Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Reading the Hugo-Nominated Novels

I'm a supporting member of this year's Worldcon. My main reason for registering, of course, is to vote for the Hugos. So far I've read four of the five novels, three of the novellas, and two of the novelettes (I'm currently working on a third.) Here are some of my thoughts on the novels. I'll try to avoid spoilers, but it may be hard to discuss some points without details--or the politics behind the choices.

The Three-Body Problem--This is an English translation of a Chinese novel (so it counted for my Diversity Read last month). It starts during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and goes up to the present day, though the story line skips around a bit. A young woman scientist gets caught up in political affairs and ends up working on a top-secret project to contact aliens. Embittered by her father's death, the woman invites aliens from an imperiled planet to invade Earth. The aliens use a variety of scientific and psychological tricks to prevent Earth from mounting a resistance. This is the first book of a trilogy, so the outcome isn't decided in this book. I found the characters flat at first and found this book initially difficult to get into. Once the Three-Body Problem game was introduced, it picked up. Still, some subplots of the story felt like they got dropped after that point (maybe they'll be picked up in the next books), and to me, while some of the aliens' plans pose interesting questions about the nature of science, they also seem like some over-the-top plan from a James Bond movie to kill the agent (i.e., too complicated when a simple plan would be more effective). The science part overshadows the fiction to me.

The Goblin Emperor--The half-breed fourth son of the elven emperor succeeds to the throne when his father and older brothers are all killed at once. He was never expected to become emperor, was disliked by his father, and sent away to a remote area without proper training for his role. As soon as he learns the news, he proceeds to the capital to take the crown before he can be killed or manipulated. However, he has a lot to learn about how his court works, and his temperament is much different from his father's. This is a slow-paced book with lots of characters that are hard to keep straight. I still enjoyed seeing the title character grow into his role.

Ancillary Sword--The sequel to Ancillary Justice,which I read last year. This story continues to use female pronouns and quick POV shifts within scenes as in the first book. (The main character used to be the brains of a spaceship, able to sense everything through its ancillary crew, but is now confined to a single human body.) The main character is now commander of her own ship and takes on a mission to another planet on behalf of the Lord of the Radch. An interesting story, but I'm not sure how it's advancing the overall plot of the trilogy.

The Darkness Between the Stars--Although this is the first book of a series, it's set after another seven-book series which I haven't read. Apparently it features a lot of characters and families from the previous series. There's a lot of backstory which slows things down, and again there are so many characters it's hard to keep track of them all. Chapters are short and mention the name of the POV character, which helps a lot. Still, in an epic story like this, some storylines and characters get more space than others. (Some of them don't seem necessary to me, but they may have been more important in the first series.) The story is set about twenty years after a major war in space and shows new hostilities rising up again. Some of the aliens, such as the world trees, seem to be a SF counterpart to the traditional fantasy elements of earth, air, fire, and water. (I see at least three elements in the book, but I'm not sure how air is represented.) Characters can be a bit one-note and stereotypical at times.

Skin Game--Part of the Dresden Files series. I've read some of the series, but I'm not up-to-date on it. This makes me reluctant to read this work (the voting packet does not feature the complete book) for fear of spoiling the books I haven't read yet. Still, I'm trying to give all the nominees a fair read (I admit I'm not objective--that's why I registered to vote in the first place), so I may have to borrow it from the library if available.


Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think of them?

4 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Of the four you read, sounds like none of them are real contenders. And still they were nominated. The Hugo is the one award I'll never figure out.
Vote and make a difference, Sandra! I'd like the actual winner to be something I would really read for a change.

Sandra Almazan said...

Alex, three of the books (The Three-Body Problem, The Goblin Emperor, and Ancillary Sword) were also nominated for the Nebula, but none of them won. I will admit none of these books really blew my socks off. Probably I'll pick either The Goblin Emperor or Ancillary Sword as my top vote, though I'm not sure yet which will be first.

The important thing is that I'll be able to nominate for next year's Hugos too, so I can try to help overcome the ballot-stuffing that happened this year. I may even nominated some self-published books!

Pat Dilloway said...

I never so much about the voting for the Hugos until this year.

Sandra Almazan said...

I'm afraid we're going to be hearing about them for a long time, Pat, and not in a good way.

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