solitary person, and the overall theme of 'hunted persecution of the helpless' led me to feel that those who identified a "much of a muchness" in the Orbits selections were on to something.

Nothing wrong with that pov, or that theme.  But why was it showing up so strongly in three of the choices?  It's even worse when one considers WoT to be an odd duck of a nomination (sixteen volumes? as one work? Really?) and Warbound a "protest" nomination that wasn't legit in the eyes of many commenters.

I had wondered if the "SFF is turning into something weird that I don't like" voices weren't just protesting a little too loudly about their ideal cake not being everyone's.  Turns out to be more on the lines of the dessert bar being advertised as "best tasting sweet endings" and yet being all pie, no cake at all.  Not even cheesecake.  I think that it's legit to gripe about no cake at all.

On to the specifics:

 Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie - This was the slowest space opera I've read since Dazzle of Day.  Wonderful evocative language. Some interesting concepts - the sentient ships, of course, are not new, and Andromeda already worked on the concept of a 'place holder' human-interaction-interface linked with a sentient ship.  But it's not the concept, it's what the writer does with it.  In this case, Leckie did some very nice things with the differences between the ship and its ancillaries, but did not, imo, go far enough.  I never really understood, for instance, what an ancillary *was*, or how it came to be under JoT's control.  I think the differences between the scope of sensation and of concept of time between the near-immortal ships and the more mayfly existance of the Ancillaries could have been explored much more.

The "big thing" for Ancillary Justice, of course, was the language/pronoun tick of the pov character, which basically meant erasing male personhood from the story.  I don't mean "the story didn't have any male characters" - which has happened occasionally (much more rarely these days) in SFF stories (only generally with all male/no female stories) - but that the male characters were all re-designated as female. As a storytelling feature, it is really only the sort of thing that can be done in writing - this could not be done in a play, a comic strip, or a movie.  In a few years, assuming the author (a noted and occasionally unfortunately uncharitable feminist) hasn't done anything to annoy me, I'll re-read the story, and see what I missed, because I was reading the characters as all female.  (Which is an error, when they are not - at least, so long as being male or female impacts how one interacts with other males or females.  Which is the assumption I'm working under.)

Short version: I am dubious about the pronoun thing, and wished that parts of the story had moved faster, but I did love the language and found the conflict payoff worth the wait.  Quite well done, and (again, assuming the author doesn't annoy me) I'll be looking for the sequels.

Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross - Didn't finish.  Got as far as the part where the pov character turned into a fish and just ran out of steam.

NB was set in the same universe as Saturn's Childern, which surprised me by being a story about a sex robot that I enjoyed.  (It did get me some strange looks, though, both at the cover and at my explanation.)  This book stayed with the post-human robot society but went in a different direction, and had, of all things, economics as the SF hook.  Which was *awesome*.  However, it was densely written, kept wandering off in new directions, and ultimately failed to hold my interest long enough for me to finish.

Not a bad book, just not one I cared about enough to finish. I have liked other Stross books (Halting State, etc, and I'll likely look for more older ones before I come back to this series.

Parasite by Mira Grant - A medical/science thriller than I gulped down in less than 24 hours, despite the blockbuster size.

The POV character is a quasi-infantalized adult - five years previously, as a young adult, she had a seizure that led to a near-fatal auto accident.  Her life was (evidently) saved by a medical parasite which was programed to deal with both infectious and chronic disease.  Despite this, the accident left her with complete amnesia, to the point of having to relearn language, writing, and social mores.  As the book opens, she still has trouble 'reading' people, a somewhat limited vocab, intermittant seizures, and a deep paranoia about driving. The story follows her journey to a better understanding of how she came to have the accident, why similar seizures are now affecting other people, and the background behind the 'miracle' tapeworm.  Oh, and she gets a dog along the way.

Despite the book's extreme readability, I kept getting hung up on plot points, characterization, and medical terms of art.  (For example: Why aren't her parents a little more concerned about the doctor who is sleeping with their (legally a minor) daughter?  Why is it appropriate for a case worker to be discussing his sex life with one of his charges? Barium isn't used for ultrasounds!  Nor for MRIs!  [spoiler organism] doesn't move in the body like that! (And there was another organism which was an even better choice!) Why is this character so very much like a comicbook evil scientist?)

Mira Grant (a pen name) is even more likely than Leckie to do or say something deeply annoying, but I hope that she doesn't, because another two books are promised in this series, and I'd like to know the rest of the story.

 Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia - What it says on the box - 1930's noir-toned fantasy. Air pirates, teleporters, ninjas, curbstomp battles, flamethrowers and much much dakka.

All three books were included in the Hugo packet, but only the last one was entered for the award.  Given the grumbling wandering about on the internets, I was expecting a story that featured only males in active roles, no deep thinking, and (esp given the setting) had an emphasis on the superiority of WASP Americans. And lots and lots of gunfire.

Yeah, not so much.  Except for the gunfire.  That, rumor actually *undersold*.

Our heroes are the Grimnoir - a secret society of magically gifted people with a variety of talents.  Over the course of decades they have been battling the onset of a hidden enemy, who intends to destroy the earth.  Among them are war veterans, felons, scholars, healers, the richest man in the world, an outcast warrior and an Okie orphan who grew up on a California dairy farm. (COWS AREN'T STUPID.)  They fight the forces of evil - and each other - and eventually go on to save the world.

Like Parasite, this was a book that really rocked along.  Characters were fairly well rounded, action scenes were awesome, and the books delivered real threats, losses, and tensions along the way.  Even the worst of the bad guys made sense.  I would have like to have seen more lyrical language, and I kept tripping over places where a hair less telling would have made a postive difference in the book.  Unlike the first three books above, this was a story about a group of people - a society - and their common goals, not just a single person's quest.  That comradre shone through the writing, and was one of the most enjoyable things about the book.  Another favorite thing was the logical underpinning of the magic, which was managed without making the magic go away.  Finally - the most powerful of the 'wizards' were shown to have *earned* their magic through practice, sweat, and years.

I'm buying more Correia books.

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson - eh.

In truth, I didn't give this one the same shot I gave Neptune's Brood.  I read the first one, ages back, found it okay but not earth shaking, and the one 'ship I might have gotten behind sunk by the 3/4 mark in the story. The 'young man coming of age' story might have had something to do with my discontent with the story, but at this remove I can't say for sure.  Never found a reason to pick up the second one, nor any of the others, since.

The Hugos weren't enough of a reason to get back into them, either.


I ended up picking Ancillary Justice as my first choice, but not without seriously weighing Warbound.  I didn't rate 'No Award' above any of them.

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