Saturday, July 5, 2008

Last Hugo Thoughts

Here's my brief take on the Hugo fiction, what of it I've read. This may not be the most coherent post ever; the incipient head cold of yesterday is full blown today. I've already spent 2 hours in the tub, and really wish only to return to it. Seriously, my femurs ache. How is that even possible?

This has thrown a wrench in my reading plans as well. I finished Heart of Darkness yesterday as planned, but instead of moving on to deadline work, I picked up Polder, the tribute to John Clute and Judith Clute, whom I met in England. I appreciate it much more now that I've met them and their flat properly.

But enough of my whining.

Best Novel

1. Brasyl by Ian McDonald. Phenomenal book. Hits a lot of my high points: excellently crafted prose, multicultural world view, real engagement with consequences of quantum multiverse weirdness.
2. Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon. A close runner up. Awesome alternate history + noir detective + character novel. Except that the bits don't necessarily reinforce each other as much as you'd like. There's no solid thematic reason for the detective story to be set in the alt history. All the bits work well on their own, and the prose is, as always, magnificent, but it's not quite greater than the sum of its parts.
3. Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer. Excellent near-future extrapolative sf with more than a tinge of Golden Age around it. There's a lot of genuine emotion here and grappling with the human consequences of its tech advances. Nothing groundbreaking, though.
4. The Last Colony by John Scalzi. I'm working on the review for this right now. Short version: not as good as Ghost Brigades, and sometimes comes perilously close to Mary Sue-ness.
5. Halting State by Charles Stross. Seriously flawed. The thriller plot is less effective here than in most of his novels, the 2nd person multiple perspectives aren't adequately differentiated, and the romance is presented as so inevitable that he never bothers to sell it to the audience. Even with all that, as I was debating whether to put it down, I had to finish it. Damn Charlie, I just had to know whodunnit!

Best Novella (For links to the nominated short fiction, see this SFSignal roundup)

1. "Stars Seen Through Stone" by Lucius Shepard. Amazing story, amazing prose. Really superb.
2. "Recovering Apollo 8" Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Great alt-history examination of the space project. Plays a bit fast-and-loose with the advances in physics, but as a tale of could-have-been and obsession, first rate.
3. "Memorare" by Gene Wolfe. Beautifully written, but seemed lacking in some way I can't put my finger on right now.
4. "All Seated On the Ground" by Connie Willis. Fun Willis story, contrived and amusing. Nothing new here.
5. (Shameful admission #1: I never got around to reading the Kress story. Blame the Masterclass!)

Best Novelette

1. "The Cambist and Lord Iron" by Daniel Abraham. It pains me not to put Ted Chiang first, but I just loved this story. It's a mundane fairy tale that takes the ordinary and makes it remarkable. Perhaps a too-neat ending, but that's easy to forgive.
2. "The Merchant and the Alchemist Gate" by Ted Chiang. Awesome story. The nested Arabian-nights structure worked perfectly for a time-travel fantasy tale. Beautifully written. It was pitch-perfect on the tone of Arabian nights stories, but I'm less certain that it successfully engaged with the cultural differences.
3. "Glory" by Greg Egan. Interesting blend of hard sf and questioning hard sf premises. Hard sf tends to look for answers, and in this story Egan argues that the questioning is more important, to the extent that we might intentionally turn down a final answer. Food for thought.
4. "Finisterra" by David Moles. Beautifully imagined setting, but the characters didn't quite work for me.
5. "Dark Integers" by Greg Egan. Doesn't work as a stand-alone story without its predecessor, "Luminous." Also, the way the hero ditched his girlfriend but then she took him back absolutely did not work for me.

Best Short Story

1. "Tideline" by Elizabeth Bear. Sure, it's a boy and his robot story, but the tear-jerking was well-earned.
2. "Last Contact" by Stephen Baxter. As British as British can be, they keep gardening 'til the end. Really a lovely mother-daughter tale with some good extrapolation.
3. (Shameful admission #2: I didn't get to the Swanwick, Resnick & MacLeod stories. Once again, I claim Masterclass distractions!)

So that's my fiction wrap-up. Ranking these was pretty hard, as with Abraham & Chiang. Certainly there was nothing I felt was particularly unworthy of a Hugo, with the possible exception of Halting State. Still, Charlie has to win one of these things eventually!

Remember to cast your votes (by Monday!), and I'll be looking forward to the awards ceremony at Denvention. Hope to see you there.


Anonymous said...

Is "Assistant Editor" the same as "Editorial Assistant"?

Karen Burnham said...

Nope! As an editorial assistant, I help read through the slush pile. As assistant editor, I'm helping coordinate their website re-design.

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