Today's category is the big kahuna, the one that makes strong men say "Fuck" unexpectedly in public. If any Hugo category is "the" Hugo, it's this one. And so this category should, by all rights, be the strongest and most impressive. Sadly, this year that's not the case:
- Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (Ballantine Spectra)
- Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
- The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Gollancz; Pyr)
- Feed by Mira Grant (Orbit)
- The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
Similarly, Cryoburn is a late minor book in a series essentially finished by its author nearly a decade ago. Folks, Lois Bujold said she was out of stories to tell about Miles -- you should have believed her! (I was substantially kinder when I reviewed it a few months ago.) Bujold also already has five Hugos, including four in this category, three of those for previous Vorkosigan novels.
(This is the point at which I would accuse Hugo nominators of being lazy, and only thinking of new books by their long-time favorite writers, if I was to be as uncouth as to do something like that.)
I wanted to love The Dervish House, since it's the kind of book I usually enjoy -- a big, meaty, complicated sprawl of a story, full of unexpected connections and action that circles uneasily before rising into a big crescendo at the end -- but I admired it more than I actually liked it, in the end. (See my review for slightly more on the subject.) McDonald has been nominated for the Hugo six times before -- twice in this category -- and has won once, for a novelette in 2007.
There's nothing wrong with Feed that admitting that it's a particularly manipulative YA-tinged urban fantasy wouldn't set right, but, unfortunately, it keeps insisting that it's science fiction, despite the fact that it has some of the worst science committed in a major fan-favorite since When Worlds Collide. I will admit that I seem to entirely lack the gene that makes people enjoy zombie stories, which perhaps explains part of my reaction, but I just didn't believe in any part of this novel for a moment -- not the supposedly hard-SF zombies, not the amazingly futuristic blogging culture that's behind what actually happened in the 2008 presidential campaign, not the tired old political-SF tropes that Grant mines for her slow, limping plot, not a word of it. (I'm still working on my review, which I'll link here once I'm done.) "Mira Grant" hasn't been nominated for a Hugo before, but her other writing name, Seanan McGuire, won the Campbell last year as best new writer.
By contrast, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms looks very strong: the author knows what genre she's writing in, does it well, and even has interesting twists on some of the standard genre tropes along the way. I wouldn't have nominated it for the Hugo myself -- it's not really inventive or original enough for that, to my eye -- but I definitely wouldn't kick it out of bed for eating crackers. I read it happily because it was nominated for this award, and reviewed it a couple of weeks ago. It's Jemisin's first novel; she was previously nominated for a Hugo only once: last year for a short story, "Non-Zero Probabilities."
I think this is a particularly weak list of nominees, though one could easily argue that's because of my particular tastes.
Hugo award voting closes at the end of this coming weekend, at midnight Pacific time on Sunday, July 31st. If you're eligible to vote, please do -- and please do so thoughtfully, picking the works you really think worthy of the honor.
If you are voting for the Hugos, please look long and hard at what you're voting for, and, in particular, vote for the work rather than the writer.
Remember, in any categories where you're unhappy with the choices, that "No Award" is always an option, and that you shouldn't list at all any works/persons that you don't think worthy of a Hugo at all -- the instant-runoff balloting otherwise will reapportion your vote to a lower-level choice, and you may thus see a work you don't like winning. If you don't think it should get a Hugo, it shouldn't go on your ballot at all.