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Iain M. Banks’ Consider Phlebas was published in 1987, the first book written of what would come to be known as the Culture sequence (or cycle). Released just this year, The Hydrogen Sonata marks the tenth book in the long running, award winning Space Opera series. But what makes for a good Culture novel, what is the secret to Banks’ longevity?
We asked this week’s panelists…
Q: In celebration of Iain Banks’ CULTURE series, what do you think sets this work apart from other space opera fiction? What specifically makes for a good CULTURE novel and why?
Here’s what they said…
I’m going to be honest and note that the reason that I read the Culture novels are not for the stories themselves — which are very good, mind you — but because I like wandering around the books like a tourist, gawking at all the cool shit that’s in the Culture. So I suppose what I really want is an “encyclopedia of The Culture” sort of book with pretty pictures and maps and a timeline and crap like that. Which is the exact opposite of a novel. I’m not sure if this makes me a bad reader of Culture novels or just a highly specialized one. What I do know is that I’m always looking out for the next one. So for me, what makes a good Culture novel is that Iain Banks has finished it and his publisher has offered it up for me to buy.
As is usual around awards-time, there is much discussion about the usefulness of awards, the books that made the list of finalists, and what the Best Novel shortlist says about the field. With the Hugo awards coming up, we thought it timely to ask this week’s panelists a series of Hugo-related questions:
- How would you rate the track record of the Hugo Awards at directing readers to the best that the genre has to offer?
- How well do you think the Hugo shortlist, year over year, represents to the outside world what speculative fiction has to offer?
- Which of this year’s finalists do you predict will receive the Hugo award for Best Novel?
- Which of this year’s finalists do you think should receive the Hugo award for Best Novel?
- Which books do you think were missing from this year’s list of Best Novel finalists?
Read on to see their answers…
1. How would you rate the track record of the Hugo Awards at directing readers to the best that the genre has to offer?
I wouldn’t. The Hugos are a popular vote award. The books that win are generally good books, but it would be silly to suggest that they are representative of some ideal of literary quality (always assuming you agree that such a thing exists in the first place). Furthermore, Hugo winners are always books of their time, voted on very quickly after they are published. It is entirely possible that deserving works get missed because they are not as widely available as books offered by the major US publishers. Also books do sometimes fail the test of time. What I will say is that the Hugos have a good track record of rewarding books that are good examples of the sort of science fiction that was popular in the year they were voted upon. It is probably better to look at the full nomination slate than just the winner, but I think very few Hugo winners have been bad books (except in the eyes of those who feel that any book that doesn’t meet their exacting standards is, de facto, BAD!!!).