Hugo 2017: Best Novel

These ballot posts I’m doing when I’m ready. I’ve read and reviewed all of these now:

The dilemma I have is with Too Like the Lightning – should I judge it by itself or wait until I’ve read the sequel? A lot rests on the sequel in terms of how I judge the book but the award is just for Too Like the Lightning. So, I’m going to do my list now and reserve my right to change my mind later.

As a set, this is a tougher choice than last year where The Fifth Season stood out despite the high-quality competition. This year there are four books that are vying for my number 1 votes and 2 books that will get my lower preferences.

7 – No spot for No Award. I think every one of these deserves a fraction of my vote.

6 – A Closed and Common Orbit. I know a lot of people have really connected with Becky Chamber’s humane and empathetic take on space-adventure. This one was more planet centred and despite being a sequel stands on its own well. I did enjoy a lot of it but it didn’t grab me the way the other books did.

5. – Death’s End. There are moments of genuine sparkle in this lengthy future history but also parts which just seem like a slog. Full of ideas and the refreshingly different pacing and plotting makes me glad I read it.

So that’s the ‘easy’ bit. The next four are more of a challenge. All six of the nominees pushes boundaries and took the genre to new places but I feel my top four did so with more success. They each have their flaws though. The Obelisk Gate suffers by being a middle novel strung between the intensity of The Fifth Season and the finale. All the Birds…  does its own thing but sometimes gets caught between epic and whimsy. Ninefox Gambit‘s brilliance is on a slow burn and its intentionally alienating language hides a more conventional story. Finally Too Like the Lightning is half a story, its plot left hanging.

4. The Obelisk Gate. When quality is this high, small things end up making the difference. With a Hugo already on the shelf for this series, I’ll give my higher votes to the other three. Feels wrong though. Happy to see this win.

3. Too Like the Lightning. Ha! Opposite problem! I don’t know where this book is going whereas The Obelisk Gate I knew where it had been. I can see me changing my mind multiple times. Clever and a great conversation starter.

2. Ninefox Gambit. Or as my spell checker likes to say Nice fox gambit. What if our technology outpaced our capacity to conceptualise our technology? A military space adventure with weapons that manipulate reality and where how you track time can be heretical.

1. All the Birds in the Sky. A story about stories and a story about science and fantasy. Pulled me in and refused to accept any distinctions between magical realism, science fiction, fairy tales or fantasy.

Or, maybe some other order. Can I give them all a 1? Seriously, this was a fun and engaging set of books to read. Ideas you want to share and characters you glad you spent time with (except Mycroft).

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6 comments

  1. David Goldfarb

    I can’t say for certain until I’ve read Death’s End, but I suspect my ballot is going to come out:
    1. Gambit
    2. Lightning
    3. Gate
    4. Orbit
    (These top four are all very close. As with you, I have downgraded Gate a bit because of middle-book syndrome: plus Jemisin already got one. For me, Gambit works a bit better as a first book than Lightning. Orbit feels just a litle slighter than the other three. But as I said, it’s close.)
    5. Birds
    6. Death

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    • camestrosfelapton

      It does seem to provoke strong feelings but I’m not sure why. The antipathy to the Becky Chambers books puzzle me as well – although I’m not a fan.
      With books like Too Like the Lightning and Seveneves I can see that they’ll be love ’em or hate ’em but others I’m not sure.

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  2. Mark

    I’ve yet to read Death’s End – I’m waiting to see if the packet is generous because I’m not convinced I’m going to like it enough to buy it – but I’ve now read the rest. No-one gets NA this year (hurrah, so much relief) because every book is on there because a bunch of people liked it on its merits, even if I can’t see why 🙂

    A Closed and Common Orbit – I thought this was better written than the first one (better planning? influence of an editor this time?) but lost a little of the spirit. That said, it stands alone very well, has some interesting SF concepts to explore, and is written in the charming and accessible fashion that Chambers has. (I have a theory that in a few years time we’ll be looking back on Chamber’s career trajectory as being similar to that of Scalzi’s, and for some very similar reasons)
    The Obelisk Gate – Middle book problems almost – but not quite – plastered over with real skill; adds a great deal to the first book. Loses some points for not being self-contained enough though. When the Ancillary books were going I applied the theory that I loved them so I nommed them, but in final voting I found I was biased towards new and interesting stories, so I think the same thing applies here. Slightly unfair but there you go.
    Too Like the Lightning – wins the special Hugo for Most Discussion Generated. A frustratingly incomplete story.
    Ninefox Gambit – this is going to be my #1 and if it loses I will declare calendrical heresy, rename a month as Fox, and celebrate the 9th every year until people agree I’m right. I know a lot of people have bounced off this (I nearly did!) so obviously it’s capable of being TLTL for other people, but this was my catnip. Big brash space opera – check! Wordbuilding? Check! Not sticking to genre expectations and not caring either? Check! Compelling characters? Check!
    All the Birds in the Sky – despite being totally different to Ninefox it has some of the same merits, particularly characters and playing with genre. I don’t think it really succeeded in it’s attempt to marry techie-SF and urban fantasy but I give it a lot of points for trying. Does suffer from a lack of focus and the first 100 pages or so don’t really represent what the book turns into later on. Going somewhere quite high up my list. This might actually be my tip for a likely winner – its results in more popular votes like Goodreads and also making the Nebula finalists suggest a strong appeal to the sort of combination audience that the Hugos have.

    On the more meta side of things, the finalists as a whole are a really interesting bunch. I’m sure some will sneer at them for all being firmly rooted in genre – no Underground Railroad here – but they are showing a really wide view of the genre and also playing with the genre. TLTL deserves applause for massive ambition and getting genre fans to read about 18th Century philosophers, while Ninefox and Birds are exciting debuts both looking at the boundaries and asking “why’s that line there? Let’s jump over!”. Obelisk Gate is fantasy with a SF sensibility exploring some of the biggest themes of the modern world….. and so on.

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  3. Cora

    This will be a very hard category for me to decide. I’m pretty sure which two books will be in my 5 and 6 spots, based on previous experience with the author/series, but I currently have three very different novels duking it out for number 1, plus one book I haven’t read yet and that is a complete unknown to me.

    I predict that my Mom will vote either A Closed and Common Orbit or All the Birds in the top spot, since both are closest to her personal tastes. I suspect neither Death’s End nor The Obelisk Gate will be much to her taste. I can’t really imagine that Ninefox Gambit and Too Like the Lightning are her thing either, though she loved Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose back in the day, even though that one is similarly packed with classical and philosophical references as Too Like the Lightning.

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    • camestrosfelapton

      I excised a bit from the review of TLtL on the comparison between The Name of the Rose and Foucalt’s Pendulum because it got too laboured. The tl;dr of it was that the book is a Foucault’s Pendulum rather than a Name of the Rose but I’m not sure I can explain what I mean succinctly.

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