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A Look Back at the 2012 Hugo Award Nominees – The Novels

Award shows and popularity contests normally have no influence on my book buying. With a long back-list on the SF/F TBR stack demanding attention (not to mention the History book TBR stack, the Science TBR stack…), and the growing availability of all types of titles, glomming onto any “this year’s best” has seemed a small influence (especially given the low voter numbers, see results here). Plus different genres and different authors obviously appeal to different people.

But this year, given certain events (Yay John!), I participated in the voting and enjoyed the benefits of the Hugo voter packet (an outstanding deal).  The Hugo packet certainly had the desired effect: I’ve purchased other works by a couple of these authors, based on what I read and enjoyed in the packet.

I voted simply based on which book I enjoyed the most, versus any context of whom I thought was the most deserving. The group of nominated novels contained a near-future space opera, a near-future zombie apocalypse, the continuation of a historical fantasy series, a coming of age novel of fairies and magic, and a story of alien language. Another interesting fact is that three of the five are part of series and two are standalone novels.

Here are my notes on the nominated novels, with where I placed them in the voting (which correlates with my tastes not matching the voters at large):

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (Book 1 of The Expanse)

A near-future space opera where mankind has spread throughout the solar system, featuring politics (Earth/UN vs. Mars vs. Outer Planets Association), believable science (no FTL travel, no instantaneous communications), and normal human greed and warfare. A threat from outside the solar system (which apparently has been around for eons) starts the greed and politics in motion, with Mars and Earth, historical allies, jostling with each other and with the OPA, while everyone tries to figure out this new threat. Well written characters Miller and Holden confront the threat on a personal level, with their experiences folding into the bigger picture. Fast paced (any book that is six hundred pages and is read in a couple of sittings deserves accolades) and well written (except for the two perspectives, hard to tell this is two separate authors collaborating), the only fantasy I found in this novel is the postulation that Earth will be run by one government in this near future setting…and that truly is science fiction. I’ve already plowed through the second novel, Caliban’s War, and the third one will be high in my TBR pile. This series answers the SFSignal Mind Meld question Has Space Opera lost its Luster? with a resounding No!

Leviathan Wakes got my vote for 1st in the Hugo novel balloting. The novel finished 3rd.

Deadline by Mira Grant

Really? Another zombie story? Next to vampires, this is the dead horse most beaten in the genre.  Deadline (book 2 of the Newsflesh Trilogy) has a much different version of the near-future than Leviathan Wakes, but the fast pace, interesting characters, as well as the inclusion of science that blends in but doesn’t impede also set it apart. The entire premise seems amusing at first: newscasters do live internet feeds while they go and provoke the zombies in entertaining ways, while also providing updates as to zombie hotspots. The “controlled hotspots” of the outbreak is a refreshing difference on the “everyone is infected” concept of most zombie novels. And the protaganist, Shaun Mason,  with voices in his head and a death wish, is quite entertaining as he and his team track down not only the conspiracy that started the zombie plague, but those who still may control it. The third book in the series, Blackout, is definitely on my TBR list.

Deadline got my vote for 2nd in the Hugo novel balloting. The novel finished 4th.

A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin

Long before the HBO series, I’d devoured the first three books in this series which were classics. But like many long series, this one is starting to show its age a bit. Splitting the fourth and fifth novels up in the fashion that they were (half the characters were included in the first one, half followed in this novel) truly was a hinderance to the continuity of the story…as was bringing in major characters this many books into the series. This is still one of the best series of its kind, and was the only book of the five that I had read prior to receiving the Hugo packet. My full review of this novel on SFSignal can be found here.

A Dance With Dragons got my vote for 3rd in the Hugo novel balloting. The novel finished 5th.

Among Others by Jo Walton

Among Others is a coming of age novel of a voracious science fiction reader who is estranged from her crazed mother, can talk to the fae and has some burgeoning magical powers. Our protaganist uses the great science fiction works in her own mental musings about her world, her philosophy and growing up. This novel didn’t strike the chord with me that it did with others (link to SFSignal review), probably because I found the constant referenced to SF novels that I had read decades ago was more of a distraction than fuel for the story. But it was well written with a lyrical quality and extraordinary setting. An alternative viewpoint/review of this novel can be found on SFSignal by my fellow SFSig IrReg Paul Weimar.

Among Others got my vote for 4th in the Hugo novel balloting. Among Others won the Hugo novel award.

Embassytown by China Miéville

An alien species so foreign that to communicate with them, mankind has to experiment with genetically created twins to mimic sounds that they can comprehend or even acknowledge – this is the big idea behind Embassytown. This communication turns into mis-commuinication, and conflict erupts on the isolated planet that hosts Embassytown. Miévillehas some excellent ideas, but his writing and my reading just do not get along. I’ve started and stopped a couple of his books, which is a rarity for me; he’s obviously an excellent writer with brilliant ideas, but his style just doesn’t click with me.

Embassytown got my vote for 5th in the Hugo novel balloting. Embassytown was 2nd in the Hugo voting.

About Larry Ketchersid (55 Articles)
Author of two novels (Dusk Before the Dawn, Software by the Kilo) and one volume of non-fiction stories. CEO of a security software and services company; co-owner of JoSara MeDia, publisher of iPad apps, print and eBooks. Runner, traveler, Sharks fan, Rockets fan, Packers shareholder.

4 Comments on A Look Back at the 2012 Hugo Award Nominees – The Novels

  1. Adored Embassytown; it had the biggest intellectual scope of the nominees. But I couldn’t begrudge Among Others’s victory; it is insanely well crafted, just as much for the internal life of its character and authenticity about how life actually works, as for the more-lauded canon it handily references.

  2. Steve Oerkfitz // September 14, 2012 at 7:05 pm //

    I didn’t feel any of the nominees perfect but liked Embassytown best. It was the most original in it’s world building. Among Others and A Dance With Dragons were very good.. Leviathan Wakes was very entertaining but I found the Mira Grant mediocre at best.

  3. Jeff VanderMeer // September 14, 2012 at 11:33 pm //

    Gee, that was insightful.

  4. In my opinion, after reading a Reynolds, a Hamilton or a Banks novel, the Leviathan wakes doesn’t seem to be an original story.

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