fivemack (fivemack) wrote,

Thoughts on the Hugo and Campbell nominees

To a good approximation I don't read short fiction; indeed, given that all the nominees are available on-line, I demonstrably don't read even free short fiction. On the other hand, I do tend to react to the Hugo nominations by buying those of the nominees that I don't already have, and to the Campbells by picking up novels by the novel-nominated writers.

I have now managed to read these, and might as well review them since I've not received a ballot.

Michael Flynn, Eifelheim. A bit dense to get through, though this may be that it's a long book disguised by typography between close-together covers; it struck me as being over-arch (a priest happens to decide that static electricity is like the behaviour of rubbed amber, and incidentally call the machinery in the alien spaceship elektronikos), and to have the critical flaw of comparing real scientific advances with a fictitious Theory-Of-Everything. I think my real complaint is that all the little bits of pop science inserted are too obviously points of 2007-timebound dramatic irony - pages about the different kinds of wool-sorter's disease because all readers will know about anthrax, quantised red-shifts because that's something fans will have seen already. Good medievals, though.

Naomi Novik, His Majesty's Dragon. A swift read, a comfort read, a picaresque in the company of Hornblower around the implications of Napoleonic-War England equipped with extra dragons. The sequels are better, though you have a slight feeling that the journey is in part arranged to convert the author's gap year travels into research material.

Charles Stross, Glasshouse. Post-Singularity, which is a genre only Stross really dares to write in; heavy-handed discussion of the flaws of the Fifties attitude to the world, which felt like preaching to the choir since I doubt anyone convinced of the merits of that world-view would penetrate the Slashdot-infused prose.

Vernor Vinge, Rainbows End. This is Vinge's long-awaited near-future novel, and had a well-built world with the small defect that, whilst there's clearly a desireable outcome, it's very difficult to care about any of the characters approaching it. A cliched Academically-Bullying Professor feels as if he has been seeped too long in the villanisation bath. Does have a good scene of the awakening of numinous powers, which are Vinge's forte. I have a horrible feeling this will be the novel people think of as Vinge's first brush with the brain-eater.

Peter Watts, Blindsight. It's bleak. Greg Egan-grade world-building and thoughts on the nature of consciousness, in a setting cold and sharp and inhumanly precise rather than the warm mouldering slime of Mieville. No more comforting than Alien, but some really striking scales of characterisation: this is what SF should be doing.

I'd vote Watts-Stross-Vinge-Novik-Flynn.

And now for the Campbells. Lawrence Schoen doesn't seem to write at novel length, and I suspect is nominated for having invented Klingon as a language some time ago; Naomi Novik appears on both lists.

Scott Lynch, The Lies of Locke Lamora. This is pretty much a perfect first novel; deeply exuberant, deeply enthusiastic, endearing characters, a Mafia-ridden Venice which manages not to be entirely derivative, requilladores, and piling in all things including at least one kitchen-sink scene.

Sarah Monette, Melusine. A world even more decadent than Lynch's, filled with the lilies and languors of vice; engaging characters but damaged ones (including first-person madness scenes); not a great deal happens, but one fears for the characters while it does, in a way that you could be sure Lynch's would come out well in the end. There's a sequel which I haven't got round to yet.

Brandon Sanderson, Elantris. I like the narrative voice here, and the world-building is excellent; but the focal characters are irritatingly flawless, and the whole thing has much too comfortable a closure to it. I have Mistborn but have not started it yet.

I'd happily vote the Lynch for a Hugo if it were on offer, and feel uneasy ranking any of the authors last - I think this is a stronger set of novels than the Hugos, where I feel Flynn and Vinge may owe their positions to a strong body of work rather than to this particular piece. Then again, I tend to be a fan of the long-concentrated essences that gush forth in first novels. If I have to vote, Lynch-Sanderson-Monette-Novik.
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