2006 Hugo Awards: The Annual Mega-Meta-Review, Part 1: The Novels

In 2005, 2004 and 2003 I listed my preferences among the stories nominated for the Hugo Award, also including as many links as I could conveniently include to other people’s thoughts on the nominees. It seems to have been a popular move, so I have repeated it this year and the results are below. (I also listed just my own preferences among the nominees in all categories in 2002, and for the novels in 2000. My website also has various other statistics on Hugo and Nebula awards.)

I’d thought of doing it a little differently this year, by starting with the short stories and working up to novels, as indeed the Hugo ceremony itself does. However, I then realised that it meant the incoming reader would hit my acerbic remarks about Michaels Resnick and Burstein first, and might therefore be put off science fiction for life. The novels are a far better starting point, so it is business as usual after all.

Last year, pressed for time, I wasn’t able to add review links for the novels. This year there has been so much to choose from that I was only able to add the first few dozen that caught my eye from Google and Icerocket. My apologies if you feel you have been unfairly omitted, but there is an element of chance in all this.

I’ve also made one other significant format change. In previous years I have striven to supply the real names of reviewers, and the name of the website where the review first appeared, wherever possible. This year I have given up; for blogs in general I’ve used the nom de net if the blogger’s real name isn’t obvious, and for LiveJournal users, who are by far the biggest group of bloggers writing about sf books, I have adopted the LiveJournal format for their identities, and given real names in only a very few cases. Indeed I drafted this web-page using a LiveJournal client. In contrast, I have only linked to one myspace blog entry (there were very few of relevance anyway, and too many of them play annoying music at you). If you are one of those I have quoted or linked to, and would prefer me to identify you in a different way than I have done below, please do let me know.

The version of this mega-meta-review on my website should be considered the primary source (though feel free to contribute to discussion threads here or on the usenet partial version).

Having said all that, on with the show…


I have to say that I was very surprised not to see Neil Gaiman’s excellent Anansi Boys, or Geoff Ryman’s widely acclaimed Air, on the shortlist. I have seen five other surveys of the Best Novel nominations, by here, Evelyn Leeper, Chad Orzel, Henry Farrell and Kevin Drum. Both and Kevin Drum put Accelerando first; Evelyn puts Old Man’s War first. Chad Orzel and Henry Farrell both agree with me about the top two, but rank the bottom three differently. For my own more extended thoughts (linked to individually below, but without spoilers in this view) see here.

5) Old Man’s War by John Scalzi – a story of future war against the aliens, very much in homage to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, with the difference that the soldiers are rejuvenated 75-year-olds. It is well enough told, but was spoiled for me by the narrator’s unquestioning acceptance of the military environment and by a joke in the middle which I found offensive (but I guess few other readers would). My original review of this caused some very minor tremors in the blogosphere, as Scalzi himself responded gracefully though vigorously, and it went to a second round. Obviously I must resile from my original view that the author is a raving militarist; but I wish he had put into the novel the same depth of political thought that he displays on his blog, and I cannot give it a high vote. Shortlisted for the Locus Award for Best First Novel.

Mine is obviously a minority view. Most on-line reviews are favourable: Adrienne Martini: “delightful“. Rick Kleffel: “thoroughly entertaining“. Dean: “gripping, enjoyable“. T.M. Wagner: “tremendous, confident… top-drawer“. John DeNardo: “Scalzi scores a home run“. Stephen Bainbridge: “one of those ‘you can’t put it down’ books“. Ron Bierman: “clear, direct prose, heroes you can root for and strange, devious aliens you can loathe“. Also positive: M.D. Benoit, here, Richard L’Esperance, “the Teaching Assistant”, here, here, Elizabeth Carey, Stan Taylor, Chad Orzel, Wally Conger, Devin, Joel Finkle, Christopher K. Davis, skwid, Jerry Kindall, “Waddling Thunder“, Sean Woods, here, here, John Walker, here, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit (he’ll vote for it), Jason Bennion, here, here, Charlie Kinder, here, here, Jonathan Strahan, Rockford Lhotka, here and /Jo Walton here. I am somewhat surprised (as, to his credit, is Scalzi) that Harriet Klausner thought this an “anti-war book“.

Less impressed: Kenneth Sutton, , here, and Elio share my concerns. : “vastly over-rated… exceptionally contrived… I am puzzled that this book is even on the list” thinks it “sucks in a Somebody Never Outgrew Robert A. Heinlein sort of way“, but still likes it more than The Da Vinci Code (though this is not saying much). Carol O “wasn’t a fan of the ending“. Archren, Robert R Chase and Jessica/ (here), here, and Stuart Carter at the SF Site also had mild doubts. Joe Williams: “Fun and quick reading, if not too deep”.

4) Accelerando, by Charles Stross. Ranking the middle three books is not easy – although I have no doubt about my first choice, I liked the others as well and would put them all joint second if I could. But you have to start somewhere, and so Accelerando goes in fourth place. This is a sequence of stories about the Singularity And After originally published in Asimov’s. I had in fact read four of these nine stories before – “Lobsters”, “Halo”, “Nightfall” and “Elector”, respectively nominated for Hugo awards in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. Now we have all nine together between one set of covers, mildly revised and tightened up (so the author assures us). As I’ve said before, I found them so full of ideas that they were a little difficult for me to absorb. The confused reader may have recourse to an online Technical Companion for the book, and the author felt compelled to post a note on his blog explaining certain things about the narrator, which gives me some comfort that I am not alone in my confusion. Shortlisted for the Locus Award for Best SF Novel and for BSFA Award.

Rick Kleffel, Tom Lombardo, Greg L. Johnson, here, David Dyer-Bennett, Todd Brasher, B.W. Richardson, The Trivia Geek, Mark Madsen, John Quiggin, here, / here, remotepush, David Chess, Steven Shaviro (at length) all liked it; will give it his first preference. Markus: “A mesmerizing whirl of ideas. Stunning.“. Cory Doctorow: “magnificent“. Steven Silver thinks Stross “successfully creates a sense of wonder“. Jamais Cascia: “plausibly surreal“. Jim Mann: “a great novel“. Lispmeister: “mind-bending!” Tim Gebhart: “will make your brain hurt – in a good way“. Simon Fell: “couldn’t put it down“. Pedro Pinheiro: “the best singularity book ever“. Armchair Anarchist: “a prime example of how invention and skill can combine in a synergistic fashion“. Todd Wiley: “This book is worthy of hours of debate.” Harriet Klausner: “Charles Stross has written the singular [sic] most explosive work of his career.” Cheryl Morgan: “we’ll just add it to that list of seminal books that anyone wanting to understand SF has to read.

Russ Allbery: “a great speculative romp, but also unsatisfying“. T.M. Wagner: “a book that I admired immensely but didn’t enjoy, a book that’s impressive but not very entertaining“. Tony Chester: “seems much less accomplished than Charles’ previous offerings“. Jonathan McCalmont: “feels like it is trying to do too many things at once without any of them managing to be totally convincing“. Martin: “it never gripped me on a visceral level“. Jon Courtenay Grimwood: “too dense“. Also Todd Suomela, here, Raph Koster, and Adam Roberts. Mixed reviews from James, Archren and here. Mark Horvath found it simply “unreadable“.

3) A Feast for Crows, by George R.R. Martin. Though I loved this to bits on first reading, I have to admit that considered on its own rather than as a building block in Martin’s ongoing Song of Ice and Fire series, it cannot be considered very satisfying; it is probably the least gripping of the volumes in the series so far. The setting is a medieval fantasy world, not so very distant from our own, and the dynastic politics of a European-style continent and its environs. There is a particularly good chapter, “Cat of the Canals”, describing one of the central characters from the earlier books settling into a new city and a new culture, and the rest is all good, but not quite good enough to get my top vote. Shortlisted for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.

Very positive reviews from T.M. Wagner, here, Pauline Finch, here, Harriet Klausner, here, here, Cheryl Morgan, here, here, Scott Andrews, here, here, and Orson Scott Card. But Aaron Hughes, Laura Lehman, Lisa Goldstein, eyeris, Bethany K. Warner here, Will Stuivinga here, here, Eoghann Irving, Random Woman, Rob Webber, here, here, John Davidson, Joe D. Walters, here, Stephen Bainbridge, here, liked it a lot but expressed varying degrees of disappointment – most frequently, that it is not yet finished, and also that it is so long since the previous book came out that it is difficult to keep the characters straight – let’s hope we don’t have to wait so long for the next one. TheReeve, Mapletree7, Rob and here did not like it. Carrie A.A. Frye felt there were too many nipples.

2) Learning the World, by Ken MacLeod. I really liked this book, an original contribution to the list of stories about first contact between humans and aliens. I thought the various cultures and subcultures, both human and alien, were convincingly fleshed out. (Planets in sf novels are too often portrayed as having just one culture and one language.) Macleod is on top form in both depth and humour in his portrayal of the intellectual shock of the encounter for both humans and aliens. Though I would have liked to learn more about the characters’ inner lives; the human characters jump in and out of bed with each other and suffer little emotional embarrassment; as for the aliens, this is the one respect in which we really don’t get inside their heads. Shortlisted for the Locus Award for Best SF Novel, the Campbell Award and the BSFA Award.

Mark E. Madsen, here, Niall Harrison/, /Jo Walton here and here, F. Brett Cox, Armchair Anarchist, Samantha J. Herdman Cheryl Morgan, Jim, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Lisa Tuttle, here, Kevin Murphy, Rick Kleffel, Tom Easton, Eamonn Sullivan, Svein Olav Nyberg, Jay Tomio and Frank Gilbert Slinkard share my high opinion of the novel. Russ Allbery, Jonathan McCalmont, Tony Chester, Rich, Dan Hartland/ here, here, Adam Roberts, Eric Brown, Jake Beal, Chris Hibbert, Doug Miller, Ted Rose and Roger Camm were underwhelmed. has an unusual complaint: because the book’s sub-title is “A Scientific Romance”, “I kept expecting someone to fall in love with someone else and IT DIDN’T HAPPEN! I felt very abused and frustrated.

1) Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson. While I am deeply ambivalent about my ranking of the middle three, I am in no doubt about which book I put first. Spin‘s basic story is that one day, some time in the near future, humanity wakes up to find that the stars have disappeared, and that the earth is surrounded by a mysterious barrier. The mystery deepens when it becomes plain that time outside the barrier is passing 100 million times faster than time inside. But rather than rely on sensawunda to sell the story for him, Wilson concentrates on the implications of such a massive disruption for human society, telling it as the story of a family who are heavily implicated in the politics of the change. There is also a fascinating Martian character, who gives interesting responses to Wells, Bradbury and Heinlein’s takes on his own planet, and a deeply dubious fundamentalist Christian sect. It takes all the best aspects of Wilson’s previous books, combines them with some very interesting political and philosophical commentary, and delivers a climax whose punch matches the expectations the rest of the story sets up. Shortlisted for the Locus Award for Best SF Novel and the Campbell Award.

Elisabeth Carey: “This is a beautifully written, completely engrossing book“. Rick Kleffel: “a finely written novel of character and speculation“. Cheryl Morgan: “It is the sort of book that deserves to win Hugos.” James Schellenberg, “a remarkable work that has nearly every element in perfect balance“. MightyCow: “Absolutely fantastic read.” Patrick Nielsen Hayden: “one of the finest science fiction novels of the last decade” (in the interests of full disclosure: he published the book, and sent me a free copy; though he also sent me a free copy of Old Man’s War.) Greg L. Johnson: “one of the best science fiction novels of this or any year“. Gregg Thurlbeck: “quite an exceptional novel“. Chad Orzel: “this is really an excellent book“. here/William Lexner: “works well on just about every level” (though I completely disagree with him on Wilson’s attitude to religion). Leslie Turek: “Wow! This is a book that really brings back the sense of wonder into science fiction.” Tom Easton: “Don’t miss this one.: “so good that I didn’t notice a single ‘flaw’“. “It rules. Read it.” Also M.D. Benoit and Steve, Carlos Aranaga, Jonathan Cowie, Wally Conger, John League, Firelands, Aaron Davidson, Arcane Gazebo, Specific Floozy, here, here, FFWD, Jared Harley, here, here, here, Peter Darbyshire, Greig Christie, here, here, here, Paul Di Filippo, Jo Walton/ here, here, Bill Brockman, Jeff, here, Adam Rakunas, Eric Rescorla, Mike Hoye, here, here, and recommended by Stephen King in USA Today (though I disagree with him on Blind Lake).

Slightly more muted, but generally positive: Richard Horton: “it’s neat stuff — though I suppose just mildly less overwhelming than I might have hoped“. Matt Freestone: “Nonetheless, it’s a really impressive SF story with real characters.” Tim Gebhart: “Overall, though, Wilson effectively explores this wide-ranging territory in a readable and enjoyable fashion“. Also Archren, JP at SFSignal, Russ Allbery, here, Addison Philips, here, here, here, Christian Sauve, Nat-Wu, here, Dan Lewis, here, Paul Witcover, eric135, here, and here.

Largely unimpressed: Mark L. Irons. Wholly unimpressed: , here.

Continued here.

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