Friday, July 29, 2016

Voting for the Hugos: The Novels

So here’s an interesting thing that happened while I was reading the novels, and other peoples’ reviews of them. And I must say, I think the best part of the Hugos is this sense of a book club with thousands of members, all of us literate to some degree, conversing about ideas. Nerdy technical ideas!! Woot!

But anyway, the part I enjoyed was watching intelligent people disagree in a civil fashion. Some people wrote at length about hating/loving the books, and I really enjoyed reading this. Civilized disagreement is a rare and wonderful thing that can happen when everybody stops hemorrhaging, which is why we should work for a world where nobody is hemorrhaging, and then we can quibble over the details.

Some people threw out detailed complicated reasons for why they liked or didn’t like a particular work. I thought about my bias against mind stuff, and how it didn’t stop me from enjoying Stephen King’s Finders Keepers while at the same time, I attribute my dislike for the Ancillary series to mind stuff. Sometimes there’s no real reason behind liking or hating a particular work, although our brains are pretty good at coming up with after-the-fact rationales.

Seveneves

Earnestly focusing on books as they linearly progress from beginning to end is for noobs and editors and people like that. Sometimes you just want to dive into a ballpit of words and mosh around. Seveneves is one of those, hard science flavored, where humanity reaches the mostly dead state before seven intrepid spacewomen start cranking out babies, thus founding seven distinct races, each one bioengineered per their founding mother’s will. Setting the scene for future highjinks.

Many of the reviews I have read make a pointed effort at informing readers that the bioengineering in Seveneves is hogwash. A lot of my generation feels the same way about bioengineering that the Victorians did about sex, which makes it a fun taboo to read and write about. Sure it’s hogwash, so are Death Stars, who cares. The science in Seveneves follows this soothing cycle of looming disaster; implement solution; new looming disaster. I’m a fan of this method of plot organization.

By the end, we have some extrapolation on how all these races are getting along with each other, on a nice fresh planet full of bright-eyed youths, and their bioengineered pets. None of whose names I recall. In fact, the characters here aren’t very memorable aside from smug sweater-wearing fart sniffer Doob and deranged politician JBF, but the mind pictures I created while wallowing in all those glorious info dumps are still decorating the insides of my retinas. Not only that, but it has the kind of ending I prefer in my science fiction: one where the characters end up in a world full of possibilities.

Acquisition: Got a free copy in my Hugo packet AND I bought it with part of my proceeds from the Amazon settlement (because I was intrigued by what I saw in the freebie and I wanted an edition formatted so I could read it on my phone).

Vote: Bill Gates liked it. All the Puppies liked it. A sizable contingent of File 770 liked it, and quite a few didn’t – and it didn’t turn into a moral litmus test or a showdown between the forces of good and evil. I liked it. I can’t think of any other SF I’ve encountered lately that is as broadly likeable. Sure, it stretches science, but so did Dune. I really want to see the movie, with all the space disasters, and some interesting actresses playing all the Eves, like maybe Kristin Stewart could play Julia Bliss Flaherty.

The Cinder Spires

I got halfway through this without falling in like with any of the characters, so I wandered off. I did enjoy the setting very much – a steampunk world with talking cats and magical warrior girls and epic dirigible fights. I would love to see a visual version of this.

Acquisition: Not included in Hugo packet. Bought a copy with Amazon class action settlement.

The Fifth Season

Very well written, but so, so grim. Makes Cormac McCarthy seem jovial in comparison.  Couldn’t finish it. Good writing, though, and that's why I'm voting for it for 2nd place. 

Acquisition: Bought it, before Hugo packet came out. It was also included with the Hugo packet.

Ancillary Mercy

I knew after the first volume that I wasn’t going to be there for the ending. I liked the gender trick but I can’t get into the mind stuff. Same issue I had with Cloud Atlas. Interchangeable brains = erasure of neurodivergence.

Acquisition: Not into it.

Uprooted

I can’t understand why so many of the people who bandwagoned against Twilight and 50 Shades are so enthralled by Uprooted, which has a romance between an innocent young village girl and a snotty old level 50 mage. I did like the Polish fairy tale aspect. I read an interview with the writer where she wrote about a scene with a visit to an old Polish site that she edited out because it wasn’t integral to the plot, and I kinda wish she’d left it in and edited more of the romance out instead. If this one wins I’m going to blame the Puppies.

Acquisition: Bought it, before the packet.

My ballot:

1.      Seveneves
2.     The Fifth Season
3.     The Cinder Spires
4.     No Award

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