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Reading for Rockets

I have blogged a great deal about Puppygate and this year's Hugo ballot. However much I mislike how we arrived at this ballot, here it is and here it will remain, and we will have to deal with it. As I've said in my previous posts, I am not endorsing either of the NO AWARD responses, the "Vote NO AWARD on everything" nuclear option, or the milder "Rank All Puppy Nominees Below NO AWARD" alternative. But I certainly do intend to vote, and I urge all of you to do the same.

That means I have a lot of reading to do.

I am not going to report on everything I read on my Not A Blog. I have been a book reviewer and critic in the past, but I'm not one at present. Besides, I have never really liked writing killer reviews, or reading them, and I have the feeling that there will be lots of stuff on this year's ballot that I will not like very much. Also, when reviewing something I feel an ethical obligation to read all of it, and I suspect I will not be reading every word of every story and book on this year's ballot. You don't have to eat a whole steak to know the meat is off. But I will at least sample everything that's been nominated.

Anyway, I may share my thoughts here from time to time, as I read. If you don't see something mentioned, it's either because (1) I didn't like it much, or (2) I haven't gotten to it yet. No doubt my reading program will be aided by the Hugo Packet, where Sasquan sends that out... but as that has not happened yet, I decided to get a head start. (I read all the time in any case, so that's no big change). I don't think I am going to make formal endorsements here -- "You should vote for this" -- though I reserve the right to change my mind about that. And these will not be real reviews, as I said. Just me sharing a few thoughts.

Let me start with Best Novel.

The Big One, as I have called it in the past. Traditionally the last award to be given out on Hugo night, and the most important. The finalists are SKIN GAME by Jim Butcher, LINES OF DEPARTURE by Marko Kloos, THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS by Kevin J. Anderson, ANCILLARY SWORD by Anne Leckie, and THE GOBLIN EMPEROR by Katherine Addison. The first three were Puppy picks, the last two were not. Just to provide some context, and be upfront about any predispositions I might have, let me state that I am very familiar with the work of both Jim Butcher and Kevin J. Anderson. I have never met Butcher in the flesh, to the best of recollection, but I've traded emails with him and bought stories from him for my anthologies. Kevin Anderson is someone I have known for decades, crossing paths with him at many conventions, on panels and at parties. I have never met either Marko Kloos or Katherine Addison, and in fact had never heard of either of them until this ballot. Anne Leckie won the Hugo last year for ANCILLARY JUSTICE, the prequel to this year's contender. I may have met her at Loncon... but if I did, it was only in passing, and I don't recall... I met a lot of people at LonCon.

Enough prelude. To the books. Or book, since I have only read one of them as of yet: Katherine Addison's THE GOBLIN EMPEROR.

I liked it.

It's a fantasy, a novel of court intrigue. Those of you who like that aspect of my own work will probably like THE GOBLIN EMPEROR as well. The characters were well drawn, especially the protagonist, who I found likeable and sympathetic. This is a "low magic" fantasy, something else it shares with GAME OF THRONES. In fact, there's even less magic here than in my own books. No dragons to be found, and though there's talk of ogres and trolls, we never see any. The setting is an Elvish empire, and the hero is the late elf emperor's half-goblin fourth son, unexpectedly elevated to the throne by a tragedy. But Addison's elves are not Tolkien's elves, and her goblins are not Tolkien's goblins, and in fact it is easy to forget that you are reading about elves and goblins entirely, since they all seem just like... well, like people. Which is actually fine by me, you know. I like reading about people.

Do I have cavils? Sure, a few. Some readers complain that my own books have too many characters, and maybe they do... but I swear, THE GOBLIN EMPEROR seems to have just as many, in a book maybe a third the size of one of mine. And the names... Addison has a very complex naming system, which is detailed in an appendix at the end of the book. It's very well worked out and consistent, admirable really, but I confess, all those long complicated hard-to-pronounce hard-to-tell-apart names were giving me a headache after awhile, and I found myself yearning for a goblin named Bob to turn up somewhere (none ever did). Also -- mild spoiler ahead here -- while I loved all the court intrigue, I rather wished for a few more twists. The characters, while well drawn, all struck me as bit too predictable. The ones who seemed to be bad guys turned out to be the bad guys; the ones who seemed to be good guys were all okay. Maybe it's just my own taste, but I would have liked for some of them to have fooled Maia (and me).

Oh, and I really wanted a map. It's fantasy, got to have a map. I kept wanting to look up where all these places were, and there was no map.

Overall, though, I thought this was an enjoyable book. I am glad I read it, and if there's a sequel I will read that as well. THE GOBLIN EMPEROR did not knock me out the way Emily St. John Mandel's STATION ELEVEN (the book I was recommending for the Hugo last month) did, but since STATION ELEVEN is not on the ballot, that's moot. I have yet to read the other four books that ARE on the ballot, so I don't know what my final vote will be... but I know I won't be voting NO AWARD. I'd not be at all displeased if THE GOBLIN EMPEROR claimed the rocket.

(Please keep all comments on topic).


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Apr. 13th, 2015 07:35 am (UTC)
Someone has saved us all some work and reviewed the short fiction nominees. (Sample quote about one of John C Wright's works: "Basically, it's less subtle than the stories we used to read during Catechism, but they were much less bigoted.")
Apr. 13th, 2015 12:40 pm (UTC)
Could you link to that?
Apr. 13th, 2015 05:05 pm (UTC)
She did. The link is on the word "reviewed" in her original post.
(no subject) - drglam - Apr. 13th, 2015 05:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
Alvaro Garces
Apr. 13th, 2015 09:05 am (UTC)
Nice that we can move forward and talk about the stories. I have also read Goblin Emperor. My impressions were somewhat similar to our host's. I enjoyed it. It's all centered around the main character, the emperor, and he is a thoughtful and gentle person, which are adjectives I also would use to describe the novel.

It was not perfect. I had the feeling that the adversaries were a bit incompetent and the main character sometimes accomplished things too easily. Perhaps a few extra twists would have helped it. In any case, it was a good read and a nice change of pace from the "grimdark" epic fantasy that I have read lately. It does not really scream "best of the year" to me, but we'll have to see the other nominees. I would also vote it above No Award, since I enjoyed it.

Edited at 2015-04-13 09:11 am (UTC)
Apr. 13th, 2015 09:17 am (UTC)
Reading a later book in a series as a standalone?
When I saw the list of nominees, I had not read any of the prior work of the authors. I read the 1st book in the series, TERMS OF ENLISTMENT, and it set up the characters and universe well. I doubt if I would have enjoyed the LINES OF DEPARTURE as much if I had not read it.

Other than THE GOBLIN EMPEROR every book in the list is a sequel in a series (or a sequel to a prior series). It helped that the Marc Kloos books were short, simple and inexpensive. All the others are less so.

How does one figure out if it is worth reading a books as a standalone book, or if it is not, which of the books in a series sets the right background? The Amazon reviews do not seem to help :-(
Alvaro Garces
Apr. 13th, 2015 10:45 am (UTC)
Re: Reading a later book in a series as a standalone?
It's true that it's a problem. I mean, with the Dresden books you would have to read what, 14 previous novels? I guess that you'll have to just read and judge it as a standalone. I wish people tended to vote for stand alone novels or for first parts in a series...
Jason Kenney
Apr. 13th, 2015 03:09 pm (UTC)
Re: Reading a later book in a series as a standalone?
I hope Goblin Emperor wins the hugo (If I can actually go to worldcon, and vote... I would vote for it).

Goblin Emperor got me to search for similar political fantasies (that were more insular and emotional vs. epic)
the only good book I found was Suldrun's Garden (Is Jack Vance's other work so... disorganized? While I enjoyed it, it also felt like a bunch of smaller stories duct-taped together, I felt underwhelmed when it moved past Suldrun's own story).

So, you should vote for it since unlike Game of Thrones, she actually got me to read Jack Vance :-P

Also, any author that can use "thy" correctly deserves some award, maybe not a Hugo, but there should be a "Correctly using Thy Award".
Apr. 13th, 2015 07:51 pm (UTC)
Can I ask why some authors such as the late Terry Pratchett and Neil gaiman have rejected Hugo nominations in the past? Are there reasons or...?
Apr. 13th, 2015 09:40 pm (UTC)
There can be a variety of reasons.

In the case of Neil and Terry, I think a large part of it was a spirit of generosity. A Hugo award can be a huge boost to the career of a writer, but that effect is more profound with newer writers and midlist writers. Neil and Terry are already mega mega sellers. Rockets are nice things to have, shining on the mantle, but won't make a nickle's worth of difference to their sales.

Pratchett pretty much said that -- he had giant dumptrucks of money coming to his door every week, he thought the Hugo should go to someone it could help.
Apr. 13th, 2015 09:27 pm (UTC)
I loved The Goblin Emperor, for the way Maia kept trading that delicate path between the easy road on one side and the downhill slope to schadenfreude on the other.

I'd say it was a good lesson in the current Hugo debate, but it's a lot wider than that.
Apr. 13th, 2015 09:29 pm (UTC)
I have to say I loved the Goblin Emperor,

I agree about the names, I found the audio book very helpful on my second go round in that regard.

But I thought the way the world and species were built was brilliant, especially the ears, (I've seen enough species that do signal emotion through their ears that her description of them going flat or twitching, or Maia reminding himself to keep them "up" made perfect sense with minimal discussion and yet also signaled that these were not *us* type humanoids)

I really enjoyed going through that Winter with Maia and I do hope she returns to that world in future. (my understanding is we won't get a direct sequel but there may be other books in the same universe)
Apr. 14th, 2015 09:34 pm (UTC)
Oh interesting thanks for clearing that up Terry pratchett was indeed a great selfless guy.
Apr. 15th, 2015 02:29 am (UTC)
I am going to look at Station Eleven - that looks great. I am following your posts on the awards but cannot pretend to fully grasp it all.
Apr. 15th, 2015 12:38 pm (UTC)
I read and loved the Goblin Emperor.
There was something... comforting about it. It was a long-waited antidote to the grimdark that has swept fantasy of late. Its most obvious influences are pre-Tolkien fantasists: Dunsany, Mirlees and, of course, E. R. Eddison (a more recent comparison would be The Curse of Challion). Yes, I had to memorize a number of words and constructions to understand the novel but it was worth it. It's not that easy to write a truly nice, likeable character and make them interesting but Maya's inner life gripped me from page one.

I wish The Three Body Problem was on the ballot, though. If any novel merited a Hugo nom this year it's this one. Hard SF, real-world history, first contact, mad science - plus it's already a huge hit in China so you can't accuse it of obscurity or elitism. Theoretically it should have been on the SP ballot, if they really were about the stories and not about their own egos.
Apr. 16th, 2015 08:35 am (UTC)
I'm pretty much relying on you to keep me informed on all of this "Sad Puppies" nonsense, so I appreciate all of the lengthy entries.

As far as "Skin Game" goes, I enjoyed it (much like I have the rest of the Dresden Files), but it wasn't even the best novel of that series, let alone the best novel of the year. To me, a lot of the Dresden Files novels, especially the early ones, read like the SF equivalent of Doyle or Christie. This most recent one, however, had a twist/reveal at the end that actually felt kind of cheap and insulting. Still a fun read, but definitely not in the same league as previous Hugo winners and nominees.
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