The Hugo Awards 2017 Finalists: Best Novels

The Hugo awards are considered the most prestigious sci-fi awards, but it has been marred by controversy for the past three years. Two regressive groups exploited the weaknesses of the voting system to dominate the majority of the nominees despite commanding less then 15% of the total votes (you can read more on George R.R. Martin blogpost [here]). This year this did not happen: the minority did manage to get no more than one entry per category, proportionally to their group size. The result is an awesome set of finalist, very diverse (from military sci-fi, to fantasy pieces that investigate the psychological impact of oppression, from space operas, to post apocalyptic fiction), and very strong. It is going to be hard to pick a winner this year among so many strong options! A few of them were among [the ones I nominated], or the ones I almost nominated.
After reading, and reviewing all the [short stories], the [novelette], and the [novellas], it’s now the time to review the novel finalists. None of them is available for free on-line, but all but one were given in the Hugo voting packet (if you are a world-con member). In this article I am listing them in my order of preference, along with a short review, and a link to where to buy them. I have to say that it was very hard to decide which one to vote for though, they are all very different, and very strong in many different ways.

Best Novel

     

The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin
The second installment of the broken Earth trilogy is incredibly good (even if not as good as the first one). In The Obelisk Gate the focus changes on the relationship between Essun and her daughter Nassun: the book explores how oppression changes and destroys regular family dynamics, when the only instrument of a mother to protect her daughter is to harden her to be able to survive an harsh reality, and its kyriarchy. This is also the story of Castrima, a city free of oppression in times of plenty, but on the bring of sacrificing the most unpopular of its citizens in time of crises. And this is the story of Alabaster, that broken by loss it may have started the end of the world.
Hugo worthy? Yes! It was one of the books I nominated.
Was it part of a slate? No
Buy: [Amazon]

Death’s End by Cixin Liu
Death’s End is the conclusion of the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogyby world acclaimed author Liu Cixin. The first installment of the series won the prestigious Hugo Award for best novel.
I finished reading the story a couple of days ago, but it is still stuck in my head. More I think about it, more I come to realize how adroitly woven it is. All the elements, themes, concepts from the three books fit together perfectly at the end, giving birth to a logically self-consistent, scientifically sound (and deeply terrifying) cosmology.
I also like how this third book manages to color what would have been an otherwise plot-driven hard sci-fi book, with very human, emotional, moments. Cheng Xin ethical struggles, and Yun Tianming love are some of the best elements of the story.
The story begins during the fall of Constantinople, and then moves backs to the event of the previous novels: after the Doomsday Battle, the uneasy balance of Dark Forest Deterrence keeps the Trisolaran invaders at bay. Earth enjoys unprecedented prosperity due to the infusion of Trisolaran knowledge. With human science advancing daily and the Trisolarans adopting Earth culture, it seems that the two civilizations will soon be able to coexist peacefully as equals without the terrible threat of mutually assured annihilation. But the peace has also made humanity complacent…
Hugo worthy? Yes! It was one of the books I nominated.
Was it part of a slate? No
Buy: [amazon]

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
A deeply original work, at the intersection of science fiction, fantasy, YA, and fairy tales, with an interesting twisted spin. This is the story of two friends, Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead, both terribly bullied as a child. They are very different, Patricia a witch, Laurence a scientific genius, yet the circumstances, and their peculiarities bring them together. The story starts during their childhood, and follow them as they grow older, until… the apocalypse.
I loved this book, and I ended up staying up late at night few nights in a row to see what was going to happen next.
Hugo worthy? Yes, I really enjoyed it.
Was it part of a slate? No
Buy: [amazon]

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
I read Ninefox gambit as part of the 2017 Hugo awards read-a-thon. It is an intriguing and enjoyable story, set in a cleverly build fictional universe.
The hexarcate is at risk: the Fortress of Scattered Needles has fallen in the hand of the heretics. Kel Cheris is selected to retake it, and her rank elevated to the one of general. Cheris’s best hope is to ally with the immortal disgraced tactician Shuos Jedao, the one that has never lost a battle before being imprisoned after he went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own. Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao, because she might be his next victim.
I am looking forward reading the rest of the trilogy.
Hugo worthy? Yes.
Was it part of a slate? No
Buy: [Amazon]

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
I loved the first book of this series, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, and I was eager to read its sequel, i.e. this book. I was expecting more of the same: same crew, similar plot-line. I was quite pleased to see that the author decided to go in a very different direction: this book can be pretty much read as a stand-alone novel, and it focuses on side characters than briefly appear in the previous book. The tone of the book is very different as well: the tones of this book are darker, and the themes more complex and deep. The book is the story of three women: Sidra, that was once a ship’s artificial intelligence, and that recently acquired (illegally) a body, Pepper, a genetically modified human that was created to work as a slave, and Owl, another ship AI that raise the young Pepper once she escaped from the labor camp. The story is told in two separate timelines. In the first we follow the young pepper, escaped from the labor camp, as she makes sense of a new world with the help of Owl. In the second we follow Sidra, as a recently born AI, trusted into an artificial body, trying to make sense of a world that is quite different from the one she was programmed to live in, with the help of Pepper. The two stories develop symmetrically in parallel, toward a rewarding conclusion. I am looking forward reading more books set in this fictional world.
Hugo worthy? Yes.
Was it part of a slate? No
Buy: [Amazon]

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer
I read this as part of the Hugo Award finalist reading marathon, and it has been, so far, the most unusual and original entry. When I started it, I thought it was a very confusing, hand to follow, and pretentious book. As I continued reading it, my opinion drastically changed: the world building is breath taking in its complexity and scope, the complex plot is as full of intrigue as Martin’s Game of Thrones, and the characters are multi faceted and definitely unusual.
Many other readers hated the old style English used by the author, but it was quite cosmetic, it does not impact the readability of the book, and it did not bother me. The part that I believe did not work out well is the attempt of the author of breaking gender stereotypes (in my opinion the stereotype end up being reinforced instead): this series story is set in a future where society and language is gender neutral, but the narrator assigns female pronouns to nurturing characters, and male pronouns to more aggressive ones.
The plot is very complex, and it is hard to say much without spoiling some of the plot twists. I will just say that the story is set in a future society where countries are no longer defined by geographical boundaries thanks to the availability of fast and affordable travel options. People can now elect which country they belong to, based on their political believes. But the intrigues between these new countries are as complex as the one in the European kingdoms few centuries ago. After long religious wars, the public practice of religion has been outlawed, its discussion kept private with sensayers, spiritual counselors.
Nested in political and family intrigues the book also offers tons of 18th century philosophy… that while it is not my favorite topic, it does add some interesting color to the story.
Hugo worthy? Yes.
Was it part of a slate? No
Buy: [Amazon]

Relevant links

1 thought on “The Hugo Awards 2017 Finalists: Best Novels

  1. Pingback: Pixel Scroll 6/25/17 One Click, My Bonny Pixel, I’m After A Scroll Tonight | File 770

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *