So, better late than never I guess; the Hugos packets came out a while ago, but neither being the most organized nor the fastest reader, I’m only getting around to going through them now.
So. Starting with the novels. First off, full disclosure: I no-awarded this category under my own personal protest rule of doing so in any category in which all finalists are American. Partly because of this, I didn’t full read each novel, instead gave them a “first fifty pages” check, which is how I decide on all my reading; basically, a book has fifty pages to either grab me or turn me right off. If it does neither, it gets put aside in the “not for me” pile. Actual reactions to each work on the list are below but, spoiler alert: my NFM pile has just gotten much taller…
- Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse. A fairly bog-standard “jaded monster hunter coming out of retirement for One Last Hunt” sort of set-up, I admit I struggled mostly with the “jaded” part here. The narrator spends the first chapter arguing with the family of an abducted girl for how much they’re going to pay for her recovery, and the second murdering said girl because she got “infected” by the same evil of the monster she was abducted (and partially eaten!) by. This isn’t a DNF—conveniently, because I also own the paperback—but I’m kinda jaded about jaded protagonists; I like them done in a certain way (i.e. when their stories are entirely designed to prove them wrong about their worldviews), and the opening on this is a Strong Unsure for me. Also, the fridging of a little girl in the second chapter to give the protagonist Angst is still a fridging, so that’s a Strike One.1 Will come back to it when it hits the bottom slopes of Mt. TBR, but so far I’m not wow’d by the opening.
- The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal. Fine… I guess? But definitely part of that whole “Woke American Historic Revisionism” revival that, being a Not American, I’m just extremely uninterested in. And the premise in general beyond that just isn’t enough to grab me, given I have a deep intrinsic dislike of stories that smell like even a faint whiff of “awsum ladeez fight teh sexism!!!”.2 So… meh.
- Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik. Confession: I noped out of this one on page one, because of the whole “jealous bitches be gold diggin'” framing, plus some other Thoughts I’ll save for another time. Again, not a bad book, just… extremely Not For Me.
- Revenant Gun, Yoon Ha Lee. I’ve previously enjoyed Lee’s short stories, but bounced hard off the first book in this series; Lee’s baroque, abstruse writing style apparently doesn’t work for me in chunks bigger than a dozen or so pages. Nonetheless, I ended up enjoying the opening to Revenant Gun more than Ninefox, though my eyes still glazed over as soon as people started talking about all the military stuff. I’m sure this is plenty of people’s cup of mothdust but… eh, hard pass on this one for me.
- Record of a Spaceborn Few, Becky Chambers. Another series I bounced hard off, in this case because I couldn’t stand the first book’s cloyingly twee “Tumblr woke” style aesthetic, which I’ve too often seen used as a weapon to be anything other than instantly suspicious of. As with Revenant, Record feels a little more like something I’d be into if I’d enjoyed the first book and had already bought into its world. But since I didn’t and haven’t… eh. Again, this will definitely be someone else’s bag… but not mine.
- Space Opera, Catherynne M. Valente. I’ve mostly heard this described as some variant of “cut-rate Douglas Adams” but, honestly, what it actually reads like to me is “cut-rate Illumanatus!” Some of you may remember I fucking loathe those books, so… take that as you will.
Look. I get that this is extremely subjective and that I’m apparently in the minority on this opinion, but… this? Really? This is what’s supposed to represent the best science fiction and fantasy novels on Earth? Really? The whole of Earth?3 You’re telling me that there was not one single novel written by, for example, a non-American author that was not better than anything on this list? Really? Because if I was being extremely uncharitable, I’d maybe mention that this list feels less like a “World’s Best Novels (In English)” and more like a “Best Novels of the World of Wannabe-Woke-Seeming Center-Leftist American SFF Con Attendees.” Which… fine? But if that’s what the Hugos are gonna be, then they really need to take the word “world” out of the title, yeah?
Ideology aside, these finalists shake out for me as:
- 1 × Mt. TBR addition I’ll get around to eventually
- 2 × not-sold-but-I’d-give-it-another-look-I-guess-if-someone-convinced-me
- 2 × sequels to series I’ve already noped out of
- 1 × not if it were the last book on Earth and I had infinite firewood and toilet paper.
I honestly don’t know if that says more about the Hugos or more about me, but it definitely says… something.
Tl;dr, unrepentant No Award.
- Basically, the story will get somewhat salvageable for me if the protagonist’s choice to kill the girl is revealed to be morally unjustifiable. I know there’s a lot of cultural baggage around this sort of thing but, quite frankly, as someone who is both queer and has a family history of mental illness, the “the only way to save your loved ones from your Evil is Death” is honestly one of my most loathed tropes in all of media—and American media in particular is dripping with it—to the point that I find it actively morally repugnant. Like, I hated it in Buffy and I hate it here, too, so… fingers crossed it gets deconstructed later, I guess?↩
- Wait… what? Yup. Mostly because they tend to always be saturated with Lean In-style hyper-individualistic if-only-you-were-just-better pap, rather than the actual destruction of/challenge to existing patriarchal systems. I will take a hundred stories where awful mediocre women are allowed to succeed—in the way awful, mediocre men are currently allowed to succeed—over one Awsum Ladeez “inspirational” work.↩
- Okay; published in English. Which, y’know, is a related problem of calling your award the “world’s best” but… moving on…↩