by John Popham
The nominations came out for the Hugo Awards last week and, despite the controversy surrounding the nominating process there's general agreement that the line-up in the best novel category is an interesting one. I plan on posting a review for each of the best novel nominees this year, so the good news is that I've already read two of the finalists; Ann Leckie's Ancillary Sword and Jim Butcher's Skin Game. As I've already published a review of Skin Game and am well into hammering out a review of Ancillary Sword my burden of reading and writing is much lighter than it might have been.
Locus Magazine's 2014 recommendations, which is put together by a pretty erudite and eclectic collection of reviewers. Kevin J. Anderson's The Dark Between the Stars and Marko Kloos' Lines of Departure will be my first encounter with those authors, so I'm looking forward to making their acquaintance as well.
From what I know of the nominees so far I look for a horse race this year when it comes to the voting. Leckie's Ancillary Sword is solid, workmanlike science fiction, but lacks the brilliance of her Ancillary Justice,
which made a well deserved sweep of the category during last year's
award season. Still, the fans of the Ancillary series will be lining up to send
Leckie back to the Hugo podium. Butcher has labored long in the
vineyards of urban fantasy and is well overdue for a Hugo nomination.
While Skin Game is not the best work in his Dresden Files series,
Butcher has a very large and loyal following who will want to reward
him for many years of entertaining reading. The Goblin Emperor is a name to conjure with in 2014 and, if the book lives up to its reputation, it should be a contender as well. The Dark Between and Lines of Departure
have less buzz in the marketplace however, if they deliver the goods
from a story-telling perspective, either of them could emerge as a dark
horse at this year's Worldcon awards ceremony.
For the purpose of the reviews, the usual rules of engagement will be in effect: Praise where I believe praise is due, but no punches pulled when an author drops the literary ball. Some reviewers follow the 'if you can't say something good, don't say anything at all' rule of book reviews in order to avoid hurting feelings or drawing the ire of authors and their followings. For myself, I believe the first duty of the reviewer is to the prospective reader. The readers are, after all, the ones who have to decide where to spend their hard-earned cash.
Reviews aside, I won't be making a recommendation with regard to Hugo voting. As George R. R. Martin has pointed out, the promotion of works for the Hugo has been becoming ever-more overt these last ten years. This year the polite fiction that interested parties don't campaign for the Hugos has been blown to smithereens. There will be plenty of recommendations crowding the blogosphere and social media as Worldcon draws near without my adding to the sound and fury.