Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Hugo Reviews: Best Novel

There has been lively debate on File 770 as to whether it’s cheating if you don’t read ALL the nominees. I’ve read most of the nominees. I didn’t feel like buying all the novels and ten-dollar-novellae that were in the freebie bundle for people signed up for the ’17 Worldcon, so I omitted certain works because paying to read something I’m already pretty sure I’m not going to like, just so I can torture myself by reading it and then not vote for it, makes me feel like a sucker. So I vote how I vote, change the rules if you don’t like it.

I also didn’t read the JCW story. I wondered whether he was being sexist again, I read a few reviews that confirmed yes, he was; I therefore determined this was a story only for men and that exposing my delicate little feminine retinae to said story would probably expose them to preternatural amounts of testosterone. 

And finally, we’re up to novels I didn’t read. Which is half of them. And yet I have the temerity to vote anyway. Let me explain.

The N.K. Jemisin and Cixin Liu entries were parts of series. Each author won a prior best novel Hugo for entries in the same series – I voted for both. I’ve got qualms about voting for two books in the same series winning best novel.  Particularly if they are part of a series I wasn’t at all eager to re-enter. That’s why I didn’t read either, and omitted them from my ballot.

I did read Ninefox Gambit and Too Like The Lighting, and wrote brief reviews. I love them both, in different ways.

As for the Anders book, there was a preview first chapter available and I gave it a spin … paragraph one, bird with a  crushed wing (“waving” it, in fact). A few paragraphs down, mutilated frogs and mice. Scanning further, bird engages in lengthy dialogue despite crush injury, begs for quick death; subsequent encounter with vicious cat … that’s enough.  

I could have grabbed both the Anders and Chambers books and scanned them real fast, but once I got into the Chambers book, I noticed the crisp contrast in how unfailingly nice she is, even when she’s having her waif heroine kill, butcher and eat the predatory dogs that attack her. The gore is off camera, and the waif’s sensitivities are considered. Contrasted with Anders’ vision, where an even younger child deals in blasé fashion with all kinds of animal abuse inside the first few paragraphs … it wasn’t worth straining my eyeballs or my sensibilities or my time constraints. I only had time to read one. 

I had my hesitations about A Close and Common Orbit  Book one in the series was endless introductions to new alien co-workers, and discussions on how to politely serve everyone’s diverse needs. Then ACaCO started off by pushing my buttons, nearly as severely as the animal abuse, by giving me a hero that was an AI walking around inside a “kit” or human-resembling body. 

And then it redeemed itself in spectacular synchronicitous fashion. The walking AI hero, Sidra, is getting a tattoo. The tattoo artist character then begins riffing on how mind and body, despite the thoughts of our AI character, are not entirely separate, that In fact they are interconnected. Which is exactly the flaw I had with the entire concept of yet another dreary example of a ghost in a machine. And here’s a fabulous tattoo artist character setting the hero straight. And I was blown away. Partially because I’m planning on spending Friday afternoon in a tattoo parlor getting a big nice tattoo to cover a small ugly tattoo, which is something I’ve wanted to do for years – I’m stoked about it.

And now I’ll have a great story to tell the inkslinger while he stabs pigment into my flesh. How I voted for the best science fiction novel of the year on the basis of a scene in which a tattoo appears as the symbol for integration of body and spirit, something I’ve been militant about enforcing in my own personal aesthetic.

ACaCO continued blowing me away, as a nurturing child-rearing AI helps a foundling waif to re-start a crashed spaceship, putting her in contact with the steppin’ AI (who now has a very close appreciation of the symbiosis between mind and body) – I’m not going to spoiler any further other than to note that Chambers' AIs are warmer and kinder than many writers' human characters. I'll also say that emotions were involved, and it was all gooey and messy.  I love this book. I’m glad I gave it a chance, and slowed down to focus on it. 

Final tally:

NUMBER ONE: A Close and Common Orbit
NUMBER TWO: Ninefox Gambit 
NUMBER THREE: Too Like the Lightning


And now I think I need to take a break and read something completely different.





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