My Hugo and #RetroHugos1941 votes: Best Novel

My nominations for Best Novel for the 1941 Retro Hugos were:

Kallocain, Karin Boye (finalist)
The Ill-Made Knight, T.H. White (finalist)
Twice in Time, Manly Wade Wellman
The Last Man, aka No Other Man, Alfred Noyes
Captain Future and the Space Emperor, Edmond Hamilton

I was under no illusions that two slots at least would go to novels I didn’t care for, Slan and Gray Lensman, but hoped that I would at least boost the signal for T.H. White and for at least one of the other four. I’m glad that Kallocain was the one that made the cut, though I do not expect it to win. My votes will be:

No vote: Gray Lensman by E.E. “Doc” Smith (Astounding Science‐Fiction, Jan 1940)

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“Here’s to love!” Haynes gave the toast.

I confess that I didn’t actually read this one; I bounced so firmly off Triplanetary, Galactic Patrol and First Lensman that I did not think there was much point in trying the fourth of the series.

5) No Award

4) Slan by A.E. van Vogt

Second paragraph of third chapter:

But there was so much at stake, she dared not miss a single thought or picture. Her eyes and mind jerked open, and there it was again— the room, the men, the whole menacing situation.

I didn’t really warm to this. But it’s a classic story which informed a lot that came later.

3) The Reign of Wizardry by Jack Williamson (Unknown, Mar 1940)

Second paragraph of third chapter :

Theseus pushed through the ring. He found Cyron standing angrily over a small yellow-brown man, who was bound to the mast. The prisoner was squealing in terror, trying to writhe away from another red-hot lance that the enraged pirate was flourishing in front of him.

This almost made my own nominations list, replaced by the Alfred Noyes novel at the last moment. It’s a decent retelling of Greek legend.

2) Kallocain by Karin Boye

Second paragraph of third chapter :

“Soon everyone will know what State-threatening speeches I’m making,” I complained bitterly. “Go ahead and ask for a divorce, please do, even though the children are so small. It’s better for them to be fatherless than to live with an individual dangerous to the State.”

I’m pleased but also rather surprised that this made the shortlist; it’s a dystopia in the Brave New World / Nineteen Eighty-Four mould, but with some interesting wrinkles of its own.

1) The Ill‐Made Knight by T.H. White

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Uncle Dap was the only one in the family who took Lancelot seriously, and Lancelot was the one who was serious about Uncle Dap. It was easy not to be serious about the old fellow, for he was that peculiar creation which ignorant people laugh at—a genuine maestro. His branch of learning was chivalry. There was not a piece of armour proofed in Europe but what Uncle Dap had a theory about it. He was furious with the new Gothic style, with its ridges and scallop-patterns and fluting. He considered it ridiculous to wear armour like the ropework on a Nelson sideboard, for it was obvious that every groove would be liable to hold a point. The whole object of good armour, he said, was to throw the point off—and, when he thought of the people in Germany making their horrible furrows, he nearly went frantic. There was nothing in Heraldry which he did not know. If anybody committed any of the grosser errors—such as putting metal on metal or colour on colour—he became electrified with passion. His long white moustaches quivered at their tips like antennae, the ends of his fingers came together in gestures of the wildest passion, and he waved his arms and jumped up and down and wagged his eyebrows and almost fizzed. Nobody can be a maestro without being subject to these excitements, so Lancelot seldom minded when he got his face slapped in a mêlée about shields cut à bouche or about whether it was a good idea to have a guige on your shield or not. Sometimes Uncle Dap was tantalized into beating him, but he bore that also. In those days they did.

I reread this with some trepidation, possibly decades since I last read it, but I love it stillThe Once and Future King is way ahead of the other finalists on both LibraryThing and Goodreads, and I hope this translates into votes.

For the 2016 Hugos, I turn again to the File 770 straw poll in order to make an educated guess at the effect of the slate on the final ballot. The novels reportedly nominated by the most contributors to that thread were:

Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie (33)
Uprooted, by Naomi Novik (20)
The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin (18)
Radiance, by Catherynne M. Valente (9)
Bryony and Roses, by T. Kingfisher [Ursula Vernon] (8)
Karen Memory, by Elizabeth Bear (8)
The Just City, by Jo Walton (7)
Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson (7)

The top three of these are finalists, and Seveneves was probably in the zone as well even without slate intervention. The Aeronaut’s Windlass, however, was nominated by only one person on the File 770 thread.

My own nominations were:

Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie (finalist)
Europe at Midnight, by Dave Hutchinson
Mother of Eden, by Chris Beckett
Touch, by Claire North
The Just City, by Jo Walton

So I got one out of five here, which is around my average.

My votes are:

6) The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass, by Jim Butcher

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“Bridget?” called her father’s deep voice from the entrance of the chamber. “Bridget, are you back here? It’s time.”

Military fic isn’t usually my thing; steampunk isn’t usually my thing; the first 116 pages, supplied with the Hugo packet, didn’t change my mind; and the fact that it was almost certainly slated onto the final ballot pushes it below No Award for me.

5) No Award

4) Uprooted, by Naomi Novik

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Down in the pantry, using a long-handled pot for a lever, I pried up the great iron cap that covered the refuse-pit and looked down. Deep below a fire gleamed; there was no escape there for me. I pushed the iron lid back into place with an effort, and then I searched all along the walls with both my palms, into every dark corner, looking for some opening, some entry. But if there was one, I didn’t find it; and then morning was spilling down the stairs behind me, an unwelcome golden light. I had to make the breakfast and carry the tray up to my doom.

This has already won the Nebula, so the fact that I wasn’t wild about it won’t do it much harm.

3) The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin

Second paragraph of third chapter:

But you still don’t know where Nassun is buried, if Jija bothered to bury her. Until you’ve said farewell to your daughter, you have to remain the mother that she loved.

Again, I think this just didn’t click with me as it obviously has for a lot of people.

2) Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

Second paragraph of third chapter:

He could see that the president didn’t like that. Julia Bliss Flaherty, currently nearing the end of her first year on that job.

This, on the other hand, confounded my expectations; I had read a lot of very disappointed commentary, and was prepared for masses of dry infodump, but in fact I thought it was quite a good, if old-fashioned, example of the “My God! What if…” aspirations of sf. Despite the almost 900-page length I kept turning the pages. There are some serious problems: the reason why the Moon explodes at the start of the book is never explained, the celebrity cameos are just a bit annoying, the Evil Woman President is much more annoying than that, and the last section of the book, which is set literally 5000 years after the rest, should really have been a separate novel and could actually have been expanded a bit more. Nevertheless, I warmed to it enough to give it my second preference.

1) Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie

Second paragraph of third chapter:

If you grew up in such a household, or took an assignment associated with one, you didn’t need to request housing from Station Administration. Your housing assignment had been made long before you were born, long before the aptitudes sent you to your post. It helped, of course, to belong to a family that had been present when a station was first built, or annexed. Or to be related to one somehow. When I had been a ship, every one of my officers who had lived on stations had belonged to such households.

I find it difficult to articulate why I like these books so much, but I do.

The 1941 ballot has three acknowledged classics of sf and fantasy, and a great work of Swedish literature. I wonder what the critics of 2091 will make of the 2016 ballot? I certainly won’t be around to ask them.

Best Novel (1941/2016) / Best Novella (1941/2016) / Best Novelette (1941/2016) / Best Short Story (1941/2016) / Best Related Work (2016) / Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) (1941/2016) / Art categories (1941/2016) / John W. Campbell Award