Friday, July 31, 2015

The Three-Body Problem for Novel :: Aaron's Take on the 2015 Hugo Nominees

Best Novel is by far the strongest of this year's Hugo Award fiction categories, because only two of the nominees are Sad/Rabid Puppy choices (the Butcher and Anderson books), and it seems to me those two were chosen because a number of the Puppies actually like the authors' work, not merely because the author is friends with Brad or published by Vox, which is refreshing. That said, they're still not legitimate nominees and I'm still making liberal use of the No Award option. But all of the nominees in this category are at least written at a professional standard, and two are certainly Hugo-worthy.

Aaron's Ballot for Best Novel:
1. Cixin Liu - The Three-Body Problem
2. Ann Leckie - Ancillary Sword
4. Jim Butcher - Skin Game
5. Kevin J. Anderson - The Dark Between the Stars
6. Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) - The Goblin Emperor

The last two choices fell to the bottom simply because I found them rather dull. I could only fight my way 200 pages into The Goblin Emperor, because Monette never gave me a sense of what was at stake. I never felt any sense of urgency, as the protagonist made a series of choices that as far as I could tell were entirely trivial and unimportant.

I similarly found it difficult to get into The Dark Between the Stars, partly because it picks up where Anderson's last multi-volume space opera left off, so there was a lot of catching up to do. But I think my trouble with it goes deeper than that. I was once lucky enough to have a great author critique one of my stories. He suggested I rewrite a scene where the main characters had a conversation while driving through an alien city. He told me there's nothing interesting about driving in a car, and I shouldn't make my readers see the city through a piece of glass. In The Dark Between the Stars, I persistently felt like there was a piece of glass between me and the best parts of the story. For example, early on we meet a viewpoint character who has abducted his own son and left his wife, because she refused to believe him about an imminent danger to their home. This would be a terrible, heartbreaking choice, but for some reason it all happens offstage and we only hear about it later, as the guy is staring into space twiddling his thumbs.

I rate Skin Game ahead of The Dark Between the Stars and The Goblin Emperor because Jim Butcher's storytelling has more immediacy to it, and so I found it easier to read. And yet I don't much care to see the Hugo Award go to the umpteenth book in a series, addressing story elements that this author has covered ten times before and other authors have covered a thousand times.

The two nominees that I find Hugo-worthy are The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu and Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie. Both of these novels are well-written and thought-provoking and original. One could make a case for either. I have a slight preference for The Three-Body Problem, especially since Ann Leckie already won a Hugo Award last year for Ancillary Justice, which introduced many of the same concepts that make Ancillary Sword so interesting.

I urge you to vote for Liu or Leckie for Best Novel, and perhaps we can end the Hugo Award ceremony on a high note after stepping through all the Puppies' messes in the previous categories.

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