Back to the Hugos: 2005!

The Hugo Awards are this weekend! But time-travel Hugos are much more fun! So let’s go Back to the Hugos: 2005!

The member vote for Best Novel:

JonathanStrange1RiverofGods2TheAlgebraistIronSunrise2ironcouncil2

Susanna Clarke wins! Booyah!

And look. At that. List. It’s so British. It’s so Leftist. I bet when these books get together, all they do is argue about Jeremy Corbyn.

(This WorldCon was held in Glasgow, btw.)

My pretend, retro ballot for Best Novel:

JonathanStrange1RiverofGods2ironcouncil2TheAlgebraistIronSunrise2

Hugo voters, we almost agree again! That’s twice! In six decades!

Susanna Clarke won my heart long before I had even heard of the Hugo Awards, and, upon reread, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell—  despite having a title I can never remember– maintains its status as one of the best novels I have ever read. River of Gods is another of McDonald’s gorgeous feats of culture, technology, and depth, and would have been my top pick, if not for Clarke’s presence on the list. Love him or hate him (or sometimes both), genre readers may have suffered Miéville fatigue by 2005 thanks to overexposure and the endearingly annoying style of SF’s little brother, but I enjoyed the chug-chug meditative nature of Iron Council, and I wish it had been my first Miéville. It kept me soothed during a grim trip to Atlanta and the bumpiest return flight I’ve ever had in my life. As for The AlgebraistI think I need to read a better Banks.

I had an odd, parallel experience with Iron Sunrisewhich accompanied me on a long bus ride during which I was assaulted by Hollywood blockbusters in the form of mall security personnel and a J-Lo sex-thriller. (Don’t cheat on your husbands, ladies. You’ll be stalked and assaulted and you’ll find your best friend’s body stuffed in a fridge. Men are scary, so you should behave.) Iron Sunrise (and its predecessor, Singularity Sky) seems to mimic these lame Hollywood cliches with its bumbling male protagonist and its femme fatale heroine who uses sex as a weapon. I wasn’t impressed.

*****

It’s a good thing the Schmuckies keep changing their argument, otherwise they’d have me pretty well defeated right now. But even so, as we have learned, this uber-progressive list is a throwback to the old days of Hugo shortlists. This liberal preference is nothing new. And complaints about a literati invasion aren’t valid when I can’t think of two books that better represent a fun, meaningless space romp than Iron Sunrise and The Algebraist. And finally, the 2005 shortlist, like over 90% of the 66 previous shortlists is completely and utterly white.

As for this year’s shortlist, where a space opera, an alien invasion story*, and a throne inheritance drama will battle one another for the top spot. The only real difference is that a few other bought, but irrelevant titles have crowded the discussion. It should be a bland night for THE BEST SF NOVEL IN THE ENTIRE WORLD.

Okay, snarkasm done. This week has earned me a few titles:

And:

And:

Well, I’d rather be Ranty and Snarky than Rabid and Sad. Or Pathetic, more like.

But back to 2005, how about a hollah for this non-American, progressive-leaning list! Maybe do that again some day, Hugo voters! Maybe with fewer white people next time!

*A previous version left off the alien invasion story. Let us not forget that it was not on the original list, making the 2015 shortlist even more unbalanced.

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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (2004) by Susanna Clarke

JonathanStrange2Nikki at Book Punks recently did an interesting post about books that break books. In other words, books that are so good that no other book can ever be enjoyed again. Book Breakers. Story Smashers. Reader Eradicators.

My book breaking moment—a definitive moment in my life— occurred a little over a decade ago. I came upon it during a, at the time, typical aimless dance of bookstore aisle gazing, common to the unobsessed lay readers of the book world. Usually dissatisfying results, but this time… there it was. Eggshell-colored cover. Black typewriter font. Simple. Minimal. Zero hot chicks with guns.

What can I say? It caught my eye. So I took it home with me.

I would love to say that I was immediately whisked into a world of wizardry and wonder, where I engorged myself on the text in a weekend, and then called in sick on Monday because my brain was still spinning, but that’s not how it happened.

It sat by my bed for months. I read a little some nights. It was cute. Dry.

But then, at some point, it went from bedraggling to bedazzling. I couldn’t put it down. I LIVED IN IT. I caught on to what Clarke was doing and she opened my eyes to what fiction could do. I wasn’t able to enjoy another SF novel for another TEN WHOLE YEARS.

Clarke didn’t just break books for me. She murdered them. Continue reading

His Majesty’s Dragon (2005) by Naomi Novik

hismajestysdragon2Until now, dragon stories have never really captured my imagination, but maybe I’ve been reading the wrong ones. I could never get everybody’s fascination with the dragon in The Hobbit– his appearance felt brief and simple in a book styled primarily for an audience of children. Beyond that, I can’t think of any dragons that have made any major impression on me. However, the darling Temeraire, the dragon from Naomi Novik’s debut novel, His Majesty’s Dragon, is charming, intelligent, and witty.  He reminds me of Falkor from The NeverEnding Story.  In fact, the relationship between Temeraire and his captain is similar to the trusting bond between Bastian and Falkor, which brought up pleasant feelings from my childhood, and I found myself envying Captain Laurence.  It almost makes me want to watch The Neverending Story again… almost.  Much like toothpaste and orange juice, adulthood tends to ruin the flavor of childhood classics.  I probably won’t risk it.

Synopsis

In an alternate history, both sides of the Napoleonic War are aided by aerial fleets of dragons. Captain Laurence, the unflappable leader of a British navy ship, unwittingly becomes the adopted partner of newly born dragon, Temeraire, and is forced to leave his service with the British Navy and join the air squadrons. Laurence and Temeraire must adjust to this new lifestyle, as well as to each other. They experience adventure, danger, and dragon puberty. It’s a boy-and-his-dog tale, but with a man and his Imperial dragon.

HismajestysdragonHis Majesty’s Dragon reminded me of one of my most favorite books, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. They both have the same Englishy essence, the utterly proper etiquette of their main characters, and both stories are set during the Napoleonic Wars. Who knew that early 19th century imperialism would eventually spawn such charming and magical stories?

The story moves quickly, although it drags on a bit toward the latter half of the novel, and it ends sooner than expected. There are more books in the series, which I may revisit at another time, although I hesitate to make that commitment. This novel ends in a satisfyingly happy way, but my expectations– much like typical “boy and his dog” books– suspect that not all stories in the series will end so happily.