2015 Hugo Novel Prognostications
It’s time to step away from the icky politics and get into what everyone really cares about: prophesying the Hugo winners. I’m going to stick with novels for two reasons. First, the novel category had enough attention to avoid complete Sad Puppy takeover, especially after a crucial withdrawal. Second, I don’t have time to read anything but novels anymore, so I have no idea what happened last year in short stories, dramatic presentations, or related stuff of any kind. I wish I could do more, but novels it is for now.
Full disclosure: I did not participate in the nominating process. I probably should have, but $40 is just enough that I can’t justify it to Mrs. Pep at this time. I may attend WorldCon as it is a short jaunt from here to Spokane, but that depends largely on the condition of the Pep family when all but me return from Japan on the day before the con starts.
Another disclaimer: my Hugo batting average is good for baseball, but bad for much else. Let’s review. In 2014, I supported Ancillary Justice and it won handily. Leckie’s book is a deserving winner, but I thought it a bit of a weak year for novels. Not sure it would have stood up to the 2013 slate, of which I quite vocally chose 2312. I feared greatly a Robert Jordan nostalgia party that year, but had no inkling that John Scalzi would run off with a Redshirts victory. That one soured me on fan voting for awhile, much as I like John Scalzi as the current Face of Science Fiction. In 2013, I vaguely assumed that Embassytown would walk out a winner, but Jo Walton won with Among Others. That was the first year that I paid much attention, which means I’m one for three right now. Anyone laying bets on my choices does so at his or her own risk.
Two books surprised me by their exclusion: Robert Bennett’s City of Stairs and William Gibson’s The Peripheral. I don’t know the numbers for everything, but if these two were edged off the ballot only by the Sad Puppies, I will be irate. Puppy objections to both are pretty obvious, what with the post-colonialism, dark-skinned protagonists, and dead gods of questionable morality in the first, and William Gibson’s very existence with the second. Stairs was my pick for the best book of the year however, and it seemed to generate a lot of buzz. This result may come down to Bennett not being part of The In Crowd in SF, but who knows. The Peripheral came out late and didn’t seem to light the community on fire; surprising both because of Gibson’s pedigree and the reaction in broader literary circles. Regardless, both were on my short list and the ballot is poorer without them.
On to the nominees. Opinions about each come first, then a bold prediction at the end.
Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie
To be honest, when I first saw that ballot I thought to myself, “Whoa. The Sad Puppies just handed Leckie her second straight Hugo.” I don’t think that anything on the original ballot would have challenged Ancillary Sword. She has the momentum from last year’s sweep, the buzz as a hot, new voice in SF, and reviews that seemed largely to say that her second book was even better than the first. I preferred Ancillary Justice, but that says more about my tastes than it does the quality of the book. The biggest obstacle to another Leckie triumph may be voter inclinations to highlight someone new this year.
A second Leckie victory would perhaps be the greatest of ironies, as she represents almost everything the Sad Puppies hate. Leckie writes on the cutting edge of SF, digs deep into questions of empire and colonialism, toys with gender constructs, and generally does all those “political” and deep thinking things that seem to enrage the Luddites. My initial guesses pegged her second behind City of Stairs for an award; the Puppy ballot quashed what I thought was her main competition.
The Dark Between the Stars – Kevin Anderson
I don’t think I’ve ever read an Anderson book, but his reputation among those I trust is not high. No idea where he stands politically, if he cares about the Hugo, or worries that he’s been tarred with that particular brush. I may someday read an Anderson book, but it’s a pretty low priority at this point. Again, maybe he’s awesome and I’m making a snap judgment, but I’ll need a glowing review from a friend or two before he moves up my reading list.
The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison
This was a favorite book from last year and I think it fully deserves the nod. I won’t be irked if it wins the Best Novel. I loved Goblin and have recommended it to several, though I thought it a bit slight when compared to some of the meatier offerings from the year.
Skin Game – Jim Butcher
I’ve never read a Dresden Files book either, though many people I trust say they’re great. Someday I’ll probably give one a shot. I have to think that Butcher was as surprised as anyone to be on the ballot this year. He’s not part of the core community that generally gets recognized for awards, which I suppose is the alleged point of the Sad Puppy slate. As with Anderson, I have no clue what Butcher thinks about all of this or if he even notices. I hope he’s not a racist jerk and, if asked, will disavow the group the nominated him.
The Three Body Problem – Liu Cixin
Three Body hitting the Hugo ballot is the best news of an otherwise dismal Hugo season. Even the Puppies got on board with this, though I suspect them of disingenuous spin after multiple public defections. To be honest, I’m not sure what they see in this based on both stated and unstated aims. Liu’s book is “traditional” in that it’s Hard SF with lots of science, but that’s about where the similarities end. Luddites aside, this was one of my favorite books of the year, even without considering the international elements that we are always trying to promote here. Even if Liu doesn’t win, I am hopeful that the nod and subsequent attention generate momentum for more translated SF.
And now, the prediction. I’m happy to say that all three of the non-Puppy nominations are on my Best of 2014 list; I will be content to see any of them win. However, like the Highlander, there can only be one. I think we can safely discount Anderson and Butcher due to anti-Puppy backlash, an anticipated low Puppy turnout at the con, and a lack of “Hugo-ness” about the authors. The last may be unjust, but it is definitely a Thing in the community. The Goblin Emperor is a good book, but it is fantasy and a bit lighter than the others. I don’t think it stands up, though it will leave everyone charmed. Ancillary Sword is another fabulous Leckie book, was on its way to glory, and would have roared its way to triumph until Marko Kloos made his brave decision to withdraw. That opened the door for our 2015 Hugo winner, The Three Body Problem. The buzz about the story, the community interest in international SF, a vague reluctance to give the award to the same person in consecutive years, and the overall quality of Liu’s writing (and Ken Liu’s translation) will push Three Body ahead as the first Chinese Hugo winning novel. Mark it down, you heard it here first. And if anyone out there loses money on their bets, well, er, please form a line over there and I will be by shortly to refund your losses. Any time now. Just wait patiently.