The OF Blog: Projecting the 2008 Hugo finalists for Best Novel

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Projecting the 2008 Hugo finalists for Best Novel

Been even more busy with beginning the school year than I thought (crashed three days this week before the sun had properly set!), so this will be a very truncated version of what I had planned. Unfortunately, I'll also have to project in some cases based on partial reads of the works, so my takes on these might not be as informed as I would like.

Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Why it will win: Already a finalist or winner of several awards this year, including winning the Nebula Award, this alt-history account of post-WWII Jews settling in Alaska after the failure to re-establish a Jewish homeland around Jerusalem works on many levels. There is a mystery element that appeals to many, but for others it is the combination of Chabon's prose and the under-the-surface examination of ethnicity and identity that made this an appealing book for many.

Why it won't win: For those hardline SF-only people, Chabon's book is not going to satisfy their desire to have a SF book win the Hugo. This book may get the majority of the first place votes, but if it doesn't have a good distribution among the other places, it quickly might be dropped from contention due to how the Hugo voting is done.

Ian McDonald, Brasyl

Why it will win: Brasyl is a clever story that intertwines three time periods and three diverse PoV characters to tell a tale that is intriguing, especially when considered at length. It too has been nominated for several awards and it won the 2008 British Science Fiction Award, so it too has to be considered a strong contender, especially if it receives a good distribution of second and third-place votes to stay afloat in the early rounds of voting.

Why it won't win: Some are divided on the ending, thinking it is a bit weak. Others might wish for a more overtly "SF" book and vote for one of the three contenders below instead. If Chabon doesn't win the award, McDonald would be my second choice and I expect it to come in at least 3rd place, if not 2nd or even 1st.

Robert J. Sawyer, Rollback

Why it will win:
Sawyer is very well-known in the SF community and many of his previous novels and shorter stories have won numerous awards, including the Hugos. From many accounts that I have read, Rollback is a fairly decent Sawyer novel, which means it might get plenty of mid-place votes that'll keep it in contention into the latter rounds.

Why it won't win: With Chabon, McDonald, Stross, and Scalzi in the field, each receiving praise from various parts for their work, it'll be difficult for Sawyer to have more first-place votes than any of these others.

John Scalzi, The Last Colony

Why it will win: Scalzi is also very well-known in the SF community and his Old Man's War novels have been well-received by many. Winner of the Campbell Award a few years ago, he has the visibility necessary to garner a lot of votes spread out among the places.

Why it won't win: I haven't heard as much "favorite" talk for Scalzi's book as I have had for the Chabon, McDonald, and Stross entries and I am uncertain if in the latter rounds of voting that he'll receive more higher-place votes than any of these three.

Charles Stross, Halting State

Why it will win:
Some have been wondering if this will be Stross's "year," after being a finalist numerous times the previous few years. In addition, his books are usually well-received with those who like the more "hard" SF elements in their fiction. Doesn't hurt that he too is very visible in the SF community.

Why it won't win: His prose isn't exactly appealing to those readers who might prefer something a bit more polished and "readable." While he might appeal to the tech-heads and others who like the "hard" SF stuff, the book may fail to garner a lot of first or second-place votes from those who value storytelling foremost.

And if I had to rank them based on what I've read and on past experiences with these authors, my ballot would look like this:

1. Chabon
2. McDonald
3. Scalzi
4. Sawyer
5. Stross

Doubtless, the final results (which ought to be announced tonight, I believe) will be quite different. Thoughts on the finalists?


Liviu said...

None of this year Hugo novels is something I would choose even as middling sf except maybe for Brasyl, but that one while very good stylistically, fails quite badly as sf.

Chabon is not for me - tried several novels and like with several other authors I *wanted* to like, his sensibilities and mine just do not match.

The Last Colony is the weakest Scalzi novel in the OMW setting - competent ending to a series - wait a minute, it turned out not even to be an ending though sold as such - but until Scalzi comes up with less juvenile sf, it's an avoid author for me after this one...

I like a lot of Mr. Stross ss and when I read extraordinary postsingular space opera, or even extraordinary hard sf (Implied Spaces, Blindsight), I always think - this is the Stross novel I've been waiting for - sadly the authors of those are not Stross.
Instead Mr. Stross writes mediocre novels - with one or two exceptions - and Halting State was something I did not go beyond page two - so not for me, I am not his intended audience in the novels and that's ok of course, just that I am sad when I think how he could write magnificent sf instead...

I read and liked some Sawyer (Illegal Alien and 2 or 3 more) but they are similar and his style is boring after a while, so that's another author I avoid.

Prediction - based on past Hugo patterns, I think it will be Stross or Scalzi

Larry said...

I've liked Chabon ever sense I read The Wonder Boys after seeing the movie version (having a new Dylan song for a movie soundtrack is going to make me curious!), so I think his writing jibes with me more. McDonald as well to a lesser extent, mostly due to his endings being a bit convoluted at times. I've only read a tiny bit of Scalzi, to be honest, which is why I was guessing based on the reactions I've seen elsewhere.

Stross is someone who seems as though he might "break through" at any moment, only to be held back by some fundamental issue with the prose/story construction. I've only read one Sawyer and while Calculating God was interesting, it wasn't near mind-blowing.

Sad to say, but the Big 3 of American-centric SF/F awards haven't wowed me yet with their finalists, although the WFA might surprise me plesantly. I did enjoy Bull's book quite a bit and haven't yet read the others.

Fábio said...

I think this year is sui generis, both in terms of content and in term of narrative style.

I´ve reviewed the novels in my blog this week (I´m still to finish The Last Colony, hope I can make it in time), so I don´t want to hurry - but I would go for Chabon. I loved Kavalier and Clay and I found Gentlemen of the Road a very interesting book. As for Brazil, I liked it - but I still think a Brazilian could (and should) do it better - but, please, I´m not being overpatriotic; it´s just that, though McDonald does a good job in portraying Brazilian life (finally picturing it as something other than an eternal Carnival party mixed with samba and soccer), we Brazilians have still to write an SF novel with real Brazilians as protagonists - go figure.

And, though I really liked Rollback (the premise is great) and Halting State (Stross mesmerizes me), if think they are so much true SF that sometimes you should give a chance to other style experiences.

So (I promised to myself I wouldn´t do it), I would risk:

1. Chabon
2. McDonald
3. Stross
4. Scalzi
5. Sawyer

Larry said...

Well Fábio, it looks like both of us were right in picking the winner, huh? :D As for Brazilians writing something better than Brasyl, I would certainly hope so, although despite its flaws, I found McDonald's book to be more appealing to me than the other three finalists. He at least took a few chances, which is something I value and admire in writing (and most other things in life).

I guess we now wait and see how well we projected the runners-up, huh? ;)

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