I’m going to go through as many categories as I can and/or have something meaningful to say. The order will be by which-category-is-easiest to make a decision about. First off the rank will be Best Novel (for good reasons) and next will probably be Best Related Work (for not so good reasons). I’ll try and indicate one category ahead what will be next. I’m starting early because this is going to take some time and in some categories I’ve already read/watched all the entries. Obviously these are just how I’m thinking at the moment.
For all the doom-and-gloom because of the Rabid Griefing, the selection for Best Novel is excellent. 2015 had some great choices but many only got on after other people withdrew (three cheers again to Marko Kloos). 2016 is an embarrassment of riches.
- The Fifth Season. Given what I‘ve already said about it, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Despite tough competition, this is head-and-shoulders above the rest.
- Seveneves. A very flawed novel but also an exciting and ambitious one. The flaws are very deep – some weak characterization, a end that fizzles, sections that are more like sketches of a novel, infodumps and some wild science speculation. However, it is a novel that brims with ideas and it pulls a long a story with some genuine human depth. For the amount of debate and discussion it engendered alone it is worthy of an award. My review is here.
- Ancillary Mercy. Zoiks! I can’t believe I’m putting this at number 3. I probably will change my mind at some point and then change it back again. If Ancillary Justice hadn’t won a Hugo then we’d be looking at this as the closing book of the trilogy – in which case The Fifth Season would have real competition. As a whole series the Radch Trilogy is incredible. By itself, Ancillary Mercy is very, very good and a worthy winner in itself but…I’ve got to put it third.
- Uprooted. Something has to be fourth! Fun, clever and a different spin on fairy-tale and fantasy tropes. I did like this book but it isn’t close to being as good as the first three.
- The Cinder Spires: The Aeronauts Windlass. The most obviously Puppy flavored entry into the list. So much better than Jim Butcher’s entry last year – the weak Dresden Files volume Skin Game. This is a genuinely fun read. Swashbuckling adventure in a steampunkish/JPRGish world of magic crystals and airships, with bonus talking cats. The real issue was whether this book should go below No Award…
- No Award. I don’t get six votes but the fifth choice competition was between Windlass and No Award. My feelings were two-fold: (1) I liked Windlass, it was clever and fun and original and (2) it probably needed Puppy votes to get on the ballot but it didn’t need a Puppy slate to get on the ballot. Yes, probably without the various people joining up over the past few years of Puppy campaigns, it wouldn’t have made the ballot but the objection to the Puppies was the tactics and poisonous campaigning not the voters.
- Comparison work: last year I listed comparison works to help judge the relative quality. In this category my favorite novel NOT nominated was Ian Tregillis’s The Mechanical. I love the book and its sequel but the books above are either better or within striking distance of being as good. The Cinder Spires falls below in so far as it lacks the same depth as The Mechanical but not so far as to push me back to No Award.
I really think this is an impressive set of novels, even Jim Butcher’s. Presented as a short reading list of what is going on in SFF novels currently, it works very well.
Next time: a category with one and a half contenders – Best Related Work.