With the Hugo Award closing date not until November and due to circumstances giving me an unusually good head start, I’m making a serious stab at voting in the Best Series category this year.
- The Daevabad Trilogy, S.A. Chakraborty (Harper Voyager) <- I’d already read all of this and enjoyed it!
- The Interdependency, John Scalzi (Tor Books)<- I’d already read all of this and enjoyed it!
- The Lady Astronaut Universe, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books/Audible/Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction/Solaris)<- I’d already read SOME of this and enjoyed it and then I read the rest of it!
- The Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells (Tor.com) <- I’d already read all of this and enjoyed it!
- October Daye, Seanan McGuire (DAW)
- The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager)<- I hadn’t read any of this, so I went and read it and enjoyed it!
So that leaves October Daye. I’d read none of these. I’ve read a lot of Seanan McGuire (in absolute terms…in relative terms to how much she has written…not so much) but mainly as part of Hugo reading. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read but I’m not a close match to an ideal reader for her work. I don’t then seek out her other books. There are books I read and appreciate the craft that has gone into them but don’t really grab me (e.g. Becky Chambers) and books I read & enjoy but have had enough by the end and then there are books that I want to consume more of. McGuire’s books so far have been more in that middle category for me. Undeniable talent but not quite what I’m after.
Of course, that’s what is so good about reading for the Hugo Awards. You get to read writers that push your own boundaries and involve you in other styles and narratives. Authors aren’t writing to appease individual readers, although inevitably they have a fanbase to whom they tailor their writing to some degree.
So the question was how to read October Daye. Not counting shorter works, there are 14 books and a 15th due in September. That is the essence of the Hugo Reader Paradox: there are too many books for a set of people who don’t believe there can be too many books. The rest of the nominees are either completed trilogies or ongoing series which are still at a manageable level of books for a new starter. Yet, back in the middle of the last decade when “Best Saga” was being discussed, October Daye was this kind of long-running series that was cited as the need for a new category.
Here is another dimension to my problem: trains or rather the lack of them. A global pandemic shifted my reading habits. Whereas, I used to mainly read books on a Kindle sitting on a train since 2020 I now mainly listen to audiobooks when going for a walk.
If I’m not going to read all of the series, then which parts should I read? The early bits? The later bits? The best bits? Reading the “best” ones (i.e. the ones fans like the most) upsets the pedantic side of my nature — I can’t judge a series just on the best bits! That’s cheating! Well, it isn’t but you know…or maybe you don’t and it’s just me…anyway, just assume that I wanted to get a sense of what reading the WHOLE thing is like without reading the whole thing.
My solution is to only read the odd-numbered October Daye books, at least up to book 7. I’d be “halfway” through that way and have a good sense of the series but only have read a quarter of the books!
How is the plan going? I’m on my third book i.e. book 5 One Salt Sea. So far I’ve read Book 1 and Book 3. I’m not won over yet but I’m also not tired of reading them or virtual throwing the audiobooks across the room.
Book 1 Rosemary and Rue is very much a debut novel and makes for fascinating reading just for the compare-and-contrast for McGuire’s writing compared with something as complex as Middlegame. You can see both the rough edges and the obvious talent but it also feels like a book of its time or rather a book of the time when McGuire would have first been working on it. Also, the noir-ish private-eye aspect of the story doesn’t quite work but the characters are engaging enough and there’s this real sense of promise in the story. You can also see all these budding themes and ideas that are going to sprout into later works.
Book 3 An Artificial Night is a massive levelling up in quality in all dimensions. Everything is more tightly written. It is also much more of an overt fantasy novel with just nods to the “real” modern world base setting for the central character. Most of the plot is driven by events in a faerie sub-world and you can also see McGuire’s interest in portal fantasies and the implications of these worlds on the children characters who visit them. There’s still a bit of a pacing issue with events feeling like they’ve reached a natural end twice before getting to the actual end.
Book 5 One Salt Sea I’m still reading. Now I’ve clearly missed a whole bunch of stuff in Book 4 but McGuire does a great job of getting a reader up to speed who may have missed a given volume. I don’t feel like this plan is going to leave me hopelessly confused.
I’ll keep going for the time being. I’m confident I’ll get to at least Book 9 now.