The annoying thing about this category is that it’s the perfect storm of all the controversies surrounding the Hugo awards. It’s the category in which three of the five nominees are only represented in the Hugo Packet by 70-page extracts rather than the full novel (though in this case I’ve found those extracts enough to judge in two cases, and I already had the third) — a lot of people have had an entitled rage about this, and said that they’ll be ranking all the books below No Award in protest. The fourth nominee isn’t a novel at all, but rather a fourteen-book series, which has made a number of people annoyed that it shouldn’t have been in this category and say they’ll be ranking it below No Award in protest. And the fifth nominee is by Larry Correia, who started the “Sad Puppies” slate which I’ve talked about before and which has made a lot of people say they’ll be ranking it below “No Award” in protest.
My own views are below. I’ve judged the two books that weren’t included in full and which I hadn’t already read by the extracts — neither grabbed me enough to buy the full book. This is the most difficult set to rank, but I’m trying to be fair…
Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross — I didn’t reread this for the Hugos, as I read it when it came out last year, so my memory is not as fresh as it could be. Nominally a sequel to Saturn’s Children (though thankfully without the rapiness in that one) this is a hard-SF novel about far future economics, presumably inspired by the housing crisis. The main technological innovation in it, slow money, is very, very, Bitcoin-y, though Stross has said that he wrote the book before Bitcoin became big (and Stross is not a fan of Bitcoin). I remember little of the plot and nothing of the characters, but an awful lot of the ideas, which are usually the primary attraction in SF for me anyway. A good book, if not Stross’ best, and one I shall definitely reread at some point soon.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie — I haven’t read the full thing, because the extract didn’t grab me enough to buy the full book, but it’s decent enough. I understand it gets much better, because everyone I know (and I do mean everyone) talks about this as the greatest thing ever. I’ll probably get round to it at some point, but it’s in a genre I’m not keen on (space opera), and I have too many other books to read right now. But I can see why people think it should win.
Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson — all fourteen books were included in the Hugo Packet, an astonishingly generous choice by Tor (and one that reflects rather badly on Orbit) but realistically there was no way anyone who hasn’t already read at least some of them was going to get through ten thousand pages (most of the books near the thousand page mark) before the beginning of August. I’ve made an effort to try this, but it’s a genre I have little time for (epic fantasy) and didn’t grab me at all. It’s clearly a great achievement, and probably deserves some kind of award, but I can’t bring myself to support it for this.
Parasite by Mira Grant — I’ve found the couple of Grant’s books that I’ve read readable, but not especially interesting. This one was dull enough that I have no interest whatsoever in reading the rest of the story. In the portion included in the Packet, we’re introduced to a Generic Heroine who has a genetically-engineered symbiote, as do most people in this near future. The heroine woke from a coma in which she was apparently brain-dead, with no memories and a new personality. Now, a few years later, people are suddenly turning into zombies — with basic motor functions but no highter brain functions at all. It is incredibly obvious that the big revelation in the book (which I’ve not read anywhere else, this is my extrapolation from what’s in the Packet) is that the symbiote is taking over people’s brains, and that the heroine’s new personality is in some way that of the symbiote rather than that of the host.
Warbound: Book three of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia is the Sad Puppy nomination for this ballot (and I must do a separate post about the Sad Puppy stuff and what it says about the sociology of fandom). I’ve already said that “Book X of the Y Chronicles” is a sure sign that a book is not for me, and… well… “the Grimnoir Chronicles”.
Baen have shown that, despite their insane politics as an organisation, they’re at least sensible about promotion, by putting all three novels in the series in the packet, but it’s just generic pulp nonsense. Correia is one of those writers who can “tell a rattling good yarn” and all that kind of stuff — it’s easy to see why he has the commercial success he does, as the books he writes are the kind that people call “page-turners”, but it’s equally easy to see why he has no critical success — he has absolutely nothing to say, and no ambition other then to be mildly entertaining.