So, I have been remiss in my Hugo coverage. Let's fix that. First, thoughts on the results from last year (with my previous thoughts on the nominations starting here and ending here):
In the categories I bothered to post my thoughts on, the winners were as follows:
Short story: No Award
Novellette: “The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Lia Belt trans.)
Novella: No Award
Novel: The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (Ken Liu trans.)
So basically the non-Puppy contingent all came in en masse to slap down the Puppy-slate works (for my summary of what the Puppy thing is all about, see here). Kinda sad, but not unexpected or even undeserved. (And The Three Body Problem, at least, very much deserved the win.) In aftermath, the Sad Puppies seemed pouty, and the Rabid Puppies seemed ecstatic to have succeeded in burning out multiple categories. I guess they chose their respective names well.
Next stop, this spring and the nomination process for the 2016 awards. I didn't do much reading of new short-form stuff last year, unfortunately, but I did read a few novels that I thought were worthy contenders, and I did actually make some nominations based on that. In the order I read them, they were:
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
Two men of differing temperaments rise up to fight a tyrant, and then each other.
Well, there were certainly a lot expectations built up for Ken Liu's first novel, and I gotta say, he didn't disappoint. It's an intricate, complex tale, and very believable. Probably my favorite thing about it is how all the characters have solid motivations, and none of them can be considered completely "good" or "evil." It's also a meditation on different types of leaders and what makes them inspiring to people, as well as on the inevitably messy business of bringing ideals from the world of ideas to the world of reality (as one character says near the end, "the more perfect the ideals, the less ideal the methods"), and the costs of winning. I also like the blurry line between magic and technology in this world. I like how it ends on an uncertain note, setting up future conflicts between the children of the ultimate winner. I had some minor quibbles with the book, but Ken Liu is already successfully juggling 3 pins, 2 machetes, 4 torches, and a chainsaw here, where most fantasy novels manage 4 pins, at most, so I can't hold it against him if he didn't manage to add two frozen fish and a bowling ball to the mix, as well.
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (novel, 2015)
The final entry in the trilogy, in which Breq faces ever greater challenges as she finds herself a high-value target in the Radchaai civil war.
I took this whole book down in about 24 hours and found it a satisfying conclusion. It even makes me feel more charitable towards Ancillary Sword, the previous installment in the series, which I cared less for, since it sets up the final installment pretty well. Breq is one of my favorite characters in all science fiction. So cold, aloof, detached, and calculating, and yet so empathetic, observant, devoted, and inspiring. It's a tall order for a writer to pull that off, but Leckie did it. I also like Breq as providing a model for leadership that seems like something I could aspire to. (I like the Presger Translators a lot, too.) Well done, Ann Leckie. (In passing, I've read in a few places that the win by Ancillary Justice was one of the last straws in pushing the Sad Puppies into action in the first place, which I do find ironic, since this stuff is more in the spirit of their beloved Heinlein (specifically the Moon is a Harsh Mistress type of stuff) than anything else I know of that's been published in recent memory. And if you think Heinlein wasn't down with the gender bending, I'll have to insist that All You Zombies go and educate yourselves.)
The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu (Joel Martinsen trans.)
Sequel to The Three-Body Problem, last year's winner. In the face of impending invasion by an alien force that has stopped all progress in science and can monitor everything people say and do, four "Wallfacers" are appointed and given authority to develop and execute counter-strategies without any explanations as to what or why.
I thought it was better than its predecessor, which is truly impressive. This was like Asimov crossed with Murakami (with a bit of Peter Watts's dark fatalism thrown in). It managed to simultaneously be both uplifiting and depressing, to fill you with equal measures of love and loathing for humanity, which is a pretty neat trick. If it had a deficiency, it was that Luo Ji was such a better character than all the rest that I was a little impatient when the narrative shifted away from him. I hope all the US science fiction authors are taking note: this is a much better model for where SF should be heading than most of what's been written here in the last twenty years or so. I am so excited for book three, out later this year.
Any of those three would be eminently worthy of winning the 2016 Hugo. To my dismay, only Ancillary Mercy actually made the final ballot. I guess I can chalk it up to those damn Puppies again, though Grace of Kings and particularly The Dark Forest seem like they should be right up the gun barrel of the military SF contingent that seems to make up such a large part of that demographic.
Oh well. I've only investigated a little bit the interplay that seems to be going on this year between the Sad and Rabid Puppies and everyone else. The Sad Puppies seem have toned it down, claiming they aren't putting forward a slate but just a list, much of which is stuff that is actually kind of good. The Rabid Puppies, on the other hand, seem to be going double or nothing this year and managed to get some pretty crazy stuff on the ballot, along with some oddly mainstream pieces by very mainstream authors (presumably so they can shout "hypocrites" if people vote No Award on those pieces just because the Puppies nominated them, or claim victory if they actually manage to win). So, the stupid drama continues, but I hope it's starting to die down. The Rabid Puppy base has got to get bored of this sooner or later, right? Right?
(Tangentially, I can't help thinking that the Circus of Stupid with the Puppies last year was a telegraph of broader societal trends that have culminated this year with Donald Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee for president. . I don't think it's a coincidence that the motto of the Rabid Puppies this year is "Making the Hugos Great Again".)
Anyway, stay tuned for detailed on thoughts on (and rankings of) this year's nominees...
- Hugo epiprologue