The OF Blog: Brief comments on the Hugo Finalists for Best Novel

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Brief comments on the Hugo Finalists for Best Novel

I originally toyed with the idea of writing 5 reviews of 600-800 words each, but decided that for purposes of unity, that I would keep it under 250 words for each entry and focus much more on what I felt worked/didn't about each story. I'll start with the order of finish:

Vernor Vinge, Rainbows End (winner)

This book had the makings of being a very strong book that would combine not just a possible vision for the near-future (say 20 years from now) with a look at how such technologies are impacting human lives, but also combine that with a subtle look at how personalities can and are affected by physical traumas. But as I was reading this novel last week, I couldn't help but get a sense that Vinge perhaps should have choked back a bit on the technological bits (impressive as some might appear to many reading it) and focused a little bit more on Robert's connections with his son and others who knew him before his bout of Alzheimer's. It just felt at times that the narrative wandered in the middle and that has led me to downgrade it to a good book that could have been much better. I just don't think it was the best book of 2006.

Charles Stross, Glasshouse (2nd place)

I do not like Stross's writing style and when reading this book late last night, I had to fight the urge to skip ahead. This tale was set in the 27th century and revolved around some ability to transfer personalities both within machines and humans and how one of these people with a murky past has had "his" memory altered and he doesn't know much behind these reasons. This character, "Robin," ends up participating in an experimental facility meant to mimic "dark age" (read, our time) social settings within a particular body. The usual hijinks and struggles for freedom occur. Lather, rinse, repeat. Stross still cannot write a compelling tale for me and I felt this was the worst of the bunch.

Naomi Novik, Temeraire: His Majesty's Dragon (3rd place)

This was the one fantasy book on the list and out of the five, the one that comes closest to executing its apparent aims. A story that combines Napoleonic War Europe with dragons, it was a very enjoyable story that passed the time nicely, achieving what its author probably aimed to accomplish. However, it wasn't a very "deep" novel and that I feel is what hurts it not just in regards to these awards, but also because it just isn't the type of story that will stick in one's head for long. Novik did win the Campbell Award for Best New Writer at this convention, so it's not like her writing is without merit, only that her story felt so out of place compared to most of the other finalists in recent years in regards to theme and substance.

Michael Flynn, Eifelheim (4th place)

Out of these five books, Eifelheim likely would have received my vote for 1st place. Expanded from the original 1987 Hugo-nominated novella (which comprised the "Now" sections of this book), Eifelheim combines certain multidimensional mathematic approaches with narrative and philosophical looks at human life to look at what possibly happened at this one Swabian village during the time of the Black Death in Europe. While the "past" and "now" parts separately were interesting in places, I felt that some of the character interactions were forced in places (Tom in particular annoyed the hell out of me with his exclamations and unexplained usage of expressions in Latin, German, French, and Hungarian) and that the two parts could have been tied together better. However, on the whole, this was an enjoyable book that came just a teeny-bit closer than Vinge did to accomplishing its apparent goals.

Peter Watts, Blindsight (5th place)

This almost was a great book, with interesting ideas and characters. Almost, but alas it was not. This story about exploration of this mysterious ship and neurological phantasms that affect our senses and thus our "realities" was close to being great. But there were vampires added with an odd physiological problem (the crucifix glitch) and that intruded subject, probably meant in part to serve as a symbol for how our minds can be altered in ways to change us from "human" to "something else," just served to make the last half of this novel to be a complete mess. It ranked with the Stross as being one of the more poorly-executed books in my opinion and its fifth-place finish is deserving.

So, if I had to rank these in order of preference, it would go as follows:

1. Eifelheim

2. Rainbows End

3. Temeraire: His Majesty's Dragon

4.(tie) Blindsight


But would I have ranked these higher than say the upcoming WFA nominees? Let's just say that I certainly would have had Wolfe and Valente (who didn't receive even a single nomination for the Hugo this year, shocking almost) ranked either than any, the Lynch would have been around the level of the top three here, and I've yet to read the Kushner and King works that were nominated.

Later, I'll try to read/review the Novellas, Novelettes, and Short Stories, perhaps over the next few weeks, before I devote time for individual reviews of the WFA-nominated books (since I have two months to read those, instead of the bare week that I alloted to read the Hugo ones).


Lawrence said...

Interesting overview, I am tempted to read them all myself and see how exactly I would rank them. I like the way you break it down in the smaller bits that still provide plently food for thought. By the by, have you seen the list of nominations that did not quite get there? Especially since you're such a well versed reader, I wonder if you think there was a novel on that list that deserved winning the Hugo than Rainbows End?
Looking forward to your WFA reviews btw!

Larry said...

The Road, most certainly. Wolfe's Soldier of Sidon was better as well. Going to be reading the Kushner and the Jay Lake soon. I think Crystal Rain was on par with the finalists and that The Lies of Locke Lamora was a bit worse.

I'll read/review some of the others in the next few weeks.

Robert said...

Larry, that's a great breakdown. I really enjoyed reading that. The only ones I've read were Naomi Novik's "His Majesty's Dragon" which I didn't think was that impressive, and Glasshouse. I can see why the latter was nominated, but I didn't really enjoy reading it that much. Anyways, thought-provoking material as usual :)

Ed S. said...

It does seem to have been a rather weak year for nominations and so I'm not sure it really mattered who won. I was certainly surprised by the Novik book being nominated.

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