The 2014 Hugo Awards ceremony is this Sunday, August 17th at LonCon3. As we count down to the big day, let’s review the best novel nominees from previous decades.
2004: Not a good year. It began with promise when Opportunity knocked on Mars, and Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage, but another divisive U. S. presidential election, followed by the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami ended the year on a depressing note.
Plus, Facebook launched, making it possible for grandparents worldwide to argue with other elderly family members in a public forum. Yay for technology.
In the world of SF, the 2004 Hugo Best Novel category brought us hugely popular authors. Bujold has been nominated nearly as often as Heinlein, and Stross is still churning out Hugo noms today. Simmons crossed over from the mainstream world, while Sawyer and Wilson toed that mainstream line with their accessibly constructed plots. And some guy named Neil Gaiman hosted the Boston event.
None of the nominees blew me away. So how would I rank them?
#5. Ilium by Dan Simmons
Greek gods, dinosaurs, and Jovians on Mars… lots of fun SF tropes are loaded into this tale about the very distant future, but the characters feel stale and forced, and the three merging plot lines feel like they were contrived just to write a story about Greek gods, dinosaurs, and Jovians on Mars.
#4. Humans by Robert J. Sawyer
The sequel to Sawyer’s Hugo-winning Hominids (2002) returns readers to the familiar parallax, where the portal between our world and the Neanderthal world is reestablished for diplomatic purposes. Unfortunately, all of the interesting stuff about Neanderthal-land was already explained in the first book, leaving only a very basic narrative of Ponter and Mary traveling back-and-forth, essentially to run errands.
#3. Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson
This multi-character plot about a scientific community under quarantine feels like it was written for T.V. or film, which might make for great suspense on the screen, but leaves the reader with a scaffolded narrative that is less than captivating.
#2. Singularity Sky by Charles Stross
As an anglophile with a sense of humor and liberal politics, I should love Stross, yet his stories just get on my nerves. In this novel, the singularity has happened, and some artificially intelligent aliens manipulate a planet for their own amusement. It’s sort of like a spy thriller, but nothing very thrilling happens. Some may love it, as the jokey, wink-and-nudge narration is reminiscent of Terry Pratchett (who also gets on my nerves).
#1. Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
I actually agree with the Hugo voters on this one! The better of the bunch, this sort-of-sequel to Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion (2001) revisits the kingdom of Chalion, but follows the mother of Ista on a personal adventure (some might call this a mid-life crisis). The middle-aged widow makes for an interesting protagonist, and the curious religious system of the world is intriguing.
2004 also brought us the 1954 Retro Hugo Awards! Visit tomorrow for a rehash of the 1954 Retro Hugo Best Novel nominees!