Saturday, April 7, 2012

The 2012 Hugo Award Nominees

The 2012 Hugo Award nominations have been announced today!
There are plenty of categories but the one I always pay attention to (and probably the same for most people) is the Best Novel category. Here are the nominees:

  • Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)
  • A Dance With Dragons, George R. R. Martin (Bantam Spectra)
  • Deadline, Mira Grant (Orbit)
  • Embassytown, China MiĆ©ville (Macmillan / Del Rey)
  • Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Corey (Orbit)

I have personally read three of the five nominated works: A Dance With Dragons, Embassytown, and Leviathan Wakes. I rated all very highly so I'm not surprised to see them listed.

A Dance of Dragons, while good, doesn't stand on its own. It's great because it's part of a series and had a lot of anticipation behind it. I'm honestly not sure how a book within a series would fare in these sorts of awards. Here's what I wrote on Goodreads (I didn't have my blog back then):
I took my time reading the book, savoring each chapter (also I had a lot of work to do...), but now it's finished. Overall impression: it's good and a worthy addition to the series. The best part was getting to read about the characters that did not star in A Feast for Crows. I still think Book 3 is better, but this was better than Book 4. There were a few awesome events that occurred, which made me happy, but there were a few minor issues that detracted from the experience. 
The most minor of these (and actually I found it funny) was how there was always food in practically every chapter. Obviously characters have to eat, but GRRM spends a lot of time describing what everyone is eating each time, whether it's stew, mutton, rat, or unborn puppies. 
The pacing of the book was a bit off. Tyrion's chapters were flying by with lots going on, Jon's somewhat less, but Dany's chapters were a bit slow. It felt like nothing really happened until near the end. About halfway through the book we catch up to the previous one, and we see a little more develop with those characters (not all of them), but we are still not given closure on any major plot line. I think there was only a single Jaime chapter and it left me wanting another one, which is unfortunate as we'll have to wait until next book. It makes me wonder whether that chapter should have been there at all? (The events of the chapter does get referred to in a later chapter so I guess that's fine). 
A Storm of Swords ended with a blast (or more accurately, a bolt). I have no memory on how A Feast for Crows ended. This book had a mixed ending. For one character- wow! What a cliffhanger! For another- oh, I guess it's done. And for yet another chapter- huh? where's the next chapter?! I felt the ending wasn't very clean, it sort of petered out at the end; it was honestly a surprise to turn the page and see "Epilogue". I expected some closure in at least a few of the plot lines. I know this isn't the end of the series, but he needs to start wrapping up things soon. 
One thing that bothered me a bit was the introduction of a brand new plot line. We get a brand new character that changes everything. I guess that's fine, but I feel that the series should be wrapping up, not adding new things! I didn't see this coming and so it came as a bit of an unwanted surprise. It's still cool, but detracts somewhat from the story. 
Overall, the story telling and the characters are still great. Those issues I outline above are present, but they don't ruin the story- they just make me worry that it will take more than 2 books to end the series. While I enjoy the series and could easily read more, I do want some closure at some point. 

Leviathan Wakes was a surprisingly good novel. I read it since it was included in The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham. In fact, Abraham is half of James S. A. Corey (the other half is Ty Frank). Here's what I had to say about it on Goodreads:
This was an excellent read. I generally don't read as much science fiction as fantasy, but this was included with my copy of The Dragon's Path (which was also good). I can usually pass over scientific inaccuracies for the sake of the plot, but as a professional astronomer I am always happy when the author pays attention to detail and conforms his/her work to real science. That said, this is not hard scifi- there are no explanations on how drives work, etc, but the main point is that orbital mechanics (and thus the consequences of how space battles will be fought) is accurate.
The story is also quite engaging. In scope it just covers the solar system and if you've ever taken an intro to astronomy course you should recognize all the places they visit. The characters are very interesting, but I wish there would have been more than 2 viewpoint characters. I feel it's aiming to be epic, but by just going back and forth between just these 2 characters it reduces the scope and makes the story a tad predictable.
In conclusion: I am very happy with the book and will be checking out the rest of The Expanse when it comes out.
And finally, Embassytown. If I were voting this year (not sure yet, I'd have to pay the $50 supporting fee...) this is the one I would pick. I consider it the best book I read in 2011. I'm actually re-reading it at the moment and will have a detailed review later this week. For now, here's what I wrote on Goodreads:
China Mieville does it again: an excellent book! This may be the best I've read from him yet (or best ever), though at the moment I can't decide if I like it more than The City & The City. The first ~third of the book is absolutely awesome. It's classic sci-fi like something you would expect from Asimov or Clarke. The next ~third drags a bit, but only because the focus shifts a bit from being about the concepts to being about the plot/characters. The final ~third is great and shines new light on that middle third that makes it quite exciting. 
The ending is quite satisfying and the story overall doesn't feel as dark as some of his other works (I'm looking at you, Perdido Street Station). I love the way he expresses the Hosts' Language. It looks easy to pronounce, but is, in fact, impossible to do so- a truly alien way of speaking. My only regret is that we didn't see more of the immer. I would love to read other books set in this universe. 
I would recommend this book to fans of aliens, space travel, language, and/or sociology/politics. I would not be surprised to see this book nominated for (and winning) awards this year.
Looks like I correctly predicted the Embassytown would be nominated for awards! It's also been nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke award.

In sum: I think there are some pretty good contenders this year. I haven't read the other two novels, but can imagine that they are good given the company they share.

I can't comment on the other categories as I'm not that well-versed in them, but I can say that I've read the nominated short story "The Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue" by John Scalzi and it is hilarious. It came out as an April Fool's Joke, but I, along with many others, wish it were real.
For the Best Related Work, I actually do listen to Writing Excuses and enjoy it very much. I'm a bit behind on the podcasts, though.

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