The 2017 Hugo Award winners are announced tomorrow. Awarded to the best science fiction or fantasy works of the previous year (so in this case, 2016), it is among the highest honors bestowed in science fiction and fantasy writing. This year, we wanted to get the full Hugo experience so we’ve been working tirelessly to read and discuss all of the nominees before the winner is announced. It’s safe to say that this is an excellent selection and a very tight race.
A Closed and Common Orbit is the sequel to Becky Chamber’s breakout hit The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, and if it were possible to unilaterally bestow a Hugo award from this blog it would be this year’s winner. This book is no mere sequel, but stands as an evolution of the monumental narrative that came before it. In it we see honest human experiences, pain and joy and (more than all the rest) discovery, and through it we view a universe at once more bright and more terrible than our own. Everything about this book makes it a winner – from Chambers’ electric and relatable voice to the complete and immersive world she shows us. But what throws it out miles ahead of its fellow nominees are the characters and their journeys. Chambers does in A Closed and Common Orbit what science fiction authors strive to do – she illuminates what it means to be human: to grow, to want, to hurt, and to love.
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders is a science fiction/fantasy novel about the friendship of a scientifically inclined boy and a magically inclined girl. As the winner of the 2017 Nebula Award, it is maybe the current front-runner for the Hugo Award this year. In it, Anders introduces readers to her characters again and again at different times in their lives. It is through these glimpses that readers get to know the characters, and in them the story unfolds. While the “young adult” vibe of the writing COULD be a turnoff to the voters who might prefer their fiction to be just a bit harder-hitting, Anders’ young-adult-friendly and engaging voice describes a story just as brutal, just as human, just as hard-hitting as any mainstream novel.
The The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemison is the second part of the non-traditional post-apocalyptic fantasy story that began with the 2016 Hugo Award-winning novel The Fifth Season. It is a strong contender for another Hugo with its rich, original fantasy world, compelling characters, and tense, emotional, epic-yet-intimate story that centers on a historically oppressed people. Ultimately, however, the book is a continuation of a story that has already won the award, and other worthy works should be highlighted.
Too Like the Lightning is Ada Palmer’s first installment of her Terra Ignota series and it serves as her fiction debut. This is a stellar work for a number of reasons, but it is not without its flaws. While Palmer can have a poetic way with words, stand-out phrases are never very far from more clumsy wording, and the pendulum swing can be jarring. Palmer’s creation of a genderless society is notable, but in practice left something to be desired. In particular, the narrator’s intentional commentary on the eschewing of gender (and his pointed re-gendering of characters in “his” story) crossed the line at times from thought-provoking to downright uncomfortable, at times verging on fetishistic. However, these complaints and more are all completely eclipsed by the incredible, rich, inspiring, unique, and fully alive world Palmer has created in Too Like the Lightning. For her worldbuilding alone, Palmer is an excellent and deserving candidate for this year’s Hugo.
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, the first novel of a planned series, is a military space opera. It has received some major acclaim: (1) 2017 Nebula Award nominee (2) 2017 Arthur C. Clarke Award nominee and (3) 2017 Locus Award winner for Best First Novel. The novel employs unusual language and immerses the reader — with no exposition — in its strange world of calendrical rot and exotics, of interesting protagonist(s) that fight battles that focus as much on psychology as on weapons. But the book suffers from meandering plot-threads, a lack of interesting secondary characters, and shallow world-building. Other nominees are more worthy of the prize.
Death’s End by Cixen Liu is the third and final book of the Remembrance of Earth’s Past Trilogy, an epic science-fiction series that started with the 2015 Hugo Award-winning novel The Three Body Problem. After our experiences with the first book in this series, neither of us reviewed this book.