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Hugo Recommendations - BEST NOVEL

The Hugo Award for Best Novel is "the big one," the last to be presented at every Hugo ceremony (well, except that one year when Lester del Rey screwed up the presentations), the category that typically draws the most nominations and the most votes (well, along with Dramatic Presentation), the most prestigious award in the field, and the oldest. Other Hugo categories have come and gone over the decades, but Best Novel has been there since the beginning. The first one was awarded in 1953, and went to Alfred Bester for THE DEMOLISHED MAN. The books and authors that have won the award in subsequent years form a virtual Hall of Fame for our genre, the best that SF and fantasy have to offer. Heinlein won it four times. Zelazny, Le Guin, Simmons, Haldeman, Leiber, Pohl, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Walter M. Miller... that's company that any writer worth his salt would be proud to keep.

So who should be nominated for the Big One this year? Well, once again, I do have a horse in this race. A DANCE WITH DRAGONS was published in July, and is among the eligibles. I should probably leave it at that. My best chance of making the ballot would be for all those fans of mine who liked DANCE to nominate it, and nothing else.

I can't do that, however. There are five lines on the nomination form, after all, and it wouldn't feel right to leave four of them blank when there were so very many good books published in 2011. I am sure many of you have your own favorites. I won't pretend to have read all the books published last year, or even just the good ones. There's just too much. But I have read some terrific ones, so let me recommend them to your attention.

For science fiction, my favorite novel of the year was a classic old-fashioned space opera titled LEVIATHAN WAKES, by James S.A Corey.

I'll be the first to admit that I was favorably disposed toward this one, since "Jimmy" Corey is actually a collaborative pseudonym for two of my friends, my sometime collaborator Daniel Abraham and my assistant Ty Franck. However, I have a lot of friends who published books last year, and this is the one that kicked my ass the hardest. It's a terrific read, a page turner. If you love SF the way they used to write it, you will love this book.

Also worthy of a good look when filling out your ballot is HEAVEN'S SHADOW, another solid and engrossing hard SF novel from David S. Goyer and Michael Cassutt.

In fantasy... well, damn, it was a great year for fantasy. I read at least half a dozen books so good that they made me say, "I wish I'd written that." THE HEROES by Joe Abercrombie was an action tour de force, an entire novel built around a single battle. Lev Grossman's THE MAGICIAN KING was a worthy successor to THE MAGICIANS, and proof that last year's Hugo voters knew what they were about when they voted Grossman the Campbell Award as the best new writer in the field. And Daniel Abraham... yes, him again, damn him... did something I would not have thought possible. He published a novel called THE DRAGON'S PATH, the first volume in the new epic fantasy series called THE DAGGER AND THE COIN, and it was just as bloody good as his Long Price Quartet.

Any of those books would be worthy nominees, but none of them were the best epic fantasy I read last year. For my money, that has to be THE WISE MAN'S FEAR, by Patrick Rothfuss.

WMF is the second volume in Rothfuss's Kvothe series, and it took him nearly as long to write it as I took for A DANCE WITH DRAGONS (hey, I'm glad it did, he drew some of the fire). But it was worth the wait. I gulped it down in a day, staying up almost to dawn reading, and I am already itching for the next one. He's bloody good, this Rothfuss guy. THE WISE MAN"S FEAR should rightly contend not only for the Hugo, but also for the World Fantasy Award.

Last, but far from least, is yet another huge tome of a book that kept me up reading all night, a science fiction novel by a writer best known for horror -- and that's 11/22/63, by Stephen King.

Now, I'm a major Stephen King fan, and have been for decades. King is tremendously prolific author, and when you write that many books, inevitably some of them are going to be better than others. That being said, 11/22/63 is the best King for at least a decade, a major piece of work... and it's NOT horror. This is King working outside his usual comfort zone, stretching his considerable talent to write a pure-quill time travel novel, about an English teacher who steps through a hole in space and time to prevent the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

That's hardly a new idea. Lots of people have done it before. Hell, we even did it on THE TWILIGHT ZONE back in the mid 80s, when I was working on the show (an episode called 'Profile in Silver'). But no one has ever done it as well as King does here. He handles the JFK/ Oswald stuff masterfully, I think... but there's so much more to the book than that. This is a love story as well. A wonderful period piece that brings the late 50s and early 60s to vivid life. This is a classic proof of something that I have long contended: that story is more than plot, that it's the journey that matters, not how fast you arrive at your destination.

Stephen King has never been nominated for a Hugo, so far as I know. That's truly absurd. Yes, he writes horror... but the Hugo Awards have always recognized horror as well as science fiction, and when you get down to it, horror is really just a subgenre of fantasy. Dark fantasy, if you will.

Anyway, those are my recommendations. I hope some of them make the final ballot. And I hope A DANCE WITH DRAGONS makes the ballot too, so I can kick their butts... winning (and losing, for that matter) is much more meaningful when you are going up against the best.


Jason Kenney
Jan. 28th, 2012 10:04 pm (UTC)
For what its worth...
I haven't read Erikson, never even heard of him. But then my work is so busy, I generally stumble onto new books. (I discovered Harry Potter and Game of Thrones that way), Name of the Wind on the other hand was recommended to me by an acquaintance. And it blew my mind.

Rothfuss' prose is so good I recognized parts where I had to reread because the crunchiness was sooo enjoyable I didn't pay attention to what was actually going on. The only two author's I've read with a similar effect is F. Scott Fitzgerald and Kaufman (He translated Nietzche.. I actually don't know where credit goes here).

I also get so tired of hearing about mainstream and fantasy... etc. The reason most fantasy works don't get recognized is not because of how "hardcore" they are. It's because fantasy for the most part adheres to very ancient storytelling and is also usually part of the romantic movement which was studied and done with 200 years ago.

Literary Criticism for the most part cares about authors that push the form as a whole, and there is a certain disdain for "genre" writing simply because writing to a "genre" means constraining oneself to a set of tropes and a form. But also consider the fact that you are also competing with a millennia of literature, and these are the people most likely to have read some of the best stories Mankind has written. And one sub-genre of Fantasy has gotten attention: that would be Magical Realism.

I would take a look at Bloom's list of Western Cannon, that is what a new fantasy book must compete against. (And btw there is quite a lot of fantasy works on there, most are just very old.)
Jan. 28th, 2012 11:16 pm (UTC)
Re: For what its worth...
Of course, literary fiction itself has become a genre.

It's true, fantasy is part of the romantic tradition. I would despite that romanticism was "done with" two hundred years ago, however.
Jan. 29th, 2012 12:47 pm (UTC)
Re: For what its worth...
I have to agree here. Romanticism is most certainly not done with. As a literature student, I've studied it at university and the question was raised regarding whether we are still in a Romantic era. I consider myself a Romantic so I MUCH prefer that to the alternative, that we are in a Postmodern era (I don't really care for Postmodernism).

I have to admit there seems to be a certain snobbery as regards literary fiction compared to genre fiction. I took a module about writing fiction and every book on the required reading list could be fitted into the literary fiction genre, even if they also fitted into genre categories as well. The funny thing was, not one member of the class was interested in writing literary fiction. Most people were interested in one branch or other of the fantasy genre and the remainder were interested in contemporary fiction and historical fiction. Yet we barely talked about genre fiction at all!
Ma Rc
Jan. 29th, 2012 08:02 pm (UTC)
Re: For what its worth...
(my comment was blocked, possibly because it contained a link, so I'll try to repost it without, even if that link is quite important for my argument)

I haven't read this second book of Rothfuss, so I don't know. But I've read as many readers praising his prose as criticizing it. The day an excerpt was published on Tor.com website there were loads of negative comments criticizing especially the prose. So it's very much a personal opinion and reaction. Nothing wrong with that.

Personally, Erikson satisfies me especially because he experiments with the form and structure, so I agree even on the interest about "pushing the form" instead of basking in the familiar and predictable. But when one does read Erikson what is right on the front is the use of very fantastical imagery and characters that are like a barrier to many readers. The fact it's so fantasy-heavy (and with a first book that does a poor work showcasing the qualities Erikson brings to the series) flattens the perception of what's there. While there are undoubtedly Erikson's own flaws that come into play, it's also a cultural barrier made of instinctive reactions. Bad vibes because it's fantasy.

But as I said, I was only arguing Erikson specifically because 2011 is the year he finished his series. What I'd like to see is someone, whoever he may be, who gets recognized for writing "unrestrained" Fantasy. Erikson describes the roots of his work in Beowulf and Homer (and then surely the popular fantasy genre blended in). Is Beowulf part of the romantic tradition?

Scroll this to read what Erikson thinks about Epic Fantasy and how this genre stands in modern times: clarkesworldmagazine.com/epic_interview1/

You are aware that genres do not exist and are only used to frame something that is a lot more fluid. The romantic movement is not "done", and a lot depends on how you use these tools and frames. If you look around for interviews and articles you'd also notice that Erikson affirms using certain devices and structures that belong to post-modernism. He's not the writer who writes his thing, blind of what happens outside his room. It's the opposite. So you could say he also flirts with mainstream, but he does this without pulling himself out of the fantasy genre, or dancing on the edge. It's as fantasy as it gets, but it has more than one levels. It is seen and interpreted in a contemporary way.

If one compares the way Murakami describes the necessity and use of the magic/fantastic element in his work, with the way Erikson describes it, one would find them corresponding to the same approach. Murakami doesn't write Epic Fantasy, he writes the "magic realism" that is popular these days, yet the tools are similar. There are ways to write fantasy that are not old or trite, and are especially meaningful today. Especially today that we have the magical, internal world completely obscured, or unknown and misunderstood. Erikson essentially anthropomorphizes everything, and that gives him the possibility to tell a story, because that's a level a human being can understand. We don't perceive nor understand complexity, we understand a narrative. It speaks in symbols and internal correspondences. And it speaks of that contrast between the internal perception and a world that crushes and tortures it.

In James Hillman's psychology, which operates at a deeper level than most well known psychology, you can't lose the symbol if you truly want to understand something.

That's my personal take. But this is my question: is high/hardcore Fantasy disregarded because it's intrinsically stale, or because we are unlucky and no truly good writer tackled this genre?


George R.R. Martin
George R. R. Martin

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