Hugo Finalist Highlights – Best Novella and Best Novel

I’ll have to ask you all to forgive my relative incoherence today: I think I’m still vibrating after my naturalization ceremony today.

Best Novella (2416 nominating ballots compared 1083 last year)

  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor ( – This is the height of the year’s prose? It’s dull, the protagonist is all “different outside” but nothing remotely unusual inside. To those with the voter packet, I strongly recommend against reading the PDF version – something’s gone badly wrong with whatever conversion was used, with the result that almost every Th ends up rendered as a not-quite-bold T.
  • The Builders by Daniel Polansky ( – This offering nearly broke me in the first sentence. Note to authors: you will not go far when you give a character with no discernable Spanish or Portuguese traits the name “Reconquista”. Especially when someone with more than zero historical literacy reads your work. The second-rate knockoff of the Brian Jacques Redwall-style stories does not help the cause.
  • Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold (Spectrum) – This work got off to a reasonable start. I could sympathize with the protagonist and his problem, although I can’t say I went beyond moderate interest. I may go back and read the whole thing at some point when time permits.
  • Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson (Dragonsteel Entertainment) – There’s potential here, but it’s not being realized in this work, that I could tell. It’s well-written and an interesting concept, but I had zero interest in the narrator, which is rather a fatal flaw in a first person piece.
  • Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds (Tachyon) – For me this was the pick of this character: not only did it have an intriguing premise and an interesting protagonist, it was the only story in this category that I simply could not stop reading.

Best Novel (3695 nominating ballots compared to 1827 last year)

  • Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (Orbit) – Sadly, it would seem that Ms Leckie has not improved. I found the part of the excerpt I read clunky, if competent, and quite boring, honestly.
  • The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher (Roc) – This work started well, and has an interesting premise. I’ll probably return to it when this much-sought-after creature known as free time makes itself known. It wasn’t an immediate grab – as in I wasn’t hooked by the end of the first chapter – but I’ve read works that grow on me, and this has the potential to do that.
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit) – The best thing I can say about the sample of this work is that the prose shown makes Ancillary Mercy look like a polished gem. This is not praise.
  • Seveneves: A Novel by Neal Stephenson (William Morrow) – Some people may gain enjoyment from novels that start with a lengthy lecture. I don’t, and I wasn’t going to read on to be lectured further. Give me something I can care about, not a dry recitation, especially at the start of the flipping book.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik (Del Rey) – The start was a little – okay, very – obvious, in that there was no question that this was setup to lead to a screamingly obvious conclusion. It was still done sufficiently well that I kept reading, and sometime after that I couldn’t stop reading. The fantasy elements here are truly fantastical, and there’s an equally strong set of undercurrents touching on such things as what makes us human, and when is someone worth saving, as well as a slow burn secondary romance-ish plot.

Next week – the final post before voting closes – I’ll be looking at the Campbell Award and the Retro Hugo pieces. You’re on your own for Best Dramatic Presentation (long and short form): I don’t watch TV or movies, so I haven’t watched any of the finalists. Honestly, the last time I sat down and watched anything was several years ago, and I doubt that’s going to change any time soon.

As always, read the finalists yourself and make your own decisions about them. What I think reeks may be something you think is magnificent, and vice versa.


34 thoughts on “Hugo Finalist Highlights – Best Novella and Best Novel

  1. Up all night… So I get to be the first one (here) to welcome you as an official citizen of this wonderful, maddening, and downright odd country!

    It’s a privilege to have you join us.

  2. > something’s gone badly wrong with
    > whatever conversion was used

    I see *waaay* too much of that. Vast faceless entities like Harper-hyphenated simply don’t care, but as an independent, just OPEN THE FREAKIN’ FILE AND LOOK before sticking it up into wherever you’re selling it. Don’t think that because the program exited without an error message that everything is fine.

    Bad conversion is instantly obvious to the poor customer who downloaded your story; it’s going to poison his experience with your work.

    1. Oh, even worse, in the case of “Binti” – the overtly “diverse ethnic” character meant I was wondering whether the shitty conversion job was actually deliberate attempted dialect. I might have made that mistake if I hadn’t thought to check one of the other file formats and found that no, it was just shitty conversion.

    2. WHAT you publish can be a matter of taste, and excusable.

      HOW you publish it is never excusable.

      This kind of thing would have me looking for exit clauses in the contract.

  3. I disliked “Binti” as well. The protagonist felt hollow and the prose fell flatter than a pancake. There’s an attack by murderous aliens going on, and the author can’t even get me to care what happens to her protagonist? Please.

    I actually liked “The Builders”, though I was quite aggravated by how many of the characters barely get a chance to shine.

    “Penric’s Demon” became truly interesting towards the end, because of the relationship between Penric and the demon. I wouldn’t mind reading about these two again, now that they’ve reached an attractive dynamic.

    “Perfect State” has a great premise and setting, and unlike Kate I actually liked the narrator; this was the #1 novella on the ballot for me.

    “Seveneves” managed to capture me with its beginning, but it lost me sometime before the 20% point; from that moment onwards, I skimmed the rest, and after the halfway point gave up for good. None of the characters felt very sympathetic and I didn’t care what would happen to any of them. Scenes from the Earth counting down days towards a scheduled Doomsday were interesting, but the space station parts bored me, as they were filled mainly with long conversations between the aforementioned uninteresting characters.

    1. There’s a sequel novella out, called “Penric and Desdemona.” In the afterword, Bujold places these stories at a few centuries before The Curse of Chalion.

      1. Nope. “Penric and the Shaman” For a minute there I was hoping there was a third one.

        I regret that so much Real Life is happening this year that the likelihood of my even finding time to read a single novel I wouldn’t have otherwise picked up is zero. Maybe next year things will stop happening.

        Or that there will be tons of books and stories that I have already read and enjoyed.

    2. This is why I keep saying read them and make your own decisions: I could recognize “Perfect State” as well written, but the narrator left me cold, and with a first-person piece that’s kiss of death – and of course nobody can write a first person narrator who makes everyone happy.

  4. So, in summary – More of the same dreck we’ve come to know and loathe from the Hugo award process, with a few decent to good items thrown in for flavor. No, there’s no log rolling going on. It’s sheet coincidence that the same group of authors get nominated every year.

    My recommendations for best movie and TV show – The Martian (the movie is almost as good as the book), and The Cutie Map 1&2, My Little Pony. (Yes, I’m an adult.) Any kid’s cartoon that takes a direct stand against communism in this day and age is worth an award. It’s sort of a retelling of Harrison Bergeron.

    1. I particularly am astonished that a woman, who apparently has written only three novels in her life, has all three nominated for a Hugo. The only non-astonishing part is that it is Hatchette and not TOR publishing her.

      1. From what I understand she hits all the socjus buttons so she must be wonderful. Except her prose is clunky – something I commented on when I read the excerpt from the first Ancillary Something book – and there’s nothing there to bring someone new to the series in.

        1. Having forced myself last year to read the whole thing (from the library, thank Ghu I could return it!) – excerpt or not, the entire thing is clunky. I am a clunky newbie writer of prose, and realize it – but IMHO, do far better than she.

      2. The nominations have been for her revolutionary take on gender. This boils down to a global replace of all pronouns to the female form, which thrilled all the feminists and politically correct. Nobody would have noticed the books if she’d used a male pronoun throughout (though it would seem to be just as “revolutionary” to refer to the females in the books as “he” vs Ms. Leckie referring to the males as “she”). It was interesting listening to the audio version of two of the books since the reader assigned actual genders (or at least male vs female sounding voices) to the characters. Ms. Leckie would be a solid, unnoticed mid-list author except for the female pronouns.

        While the first book in the series won about 4 awards, the reviews of the second came back to reality with people saying it didn’t really go anywhere (but was still a revolutionary treatment of gender). The third book is better than the second but still doesn’t live up to the potential of the overall story line.

        1. ” a global replace of all pronouns to the female form”

          When ever this series is brought up I always think “Pronoun Trouble” a la Daffy Duck.

    2. Pretty much, yes, alas. It’s disappointing to wade through some of these excepts and think “this is supposed to be one of the best works published last year?”.

  5. I’m about halfway through The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass. It is slow, very slow, in the beginning. The rea story doesn’t start until around 100 pages in.

    I read Seveneves: A Novel back in the nominating stage. IMO, it fell apart completely in the last part: too much handwavium and too many holes.

    Unprooted in the only novel I have read this year that held my interest from the beginning to the end. It’s predictable. _shrug_ So are a lot of things I read. Of the novels offered, this was, for me, the best.

    1. I recently read The Aeronaut’s Windlass after coming fresh off of The Codex Alera, but walked away giving it only a three-star review. It was good … but it just wasn’t great. It honestly felt like it should have been given a few more passes in the alpha stage to clean up the pacing and the story a little bit, and there was an abundance of “Watson” characters (all the primary viewpoint stories had at least one) to explain things that would have been better explained naturally.

      There were a few other things that made it not quite as fun as well, but it’s been quite some time now so I don’t remember all of them. A couple had to do with the way the plot was presented, I think, but …

      I did still enjoy the world, and I’ll definitely read the next one. It just felt like it had been pushed out the door a little too quickly.

      Then again, it’s going up against Ancillary, so it’s not like there’s hefty competition.

      1. Ancillary is still likely to be the socjus favorite, with all the usual results. Alas. I’d hoped the author had improved from the lackluster first novel, but such was not the case.

        1. It is rather pathetic that one can guess the winner by the cliques they play in.

        2. Welcome, Kate! We’re lucky to get you.

          As for “socjus,” I take it the pronunciation is “sock juice”?

    2. That’s pretty much where I’m sitting with Uprooted. The macro elements are certainly predictable, but the execution is very good, and the story does hold interest from start to finish. Which is more than I can say about any of the competition.

  6. It’s sounding like my decision to not pay to vote in the Hugos this year may have been a good one. I do appreciate the reviews, though, and maybe next year will be better.

    Kate Paulk, slogging through the nominees so I don’t have to, doing work Amer… no, I can’t say that, can I? 🙂

    1. Not any more, you can’t!

      It’s the American way: A grim job that *somebody* has to do, so an American will roll up his/her/its sleeves, pick up the heavy duty shovel, and start clearing away the shit.

    1. I’m waiting to see how the DragonCon thing works out. Almost nobody outside a very small fannish clan even *knows* about the Hugos, much less cares. Only a fraction of paying Worldcon participants can even be arsed to vote.

      DragonCon, on the other hand, is huge enough that Worldcon is hardly more than a rounding error by comparison. An award at DragonCon is going to mean a lot more, as far as attracting the attention of potential customers, than a Hugo.

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